Ethiopia probes uniformed fighters filmed abusing boy

A young man walks past a tank said to have belonged to Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebels near Debre Tabor, on Dec 6, 2021. (SOLAN KOLLI / AFP)

ADDIS ABABA – Ethiopia's state-appointed rights commission said on Monday it was investigating a video showing a group of fighters in Ethiopian army fatigues abusing and shooting a boy they accused of being from the embattled Tigray region.

The video, widely shared on social media since Friday, showed a group of men in Ethiopian army combat fatigues stoning, taunting and kicking a boy with a bloodied face, before shooting him in the stomach.

Badges on the chests of several fighters read "Ethiopian Army". Reuters was unable to confirm their identity independently.

The video, widely shared on social media since Friday, showed a group of men in Ethiopian army combat fatigues stoning, taunting and kicking a boy with a bloodied face, before shooting him in the stomach

"We are trying to gather information on the distressing incident," Daniel Bekele, the head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) told Reuters in a text message.

Neither Ethiopia government spokesperson Legesse Tulu, military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane responded to requests for comment on the video.

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In March the EHRC said all sides involved in the conflict in northern Ethiopia had committed human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

In the video, the fighters accuse the boy of being from the town of Abiy Addi in central Tigray, a region whose forces have been fighting the central government since November 2020.

Tigrayan leaders accuse Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed of wanting to centralize power at the expense of the regions; he accuses them of wanting to regain national power, which they lost when he was appointed in 2018.

"Don't kill him, let him suffer," said one man, as another adds: "He can't talk now, we were first supposed to get information from him."

"We should have buried him alive," another man said. One man hands a small girl a rock to throw at the boy's head, and later the men force bank notes into the boy's mouth as he lies bleeding from a head wound.

Reuters was not able to verify the time and location where the video was filmed or the actions it showed. The boy's fate was unclear.

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In March, the EHRC said soldiers and regional security forces had shot dead ten civilians – Tigrayans and ethnic Gumuz – after an attack on a military convoy left 53 people dead. Some of the bodies were burned, and an eleventh Tigrayan man thrown onto the pyre alive, the commission said. 

The film of the flaming man trying to escape and being pushed back by uniformed security forces was posted on social media.

The government promised to punish those responsible but it is unclear if any action was taken.