The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission also catalogued a litany of abuses, including torture and gang rape and enforced disappearances, saying some may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.
The 16-month conflict in Africa’s second most populous country between government forces and Tigrayan rebels has killed thousands of people, with widespread reports of atrocities including mass killings and sexual violence.
According to the UN, the fighting has also displaced more than two million people, driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of starvation and left more than nine million in need of assistance.
The EHRC report said at least 403 civilians had died and another 309 were injured in air raids, drone strikes and heavy artillery fire in the second half of the year since the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) launched an offensive into Afar and Amhara in July.
At least 346 civilians also lost their lives in extra-judicial killings carried out by the warring parties, mainly Tigrayan rebels but also government forces and allied militias, it said.
The state-affiliated independent rights body also accused Tigrayan rebels of widespread abuses such as gang rape, torture, looting and destroying public facilities such as hospitals and schools in the two regions bordering Tigray.
Map of Ethiopia locating Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions
“Tigray Forces committed widespread, cruel, and systematic sexual and gender-based violence including gang rape against women of different ages including girls and elderly women in parts of Afar and Amhara regions under their control,” the report said.
“Tigray forces engaged in abductions and enforced disappearances in a manner that may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity,” it said, while also accusing federal and local security forces in Amhara and Afar of widespread arbitrary detentions.
More than 2,400 health facilities including hospitals in the two regions had ceased operation “as a result of the destruction, damage and and pillage they sustained,” the report said, while more than 1,000 schools were destroyed and another 3,220 damaged.
Friday’s report follows a joint investigation by the UN and the EHRC covering November 2020 to June 2021 which detailed a vast array of rights abuses, mostly blamed on Ethiopian forces and Eritrean troops, who provided military support to Addis Ababa.
– ‘Deteriorated significantly’ –
The conflict erupted in November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent forces into Tigray to topple the region’s ruling TPLF, after months of tensions with the party that dominated politics for three decades before he took power in 2018.
Abiy said the offensive was launched in response to the rebel group’s attacks on army camps and vowed a swift victory.
But after initially losing control of Tigray’s cities and towns, the TPLF regrouped and retook the region in June last year, then launched offensives into Afar and Amhara.
The TPLF retook Tigray at the end of June last year
In November 2021 the rebels claimed to be advancing on the capital Addis Ababa, but the government launched a counter-offensive, retaking lost territory in Amhara and Afar while the TPLF then retreated into Tigray.
Although the intensity of fighting has eased, the UN on Monday reported that at least 304 civilians had been killed in air strikes since November in the north, particularly Tigray.
The rights and security situation in Ethiopia has “deteriorated significantly” since late November, UN Human Rights chief Michelle Bachelet said, with reports of “severe and widescale” violations in the three northern regions.
UN humanitarian agency OCHA also said in a bulletin dated Thursday that northern Ethiopia remained “highly tense and unpredictable.”
Hostilities were boosting humanitarian needs, as the number of displaced people grows in Afar and Amhara, it said.
Last week, the UN Human Rights Council announced that Fatou Bensouda, a former chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court (ICC), would head a UN investigation into a wide range of alleged violations committed by all sides in the war.