EXCLUSIVE: Four months after the Ethiopian government called a cease–fire, violence still reigns across northern Ethiopia, leaving thousands of women and girls victimized by sexual violence.
On June 28, the Ethiopian government called an immediate unilateral cease-fire in the Tigray region after violent fighting erupted in November 2020, when the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a paramilitary group, attacked a federal military base.
Violence between the TPLF, Ethiopian troops, Eritrean troops and Amhara militia has escalated over the last 12 months.
ETHIOPIA DECLARES IMMEDIATE, UNILATERAL CEASE-FIRE IN TIGRAY
Captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members are paraded by Tigray forces through the streets in open-top trucks, as they arrived to be taken to a detention center in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo)
In June, the government withdrew all federal troops from Tigray’s capital of Mekelle in an effort to stymie the violence that has displaced an estimated 4 million across northern Ethiopia.
But the TPLF rejected the calls for a cease-fire and mounted an offensive invasion into the neighboring regions of Amhara and Afar directly south of the country’s northern-most region.
Ethnic division has long persisted throughout the regionally divided nation. But Ethiopia’s most recent civil war has brought with it an increase in sexual violence used to terrorize women and children across ethnic lines.
The TPLF’s invasion of Amhara has put an estimated 4.5 million Amharas under the militia’s occupation within the span of three months.
The occupation has not only escalated fighting and displacement.
Sexual violence has been used by combatants as a weapon of war, according to a report first obtained by Fox News prepared by the Amhara Association of America for Amnesty International.
Between August and September, over 300 instances of sexually-based gender violence (SBGV) were reported, including 112 incidents of rape, in the North and South Gondar zones in the Amhara region, though the actual figures are believed to be significantly higher.
Victims have reported not only the physical and emotional trauma that coincides with sexual violence. They have also faced social stigmatization, venereal diseases and the threat of unwanted pregnancy.
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Security men stand guard at a camp for the internally displaced due to the fighting between the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces in Dessie town, Amhara region, Ethiopia, Oct. 8, 2021. (REUTERS/Tiksa Negeri)
The report, which investigated just two of the five zones that have seen TPLF occupation in Amhara, noted that women were frequently afraid to report their assault.
Officials leading bureaus for Women and Children Affairs in the Gondar zones said survivors who initially approached the departments for help “changed their stories and den[ied] being raped, fearing social repercussions such as being divorced by their husbands.”
One woman who works with female victims in Nefas Mewcha, a town located in South Gondar, told Fox News she was aware of more than 70 women who were raped during a five-day period from Aug. 11-15.
“I still go to these people’s houses every day, and I see some of them experiencing a lot of pain,” the woman, who wished to remain anonymous, said with the help of a translator. “Some of them still cannot work, some of the women still have fluids coming out of their bodies.”
One 25-year-old victim from Nefas Mewcha described being gang-raped by two TPLF militia while a third stood watch outside.
“One of the men made me suffer greatly. He did whatever he wanted to do to me. I preferred they killed me with a gun instead of what they actually did to me,” she said.
The victim said she was unable to stand up for a day and was bleeding from her womb. She explained that five days after her attack she tried to reach her mother’s house in a nearby rural village but was stopped and again raped by another militiaman.
“He slapped me on the face and put a gun against my back. He also spit on me, insulting me as ‘adgi.’ Then he raped me. After that, he inserted the muzzle of his rifle into my womb which caused me a lot of pain,” she added.
She is being treated for a fistula following her repeated assaults.
The department official explained that many women described being referred to as “adqi” by their attackers, a derogatory term reportedly used against ethnic Amharans that means donkey.
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“It’s painful as a woman, seeing these women crying. It makes me want to cry with them,” she told Fox News. “I cry with them sometimes.
“In the first few days, it was really traumatic for me,” she continued, explaining she is not trained to help people with psychological trauma, but added that she’s “getting used to it.”
Fox News reviewed several stories similar to the woman’s from Nefas Mewcha, and an Amnesty International investigation released in August found that sexual violence in Ethiopia has become “widespread.”
The report focused its investigation in Tigray, where the majority of fighting originally occurred between government forces, Amhara militia and the TPLF.
Captured Ethiopian government soldiers and allied militia members line up after being paraded by Tigray forces through the streets in open-top trucks as they arrived to be taken to a detention center in Mekele, the capital of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Friday, Oct. 22, 2021. (AP Photo)
Health facilities in Ethiopia’s northern-most region confirmed 1,288 cases of sex-based violence during a three-month period from February to April 2021.
Ethnic violence across northern Ethiopia has also led to sex-based reprisal attacks against women.
One woman described how her attacker justified his actions by telling her how Amhara forces brutalized his sister.
“They [Amharas] are worse,” the attacker reportedly said. “They made my sister useless. They raped her in [a] group and slaughtered her using a knife.”
Fox News is told TPLF forces no longer occupy South Gondar after federal forces and Amhara regional forces pushed them out, though some reporting shows that skirmishes persist in the Amhara-based zone.
TPLF forces continue to occupy the North Gondar zone, where at least 10 minors have been victims of rape, along with another 22 women.
Blackout communications throughout Amhara, particularly in zones occupied by TPLF militia, have made it difficult for investigators to gain access to information in those areas.
The State Department condemned the escalating violence in the Amhara region Saturday and called on the TPLF to withdraw.
Press secretary Ned Price additionally called for an end to the recent airstrikes carried out by the Ethiopian government in Tigray.
“There is no military solution to this conflict, and all parties must begin ceasefire negotiations without preconditions,” Price said in a statement.
Residents sift through rubble from a destroyed building at the scene of an airstrike in Mekele in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia Thursday, Oct. 28, 2021. (AP Photo)
President Biden on Tuesday threatened to terminate a lucrative trade agreement established under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) “for gross violations of internationally recognized human rights.”
Biden said the agreement would terminate on Jan. 1, 2022, if the Ethiopian government did not take steps to stop the violence.
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The Ethiopia Ministry of Trade and Regional Integration rejected the threat and said it will “unfairly impact and harm women and children.”
“We urge the United States to support our ongoing efforts to restore peace and the rule of law – not punish our people for confronting an insurgent force that is attempting to bring down our democratically elected government,” the ministry said in a statement.