Reports are starting to emerge from Ethiopia about a brutal massacre of as many as 500 unarmed civilians in the town of Mai-Kadra, who were allegedly attacked and slaughtered by an insurgent group doing battle with the country’s federal forces. Amnesty International says it can confirm that the massacre took place this week in the country’s Tigray region, and they estimate that it’s likely that hundreds of people may have been murdered in the assault.
The organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab has examined and digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers. It confirmed the images were recent and using satellite imagery, geolocated them to Mai-Kadra in western Tigray state (14.071008, 36.564681).
“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa…
While the official death toll in Mai-Kadra is not yet known, the Amhara regional government’s media agency AMMA reported there were around 500 victims, adding that they were primarily non-Tigrayan residents of the town. A man who is helping to clear the bodies from the streets told Amnesty International that he had looked at the state-issued identification cards of some victims, and most were Amhara.
According to witnesses who reportedly arrived at Mai-Kadra shortly after the attack took place, most of the dead were found in the center of the town and along the main road to the neighboring town of Humera.
People who saw the dead bodies told Amnesty International that they had gaping wounds that appear to have been inflicted by sharp weapons such as knives and machetes, reports which have been confirmed by an independent pathologist commissioned by Amnesty International. Witnesses said there were no signs of gunshot wounds.
The witnesses said that together with the EDF soldiers, they found some wounded people among the dead and took them to nearby hospitals in Abreha-Jira and Gondar, before removing dead bodies from the streets.
“Those wounded told me they were attacked with machetes, axes and knives. You can also tell from the wounds that those who died were attacked by sharp objects. It is horrible and I am really sad that I witnessed this in my life,” one distraught witness said.
Earlier this year the Ethiopian government passed a new law aimed at cracking down on private gun ownership in the country, ostensibly to help curb the sectarian violence in many regions of the country. Clearly that new law did nothing to stop the massacre of dozens of innocent civilians, but I can’t help but wonder if the legislation had any impact on the ability of those civilians to acquire arms for self-defense.
“There is a significant number of guns in our society since the previous government and the law will help us to formalize ownership,” lawmaker Tesfaye Daba told parliament during the passage of the bill.
The new law provides for each region to stipulate a legal age for gun ownership, Tesfaye said, while limiting the number of firearms an individual can own to one. Violations could bring up to three years in prison, according to the new legislation.
It will also ban private trade in weaponry and allow only allowing certain government institutions to import guns.
Obviously the Ethiopian government wants to do everything it can to crack down on ability of groups like Tigray People’s Liberation Front to wage war against the government and civilians, but its efforts to go after private gun ownership may very well have prevented any of the victims of the Mai-Kadra massacre from fighting back.
The United Nations is now calling for a full investigation into the massacre and “possible” war crimes, which sounds exactly like the type of ineffectual and mealymouthed response we should expect from the UN and other human rights groups. Amnesty International even bizarrely proclaimed not long ago that a lack of gun control is a violation of human rights.
Personally, I’d rather ensure that people who are being attacked can defend themselves, and I find the slaughter of innocent civilians to be a far more egregious violation of human rights than the residents of Mai-Kadra being armed in self-defense. The lofty proclamations of politicians who insist that civilian disarmament will lead to an end to conflict have been silently rebuked by the bodies strewn about the dusty streets of the small Ethiopian town, slaughtered senselessly without a chance to fight back.