A series of disturbing videos obtained by the BBC appear to show a massacre of unarmed civilians in Ethiopia.
- Armed men in uniform, leading a group towards a cliff edge.
- The BBC obtained this video and a number of others like it at the beginning of March. Around that time, they also started circulating on social media. They apparently show a massacre taking place in northern Ethiopia, but where exactly were they filmed?
When did this atrocity take place? Who were the victims, and who killed these captives and then pushed their dead bodies down the side of a cliff? The people who posted these videos online claimed they were filmed in the Tigray region in the far North of Ethiopia.
In November 2020, following an attack on a military base, the Ethiopian army began an offensive in the region against the Tigray People's Liberation Front, or TPLF, who are challenging central government rule. Troops from Eritrea are also involved, backing the Ethiopian government. The conflict has been largely hidden from view as access to the region has been severely limited.
The UN is currently investigating numerous allegations of atrocities committed by all sides during the war. We know these videos all record the same events, because there are common elements to them. This ridgeline, for example, appears in, at least, two of the videos. And this man in the red shirt and white headscarf is also visible in two different clips, once as he walks towards the cliff edge and once after he has been killed.
Social media users claimed the massacre happened at a place called Mahbere Dego, a small town in the Tigray region. A dirt road runs south to the edge of an escarpment, and it's here the killings took place. We know this. Because we can match elements of the landscape seen in the videos to features visible on satellite imagery, this ridgeline, this cliff edge, the same band of vegetation, the same dry riverbed. The men were killed here.
- The Armed men are wearing uniforms that matched those used by the Ethiopian National Defense Force or ENDF. On one of these men, we see an armed patch in the colors of the Ethiopian national flag. They're speaking Amharic, one of the official languages of Ethiopia.
- We've not been able to confirm any individual identities, but the videos show two of the men close up and suggest, at least, one female was among the group. The victims, meanwhile, are dressed in civilian clothing and are heard speaking the language of the Tigray region. In one clip, the armed men suggest the captives belong to the Tigray People's Liberation Front.
- We can't tell exactly when these videos were filmed. Nor can we be certain about when a massacre might have occurred in Mahbere Dego. One Mahbere Dego resident told the BBC that more than 70 people from the area were taken away by Ethiopian soldiers in January and were still missing.
Another man from a neighboring village told us his brother had been killed in Mahbere Dego in January. We do know Ethiopian troops have been in Tigray since November, but until very recently, there has been a media blackout in the region. This satellite image taken on January the 20th shows a military presence, including what seems to be a battery of artillery. At least, 15 dead bodies are visible in these videos.
- We put the videos and claims to the Ethiopian government, who said they were open to independent investigations in the Tigray region and said social media posts and claims could not be taken as evidence. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed recently acknowledged reports of massacres and rapes in Tigray, saying professionalism must be strengthened, and disciplinary gaps would be addressed. Though the Ethiopian government has claimed victory, the conflict in Tigray is still ongoing. Slowly, a horrifying picture is beginning to emerge of the bloody events that have occurred there over the past five months.