Amnesty International (AI) has accused Ethiopian troops supporting Somalia’s UN-backed government of killing civilians by slitting people’s throats, gouging out eyes and gang-raping women.
The rights group says the international community must act to halt the atrocities.
Amnesty says testimonies in its report published yesterday suggest all parties to Somalia’s conflict are committing war crimes and possibly crimes against humanity, and no one is holding them accountable.
Ethiopian government officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Somali government troops and their Ethiopian allies have been battling Islamist-led insurgents since early last year.
Yet the real scale of the “dire” rights crisis remained unknown because international aid agencies were under heavy pressure not to expose the abuses they witnessed, Amnesty said, and local journalists were often silenced by threats.
The interim government has largely failed to impose its authority on the Horn of Africa country of some 8 million people, torn apart by inter-clan violence and vulnerable to cycles of drought, flooding and now skyrocketing food prices.
The Ethiopian and Somali governments have frequently denied committing rights abuses in their fight against what they call al-Qaeda-backed terrorists. Prime Minister Nur Hassan Hussein has said government troops have the right to defend themselves.
But many Somalis living in southern and central areas say life is worse now than when dictator Mohamed Siad Barre was toppled by warlords in 1991, plunging the country into lawlessness. Up to 1 million Somalis are refugees in their own land, while an estimated 6,500 civilians were killed last year.
Amnesty said since late last year it had received an increase in reports of violations against civilians by Ethiopian forces who helped the government oust Islamist leaders at the end of 2006.
Among the most common were allegations of gang rape and reports of civilians being slaughtered like goats — their throats slit — and left lying in the street or their homes because sniper fire made it too dangerous to collect the bodies.
Last month, Amnesty said Ethiopian troops killed 21 people in Mogadishu’s Al Hidaaya district — seven of the victims had their throats cut. Ethiopia dismissed the report as lies, saying its soldiers had never been involved in such incidents.
One person told Amnesty of a report that Ethiopian soldiers had slit the throat of a young child in front of the mother.
“Even the schools are being used as cemeteries, because people cannot take bodies outside the city,” Galad, a 60-year-old journalist, was quoted as saying.
In another account, a witness only named as Ceebla’a said she saw Ethiopian soldiers rounding up three men whose bodies were found in the street the next morning.
One had been strangled with electrical wire, another had his throat cut, while the third one had been chained ankle to wrist, his testicles smashed.
Haboon, a 56-year-old, told Amnesty that Ethiopian troops raped a neighbor’s 17-year-old daughter in the middle of last year. She said when the girl’s two younger brothers tried to defend her, Ethiopian soldiers beat them and gouged out their eyes with a bayonet. She said she did not know what happened to them next.
“Even their mother didn’t wait to see, she just fled,” Amnesty said.