Hamdayet, Sudan – More evidence of sexual violence being used as a deliberate weapon of war is coming out Northern Tigray region of Ethiopia, where an armed conflict has woken up for months.
Women are being gang-raped, drugged and held hostage, according to medical records and testimonies from survivors shared with CNN. In one case, a woman’s vagina was filled with stones, nails, and plastic, according to a video seen by CNN and testimony from one of the doctors who treated her.
CNN has spoken to nine doctors in Ethiopia and one in a Sudanese refugee camp who say they have seen an alarming increase in sexual assaults and rapes since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation against leaders in Tigray, sending troops and fighters. nationals from the Amhara region of the country. Forces from neighboring Eritrea are taking part in a military campaign alongside the Ethiopian government. as previously reported by CNN.
According to doctors, almost all the women they treat tell similar stories of rape by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. The women said the troops were on a self-proclaimed revenge mission and were operating with almost total impunity in the region.
A CNN team in Hamdayet, a sleepy Sudanese town on the Ethiopian border where thousands of Tigray refugees have gathered in recent months, spoke to several women who described being raped as they fled fighting.
“He pushed me and said, ‘You Tigers have no history, you have no culture. “I can do what I want against you and nobody cares,” said one woman of her attacker. She told CNN she is now pregnant.
Many say they were raped by Amhara forces who told them they intended to ethnically cleanse Tigray, a doctor working at the large Hamdayet refugee camp told CNN.
“Women who have been raped say that the thing they say to them when they were raped is that they should change their identity – or Amharic them or at least leave their Tigrinya status … and that they have come there to clean them… to clean the bloodline, ”said Dr. Tedros Tefera.
“Practically this has been a genocide,” he added.
The influx of refugees has become a trend since Ethiopian forces tightened the border in recent days, worrying refugees still hoping to reunite with family members.
The Ethiopian government did not immediately respond to a request from CNN for comment on allegations that its forces were conducting a coordinated campaign of sexual violence against women in Tigray.
Three days after CNN published this investigation, the Eritrean embassy of the UK and Ireland responded by denying allegations of wrongdoing by Eritrean soldiers and denying that Eritrean troops were in Ethiopia.
Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed in the conflict. CNN has previously reported that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea have committed extrajudicial killings, assaults and human rights abuses in the Tigray region. Investigations separated by CNN AND Amnesty International in February revealed evidence of massacres carried out by Eritrean forces in Dengelat and Axum. The Eritrean government has denied involvement in the atrocities.
New reports of sexual violence come as U.S. President Joe Biden sends Senator Chris Coons to meet with Abiy and convey “U.S. concerns about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region.” The State Department has previously called for an independent inquiry into the atrocities committed during the war.
The Ethiopian government has severely restricted access to journalists until recently, making it difficult to verify survivors’ accounts. And an intermittent interruption of communication during the fighting has effectively blocked the war from the eyes of the world. But in recent weeks, as foreign journalists have been allowed in, horrific stories of rape and sexual violence have begun to surface.
On Thursday, CNN contributor Channel News 4 published a shocking report on sexual violence against women in Tigray. The report included interviews from a safe house – the only one believed to be operating in Tigray for rape survivors – where about 40 highly traumatized women returning to their families are receiving shelter and support.
One of the survivors told Channel 4 News that she and five other women were gang-raped by 30 Eritrean soldiers who were joking and taking pictures throughout the attack. She said she knew they were Eritrean troops because of their dialect and uniforms. She said she was able to return home only to be raped again. When she tried to escape, she recalled being caught, injected with a drug, tied to a rock, stripped naked, stabbed and raped by soldiers for 10 days.
Outside the safe house, many more young women and girls are being treated at Ayder Referral Hospital, the main medical center in the regional capital Mekelle. Most have been referred there by hospitals in rural areas that are not equipped to handle rape cases, Channel 4 News reported.
A hospital doctor told CNN that more than 200 women had been admitted for sexual violence in recent months, but many more cases have been reported in villages and rural centers for internally displaced persons, with a limited restriction on inaccessibility. medical care.
Fighting in Tigray, which has included attacks on healthcare facilities, has severely restricted access to medical treatment, according to a report published Thursday by the international humanitarian medical organization Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF). Of the 106 medical facilities, MSFs visited in the region, barely one in 10 were still operating and one in five had been or had been occupied by armed soldiers. A facility was being used as an army base, MSF said.
Between a lack of access to medical services and the stigma associated with sexual violence, CNN doctors interviewed said they suspect the actual number of rape cases is much higher than official reports.
On February 10, appointed by the state Ethiopian Commission on Human Rights (EHRC) acknowledged that the war and the accompanying dismantling of the regional administration in Tigray had “led to an increase in gender-based violence in the region”.
One month later, on March 4, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle is single, called for an “objective, independent assessment” of the situation on the ground in Tigray.
According to UN statement, more than 136 rape cases were reported in hospitals in the eastern region of Mekelle, Ayder, Adigrat and Wukro between December and January.
A coordinator at a gender-based violence crisis center in Tigray told CNN that they had heard cases every few days or once a week. Since the conflict erupted, up to 22 women and girls seek treatment for rape every day, she said.
Demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections has also increased in recent months. Many of the women who were raped have contracted sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, doctors told CNN.
One doctor said many of the women she treated were also physically abused, with broken bones and bruised body parts. She said the youngest girl she treated was 8 years old, while the eldest was 60.
The doctor said many women who come forward tell stories of others who have not – mothers, sisters, friends and other acquaintances.
A spokesman for the UN Office of Human Rights told CNN that they would conduct a joint investigation with the EHRC into allegations of serious human rights violations in Tigray.
Update, March 22: A comment from the Eritrean embassy of the UK and Ireland has been added to this story.
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