‘They Told Us Not to Resist’: Sexual Violence Pervades Ethiopia’s War


In one bed, a 29-year old woman who asked to be identified only by her first name, Helen, trembled as she recounted how Eritrean and Ethiopian troops tied her to a tree near her home in Agula, 15 miles north of Mekelle, and assaulted her repeatedly over a 10-day period in late November.

“I lost count,” she said. “They took photos of me, poured alcohol on me and laughed.” Some of her assailants also shot dead her 12-year-old son, she added.

Selam Assefe, a police investigator working on rape cases at the Ayder Referral Hospital, corroborated Ms. Helen’s account.

Most sexual assault cases in Tigray, however, may not be recorded anywhere. Health workers said that officials are reluctant to register such violence, fearing the military could target them for documenting the crime. Patients often remain anonymous for the same reason.

Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed, Ethiopia’s minister of women, children and youth, insisted that the federal government was taking seriously the reports of sexual violence in Tigray, and had sent a task force including social workers, police and prosecutors to investigate.

While her own mandate was limited to providing victims with psychological support, Ms. Filsan said she had pressured Ethiopia’s attorney general to deliver justice. But it is a difficult process, she insisted.

“I cannot 100 percent confirm whom this is being committed by,” Ms. Filsan said, referring to the perpetrators.



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