A young mother was trying to go home with food for her two children when she said soldiers pulled her from a minibus in the Tigris region of Ethiopia, demanding extra pressure.
It was the beginning of an 11-day ordeal in February, during which she said she was repeatedly raped 23 times by soldiers who forced nails, stones and other things into her vagina and threatened her with knives.
Doctors showed the Reuters news agency the bloody stone and two 3-inch (7.6 cm) nails they said they had removed from his body.
The 227-year-old woman is among hundreds of people who said they had been subjected to horrific sexual violence by Ethiopian and allied Eritrean troops since the fighting began in November in northern Ethiopia.
Some women were held captive for extended periods of time, days or weeks, said Dr. Fascia Amdeslaci, the top public health official in the government-appointed interim administration in Tigris.
“Women are being kept in sexual slavery,” Fascia told Reuters. “The culprits must be investigated.”
News of the rape has been circulating for months. But for the first time, an Ethiopian official – a top regional health official – has been accused of sexual slavery in connection with the Tigris conflict.
In addition, eight other doctors at five government hospitals told Reuters that most of the rape victims described their attackers as Ethiopian government soldiers or Eritrean soldiers. Physicians said it was more common for Eritrean soldiers to report sexual violence against women.
The Eritreans have been supporting the Ethiopian central government Fighting The region’s former ruling party, the Tigra People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), plagued the Horn of Africa country.
Taken together, the descriptions paint the most detailed picture of the history of sexual violence against women in Tigris and the alleged involvement of the military in it.
Most people refuse to be identified in the interview for this article. They said they feared retaliation, including possible violence by hospitals and city guards.
In a speech to parliament on March 23, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abi Ahmed acknowledged that “women were raped and brutalized” and promised that the perpetrators would be punished. He could not identify the alleged miscreants.
He then said Eritrean for the first time The soldiers entered the clash The TPLF attacked military bases across the region in the early hours of November 4 in support of the Ethiopian government.
The Ethiopian government has denied this before, and the Eritrean government has not yet acknowledged the presence of its troops. The TPLF was a hegemonic force in the central government when Eritrea fought a bloody border war with Ethiopia many years ago.
Neither the Ethiopian nor the Eritrean government has responded to Reuters’ questions about specific cases raised by women and their doctors, or allegations of sexual slavery.
No charges have been filed against any of the soldiers by civilian or military lawyers. However, officials in both countries stressed that their governments have zero tolerance for sexual violence – a spokesman for Abby, Bilen Siyum, said the prime minister had recently reiterated in talks with military leaders.
Alleged sexual violence has attracted international attention.
The United Nations, the African Union and Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission have been allowed to jointly investigate allegations of abuse by all parties to the conflict, Billen said. Referring to the TPLF, he said it included “criminal gangs”.
An Ethiopian military spokesman and head of an official task force on the Tigris crisis did not respond to requests for comment on phone calls and text messages. Reuters could not reach any of the country’s military leaders.
Asked about reports of Eritrean soldiers raping and sexually enslaving women in Tigris, the country’s information minister, Yemen Zebramscale, accused TPLF workers of “coaching” sympathizers.
He told Reuters in a written response, “Our fictional story – which is separate for our culture and laws – is ready to cover the crimes of starting the TPLF war.
Reuters could not reach a TPLF spokesman.
Health official Fascia said at least 829 sexual assaults have been reported in five hospitals since the conflict began in Tigris.
These events are probably the “roots of the iceberg,” Fascia said. The rape was reported in Ethiopia because it carries a huge stigma. Also, most of the healthcare in the region is no longer working and travel between cities remains dangerous, he said.
Fascia said most of the women who have come forward have suffered serious physical injuries as a result of pregnancy or rape.
Reuters interviewed 11 women who said they had been raped by Eritrea, Ethiopia or both. Four said they were abducted, taken to military camps and gang-raped, in some cases alongside other women. The women did not know the names of the camps, but said they were located near the towns of Meckelle and Idaga Hamus, Ukro and Shero.
