Unverified graphic video footage of mass murders in Ethiopia surfaces, presenting the first visual evidence of the country’s complicity in war crimes.
In early March, Dawit was watching television in a one-room apartment in Axum, a historic city in Ethiopia’s war-torn northern Tigray region. A news bulletin flashed up on the screen.
Graphic, unverified footage of a mass killing near Dawit’s hometown of Mahibere Dego in central Tigray’s mountainous region had surfaced. Ethiopian soldiers appeared to round up a group of young, unarmed men on a windswept, dusty ledge before shooting them point blank – picking them up by an arm or a leg and flinging or kicking their bodies off a rocky hillside like ragdolls.
The soldiers can be heard pleading with one another not to waste bullets, to use the fewest possible to kill, and to ensure that none of the party survived. Additionally, they seem to encourage one another, celebrating the killings as heroic and hurling insults at the men held captive.
Dawit believes one of the men in the video, which was broadcast on the Tigrai Media House (TMH) diaspora television station, is his younger brother, Alula. CNN has changed both brothers’ surnames for Dawit’s protection.
The mass killing near Mahibere Dego is one of many that have been recorded during Ethiopia’s five-month-old war, which has resulted in the death, rape, and violence of thousands of civilians.
However, with independent journalists heavily limited until recently and telephone and internet networks often blocked, verifying reports of massacres in Tigray has been difficult. Few videos from the fighting have emerged due to the effective communications blackout, and those that have are difficult to authenticate.
CNN established that men dressed in Ethiopian army uniforms executed a group of at least 11 unarmed men before disposing of their bodies near Mahibere Dego through a forensic frame-by-frame examination of the video footage – corroborated by research by Amnesty International’s digital verification and modeling experts – as well as interviews with ten family members and local residents.
Dawit said he last saw his 23-year-old brother – dressed in the same clothes as seen in the video – on January 15 at their mother’s house in Mahibere Dego. While the video is not timestamped and CNN does not have access to the original raw footage, it is possible that the video was taken on the same day.
Dawit was out in the fields tending to his cattle when he said Ethiopian soldiers arrived in town and went door-to-door pulling young men from their homes, including his brother.
Dawit reported that the troops fired at him, and he fled into the forest, breaking his leg as he crawled down a rocky road. He later said that he heard gunshots in the distance, followed by silence.