Translated article

Atrocities committed by Amhara soldiers in Tigray

Incoming images from the Ethiopian region show massacres of civilians. Panorama edited them into a video.

English translation of an article published on Panorama (Italy): (original comprises shocking video taken from cellphones of fallen Amhara soldiers)

Elisabeth Burba | 30 September 2021

“Footage found in the cell phones of dead Amhara soldiers.” With this laconic message, a source of Panorama in Tigray sent us two videos of barbarously murdered civilians. They were filmed last August in the area of Humera, a Tigrayan territory in northern Ethiopia on the border with Sudan that has been for months occupied by Amhara soldiers. The videos were found in the mobile phones of two soldiers, who died during a clash with the Tigray Defense Forces. The phones were handed over to the Tigray authorities, who then passed the gruesome videos to our contact. After getting confirmation from authoritative sources that they are authentic, we edited them into a single movie, removing the crudest images.

These videos add a piece to the Tigray puzzle, a ruthless ethnic cleansing that takes on the appearance of genocide every day. The very heavy word “genocide” so far has only been used by Tigrayans. In recent weeks, however, the term has begun to be pronounced by a few journalists and more than one politician. “This conflict contains the characteristics of ethnic cleansing and genocide,” British Member of Parliament Helen Hayes said on September 8 during a debate in Westminster on the crisis in Tigray.

In Italy, she was echoed by Elisabetta Trenta, the former Minister of Defense, who also on April 10, 2019 had signed the bilateral military agreement with the Ethiopian government. On September 29, Trenta tweeted: “This war has all the characteristics of a genocide and in all this Italy cannot stand by and watch.”

Since the Ethiopian government launched a military offensive last November, the region in northern Ethiopia has been devastated by a destructive conflict, with government soldiers and their allies fighting against Tigrayan forces. The Ethiopian government claims that this is a law enforcement operation. But the reality on the ground is quite different, as shown by the images received from Panorama.

The first video is openly truculent. The scene takes place in an isolated area, on an arid plateau. It shows the corpses of nine civilians as they are burned by about fifteen Amhara soldiers, who speak Amharic. Fully armed and fully equipped, they wear the uniforms of the Ethiopian Federal Army. The scene is so bloody that it seems surreal: broken skulls, mauled limbs, broken brains…

Regardless of the smell of burning human flesh, the military do not seem to break down. It is as if they are not aware that the evils they are doing could lead them to be tried for war crimes. Indeed. A young soldier with a mustache shows his face, without even trying to hide. Another says that what they are doing is just the beginning: “This is nothing. That’s only nine people. It must continue.” Giggling, another comments, “What strange flesh!” Then they turn to the dead, mocking them: “Peace was convenient for you and eating also”. But so much boldness perhaps also hides something else. “The work we have done is right! This is justice,” says a soldier, trying to convince himself that the massacre has a justification.

The orgy of blood is interrupted by a couple of soldiers with a glimmer of rationality. Aware of the risks they are taking, one says: “This is a video… Be careful, because the video can come out». And the other: “Don’t make such videos of your friends. It’s dangerous.” And yet another: “Don’t make videos of soldiers.”

The second video in appearance is less horrifying, but just as cruel. Again, we see a group of young armed men. They also speak Amharic and wear the camouflage of the Ethiopian army. They are located on stony ground, which has a strong ressemblance with the banks of the Tekeze River.

A Tigrayan, more dead than alive, lies on the ground with his head split and his neck bloodied. A soldier is tying his arms behind his back with yellow electric wire. The poor man knows what awaits him. Being an inhabitant of the Humera area, he is aware that that thread is the same that is used by Amhara soldiers to tie civilians before throwing them into the water. As he proceeds to bind him, his executioner begins to ask him questions. The one who is shooting the video with the mobile phone approaches. His shadow appears over the body of the victim.

“Where did you buy the medicines?” the soldier asks the Tigrayan, as he binds him tightly. “What medicines?” replies the poor man, who does not even have the strength to rebel. “The ones you have in your hand.” Answer: “I don’t have any.” The soldier becomes overwhelmed: “Do you know what Wollahi means (I swear to God, ed.)” Yes,” he replies with a thread of voice. Then he asks him, “Are you a Muslim?” The Tigrayan answers yes. “Bravo. Then you are religious,” the soldier presses him, in a derisory tone. And then he asks him, “How much money do you have? Where did you get it from?” Now resigned, the Tigrayan does not even respond. But the soldier continues to torture him: “Were you with Getachew Reda (the spokesman of the TPLF, ed.) The poor man can barely say, “No.”

At this point another torturer enters the scene, who orders: “Tie his legs too”. And he begins to make fun of the unfortunate Tigrayan, who evidently was a carpenter. And he asks him: “Carpenter, how many buildings have you built?” The victim can’t even speak anymore. The video ends with the executioner who, undeterred, mocks him: “You are a lion. You’re very good.”

The second movie stops here. Those who passed it to Panorama are convinced that the poor civilian was then thrown into the Tekeze river (which in Sudan is called Setit), where from July to today at least a hundred corpses have been found, tied with yellow electrical wires.

Yes, the yellow wires… It is those electrical cables that incriminate the Amhara soldiers. According to testimonies collected by CNN, the cables found on the corpses come from the city of Humera. For months, the American broadcaster has been following the ethnic cleansing in Tigray which, as one of its anchors said on September 5, now “has all the characteristics of a genocide, as defined by international law”.

Map of the city of Humera. At the upper left, the electirical materidals shop from where the yellow cables have been taken.

That day, an investigation by journalist Nima Elbagir revealed evidence of “torture, mass detention and executions” in Tigray. And she reconstructed the origin of the infamous yellow threads. The cables with which the corpses are tied in the Tekeze River come from an electrical equipment shop at the north of the city of Humera, coincidentally near the river. In the city on the border with Sudan, the investigative journalist of CNN discovered the presence of “seven prison camps for Tigrayans that house thousands of detainees”.

As if that were not enough, it is not only the poor people who are massacred who suffer the pains of a real hell on earth. Their relatives, often forced to witness the massacres, also get in the way. There is the case of a man who, according to our sources, had to watch the scene of the burned corpses shown in our video, among which there was one of his relatives. “That man literally went crazy,” says the source of Panorama. “He spends day and night screaming in nightmares: They burn him… The smell of burning flesh… They are burned”.

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