An investigation by the BBC Africa Eye revealed evidence that the massacre in northern Ethiopia was carried out by members of the Ethiopian army. It also reveals the exact location of the atrocities in which at least 15 men were killed.
In early March, a series of five video clips appeared on social media showing that a man in an armed uniform shot a group of unarmed men at close range and pushed the corpse onto a cliff.
The BBC confirmed that the slaughter took place near the town of Maberedego in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. There, Ethiopian troops are fighting regional troops on the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPFL).
The fighting began last November when the government launched a military attack on the TPLF, and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed accused him of attacking the government’s military base. The TPLF said it opposed Mr. Abbey’s efforts to strengthen federal power and said it was working on “extended resistance.”
According to Tigray’s interim government, the conflict has so far evacuated more than 2 million people and more than 4 million needed help.
Geoposition of footage
The BBC Africa Eye Research Team has set out to work with media Bellingcat and Newsea analysts to identify where the slaughter took place.
The first people to post clips on social media claimed they were filmed near Mahbere Dego. Africa Eye analyzed the geographic features seen in the video, such as dirt roads, plateaus, and cliffs, with characteristic profiles and compared them with satellite images around the town.
The direction and length of the shadows cast by the armed men help identify possible times, indicating that the cliffs are facing north and south, allowing the African Eye to identify potential locations. I made it.
Next, I overlaid the ridgeline of the video footage on the topographic map of the location and confirmed that it was a perfect match. The patterns of dry riverbeds, vegetation strips, and trees further matched.
The BBC spoke to Mahbere Dego residents over the phone, saying that Ethiopian troops had removed 73 men from the town and surrounding areas in January this year, including three of his relatives. He said no one had contacted him since then.
The BBC also spoke with a resident of the neighboring village who said his brother was among those killed in the slaughter. He said the killing took place in Mahbere Dego and gave him the same month, January 2021.
“They killed them on the cliff,” he said.
Identify armed men and victims
Africa Eye could not confirm the identity of the armed men seen in the video footage, but details of their uniforms (such as camouflage patterns and armbands in the colors of the Ethiopian national flag) are one that was worn by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces. The Defense Force (ENDF) seems to be doing it.
Other features such as pocket cuts and styles also match the ENDF uniform. One of the armed men wears a green beret with an insignia that appears to exactly match the color of the ENDF beret and the insignia.
The armed men speak Amharic, the main official language of Ethiopia. In the first part of the five video clips, you can hear them talking to each other as they stand around a group of unarmed men sitting on the floor.
“We shouldn’t release these people, and even one of them shouldn’t be spared,” says the voice from the camera.
“We need to watch this in a video to see how these people die,” says another voice.
The next four clips show an unarmed man being struck by a gun and guided towards the edge of a cliff. An armed man has killed several prisoners and pushed the bodies of the dead onto a cliff.
In some sections of the footage, you can see the shooter firing bullets at his body from close range. In others, they can be heard insulting and ridiculing the dead.
“We wish we could pour gas over them and burn them,” says a voice from the camera in one clip.
“I wish I had the gas to burn these people,” the second voice replies. “Burning their bodies like Indians.”
The identities of the victims seen in civilian clothing are unknown. They can be heard speaking the Tigrinya language, the language of the Tigray region. The footage seems to suggest that the murderer believes the victim belongs to the TPLF.
“This is the end of Woyane,” says one armed man’s voice, using TPLF slang.
“We show no mercy.”
Human Rights Watch’s Horn of Africa director, Laetitia Bader, said observers have seen “the entire magnitude of very serious abuse” in the region in recent months, but the footage is “obviously particularly worrisome.” Should be, “he told the BBC.
“We see what looks like an unarmed detained man being executed,” she said. “This is an incident that absolutely needs further investigation, as what we see in these videos could be a war crime.”
The BBC submitted the evidence it collected to the Ethiopian government, stating that “social media posts and allegations cannot be considered evidence,” adding that the Tigray region is “open for independent investigation.”
Survey by Aliaume Leroy, Giancarlo Fiorella (Bellingcat), and Jake Godin (Newsy).
Additional reports by Daniel Adamson, Joel Gunter, Chiara Francavilla, Bertram Hill, Carlos Gonzalez, Mohammed Ottoman and Samir.