The other five women said they had been sitting in the field or in a secluded house for six days. And the two said they had been raped in their own home.
Reuters could not independently verify their accounts. However, everyone told similar stories of being beaten and brutalized.
Healthcare providers confirmed that the injuries of 11 women were consistent with the events they described, and they showed medical records detailing the condition of three Reuters women.
Healthcare providers have shared details of nine more cases of sexual harassment, including the arson of two 14-year-old girls.
Although the Ethiopian government Declare victory Fighting continued in several areas centered on the TPLF in November, and medical staff said there were daily reports of new rapes in the region’s healthcare system.
“This is disrespectful to women and is being done to break their ego,” said a doctor at McAll’s Aider Referral Hospital, referring to the attacks and the brutality of the victims. “It’s not about sexual gratification. Rape to punish Tigra. ”
‘Tell my story’
The 227-year-old mother said that in February, uniformed soldiers from Eritrea pulled her out of a minibus on its way from Meckley to the town of Adigrat.
They tied him up and took him through the field to a bush camp, he said. After 11 days of rape and beatings, she said, soldiers forced nails, cotton, plastic bags and rocks into her vagina and left her alone in the bushes.
The villagers found him unconscious and rushed him to a nearby hospital.
She said she was still bleeding from a serious internal injury and could not control her urination, walk without a crutch, or sit for long periods of time. He said one of the legs was broken.
He also described a different kind of pain. While in hospital, he had no way to talk to his four-year-old son and six-year-old daughter because Eritrean soldiers took his mobile phone. She left the kids with her mother to search for food and never returned. At that time the family had less than a week’s bread.
“I don’t know if they are dead or alive,” he said. “The enemy has destroyed my life.”
McLellan, a 32-year-old mother, told Reuters that soldiers removed her from a minibus on the same street in late February.
They were dressed in Ethiopian uniforms, he said, but spoke with an Eritrean accent and the traditional scar of the face was as enduring as the neighboring country.
She said they shot and killed her 12-year-old son in front of her and later took her to a camp where she was detained along with other female prisoners and repeatedly raped for 10 days.
“Tell my story,” he said. “It simply came to our notice then. I want it to end with me. “
The 26-year-old home cleaner said soldiers picked him up from a street in McKelle on the afternoon of February 10 and took him to a field outside a military base where he was raped by more than 10 people in Ethiopian or Eritrean uniforms.
Wiping away tears, he said that during his two-week ordeal, the soldiers had consumed alcohol and mocked him as well as mocked him. He said he fled when gunmen misled his captors.
Shot for resistance
The government has set up a separate task force from the Human Rights Commission to investigate reports of sexual violence. Its head, Mebrihit Assefa, said the agency included representatives from the regional health bureau, the attorney general’s office and the federal police.
The task force plans to set up five centers where rape survivors can report to law enforcement and receive medical and psychosocial support.
“Our prosecutors [and] Police officers are there to investigate all crimes, including sexual violence, ”said Aoul Sultan, a spokesman for the attorney general’s office.
He did not answer questions about whether detainees were raped, or whether prosecutors had contact with Eritrean or Ethiopian military forces. The results of the criminal investigation will be released on an unspecified date, he said.
Abera Nigas, head of the Tigris judiciary, said the legal process could be complicated as most courts are not working in Tigris and many rape victims cannot identify their attackers.
Knowing there are still too many of their rapists discourages women from seeking help, doctors say.
Many of the women who sought treatment at the hospital had tears in their vaginas and anus, sexually transmitted diseases and injuries left them incomplete, said a doctor at Ayedar Hospital, a medical-gynecologist. Doctors who have treated 11 cases of women being raped by the army at the hospital.
One woman was gang-raped on three separate occasions, according to hospital notes.
Another was five years pregnant when she was raped, the notes suggest. Two 14-year-old girls were sexually abused in front of their families. A girl’s arms and legs were amputated.
He was shot to repel the attacker.