At least 600 people were killed in a "rampage" on November 9 in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region by a local youth group aided by police and militia, the national rights watchdog said Tuesday.
The massacre in the town of Mai-Kadra is the worst-known attack on civilians during Ethiopia's ongoing internal conflict pitting federal forces against leaders of the ruling Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
Amnesty International previously reported that "scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death" in that attack.
Fisseha Tekle is a researcher for Amnesty International in charge of Ethiopia and Eritrea. He said Ethiopia must respect internationals laws it is signatory to.
"So when conducting this conflict, whether in Mekele or outside of Mekele, there are some rules which should be respected. The international human rights law of standards and the international humanitarian law standards that deal with war crimes. So violation of these basic standards about protecting civilians or targeting civilians can amount to a war crime according to the Ethiopian law and according to the international laws that Ethiopia has signed and ratified’’, Tekle said.
But Tuesday's report from the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission gives a more detailed account. It accuses the Tigrayan youth group known as "Samri" of targeting non-Tigrayan seasonal laborers working on sesame and sorghum farms in the area.
The report said the perpetrators "killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons/sticks, stabbing them with knives, machetes and hatchets and strangling them with ropes. They also looted and destroyed properties."
It added that the attack "may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes."
Sources including eyewitnesses and members of a committee formed to bury the dead "estimate a minimum of 600 have been killed, adding that the number is likely to be still higher. A mismatch between the large number of bodies and limited burial capacity meant that burial took three days," the report said.