A CNN report published on Thursday found that Ethiopian soldiers had executed unarmed men in the country’s war-torn Tigray region.
The investigation, carried out with Amnesty International, verified footage of soldiers killing a group of at least 11 men before disposing of their bodies near the Tigrayan town of Mahibere Dego. A BBC investigation, also published Thursday, corroborated the same massacre.
Asked about the reports that Ethiopian forces were responsible for the massacre, State Department spokesman Ned Price said: “We are gravely concerned by reported human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. We strongly condemn the killings, the forced removals, the sexual assaults, the other human rights abuses that multiple organizations have reported.”
“We are, of course, looking into these reports. We have taken close note of them and we’ll continue to pay close attention,” Price added.
Ethiopia is facing a raft of intense scrutiny over human rights violations that may amount to war crimes in Tigray. Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed since November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a major military operation against the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), sending in national troops and militia fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region.
CNN has previously compiled extensive eyewitness testimony that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea had crossed into Tigray during the conflict and had perpetrated massacres, extrajudicial killings, sexual violence and other abuses.
Price said the US had taken note of the announcement by the Ethiopian foreign ministry last month that Eritrean forces have begun to leave the country.
“The immediate and complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray will be an important step forward in de-escalating the conflict and restoring peace and regional stability,” he said. He did not comment on whether the US has confirmed the withdrawal has started.
“We are encouraged by the prime minister’s announcement that the government of the State of Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces from Ethiopia,” Price added. Last month, Eritrea’s embassy of the UK and Ireland denied allegations of wrongdoing by Eritrean soldiers and denied they were in Ethiopia.
Abiy’s office dismissed the evidence from CNN’s report, saying Friday that “social media posts and claims cannot be taken as evidence.”
“The Ethiopian government has indicated its open will for independent investigations to be undertaken in the Tigray region,” the statement added.
The US State Department said Monday it was looking into reports of extrajudicial executions committed by the Ethiopian army following a CNN investigation.