According to a recently published report, Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers have not stopped their widespread and systematic campaign of rape in Tigray despite the peace deal that was reached in November of the previous year.
In the first report to detail sexual violence, healthcare experts recall tales of gang-rape, sexual slavery, and murder, including the murdering of children. The report was compiled using hundreds of medical records from the beginning of the conflict in November 2020 until June 2023.
The report, which was authored by Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) and the Organization for Justice and Accountability in the Horn of Africa, examined 304 medical records of conflict-related sexual violence from health facilities across Tigray. Of those records, 128 demonstrated that rape occurred after the agreement to halt all hostilities following two years of civil war.
The medical records, according to Lindsey Green, one of the report’s authors and a senior programme officer for PHR, painted a picture of “horrifying” encounters. “The sexual violence we have documented is brutal and used as a way to intimidate and terrorize communities,” she added. “The sexual violence we have documented has been carried out against children.”
In the report, there were survivors of sexual violence ranging in age from eight to sixty-nine years old. Approximately three quarters, or 76%, of the incidents were gang rapes. Ten of the tales described victims who had been held captive and sexually assaulted by more than one offender. A number of patients also described the murder of members of their family, including children, either before, during, or after their attack. The majority of the perpetrators were members of military or paramilitary groups, accounting for 96% of the instances.
Independent of the study, media spoke to women and healthcare professionals who documented continued sexual violence in Tigray. These individuals were interviewed by media. After being gang-raped by Eritrean soldiers occupying the area in February, Selamawit, who is 22 years old, fled her hometown in the northwestern part of the Tigray region.
“At first, it was three soldiers who gang-raped me,” she added. “First, it was three soldiers.” “However, it was not the end of it. After their arrival, three more troops brutally gang-raped me. They laughed at me when I cried out in pain and begged them to stop when I begged them to stop.
In December of 2022, in a town located in western Tigray, Harnet, then 19 years old, was raped by four Amhara militia. She stated, “They kidnapped me, held me captive at their location for two days, and gang-raped me multiple times.” During the rape, they struck and kicked me repeatedly.
In many instances, women were only able to gain access to medical care several months after the violent acts themselves had taken place, which resulted in a number of catastrophic problems. In the report, these symptoms were referred to as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression, incontinence, uterine hemorrhage, and chronic pelvic pain. In a few of instances, the victim of the rape became pregnant as a consequence of the assault or became infected with HIV.
“There is a lack of medicine and a shortage of facilities to treat the physical and mental health complications of the survivors,” said a nurse working at a hospital in northern Tigray that was frequented by survivors of sexual violence, according to a statement made by the nurse. There are still reports of new instances coming in. In addition to being sexually assaulted, the vast majority of those who survive are also tortured.
The results of this research, which represent only a tiny part of all occurrences of sexual assault in Tigray, confirm prior reports by the United Nations, human rights organizations, and journalists who have documented abuse since the war began. However, the findings of this report only represent a small portion of all cases of sexual violence in Tigray.
In November 2020, the government of Ethiopia initiated military operations in Tigray against the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. This action marked the beginning of a bloody battle that would last for the next two years. It is estimated that 600,000 people were killed during the war, making it one of the bloodiest conflicts to have taken place in the world in recent times.