Amnesty International asserted Friday that African and global human rights bodies must urgently investigate alleged war crimes committed by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) in the town of Merawi, Amhara region, on January 29, 2024. This incident, purportedly involving the killings of civilians through murder and extrajudicial executions, stands as one of the deadliest for civilians during the conflict between the ENDF and Fano militia since the outbreak of hostilities in Amhara in August 2023.According to interviews conducted by Amnesty International with residents shortly after the event, heavy weapon explosions were heard in Merawi early on January 29, resulting from clashes between Fano fighters and ENDF soldiers. The fighting reportedly ceased around 10 a.m. after the withdrawal of Fano fighters from the town. However, residents reported that following the departure of the Fano fighters, ENDF soldiers began rounding up local men from their homes, shops, and streets, and shooting them. Regarding this matter, the National Movement of Amhara has stated that “over 125 civilians were indiscriminately executed by the Ethiopian soldiers,” including children, pregnant women, priests and the elderly.Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, remarked, “Mass killings are becoming shockingly common in Ethiopia. The lack of credible efforts by the Ethiopian government to ensure justice for the families of those killed and to prevent such atrocities adds insult to injury.”In August 2023, an armed conflict erupted in the Amhara region between the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and Fano militias. Previously, they had fought together against Tigrayan forces, but tensions escalated when the federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in November 2022. Fano, a resistance group formed in 2015 to combat the alleged genocide of the Amhara people, had been a vital ally of the ENDF during the civil war against the TPLF. However, following the end of the civil war in 2022, the government under Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed failed to maintain their alliance with Fano, who were not included in the peace treaty negotiations. Ahmed’s official order in April 2023 to integrate every regional military group into the federal military sparked the ongoing conflict, as Fano perceived their positions to be weakened and joined forces with the disgruntled Amhara Special Police Force (ASPF) to oppose the ENDF.Due to the absence of credible national accountability efforts in Ethiopia, the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) established the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) in December 2021, through an initiative led by the European Union (EU). Although ICHREE played a crucial role in international monitoring, early warning, and prevention, the HRC’s review of Ethiopia concluded in October 2023 when no member state stepped forward to renew ICHREE’s mandate. Amnesty International asserts that statements by the Ethiopian government in February 2024, claiming that accountability for crimes committed during the conflict in northern Ethiopia has already been achieved, indicate that the absence of international oversight has further emboldened the government.In response, Amnesty International has called on the UN Special Rapporteur on Extrajudicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Executions and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Working Group on Death Penalty, Extra-Judicial, Summary, or Arbitrary Killings and Enforced Disappearances in Africa to urgently investigate the alleged crimes committed in Merawi. Additionally, Amnesty urges the Ethiopian government to facilitate country visits by these mechanisms and calls on the Human Rights Council to resume its scrutiny of Ethiopia and take action towards a genuine justice and accountability process that meets the expectations of victims and survivors.

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