Tigrayan rebels raped, robbed and beat up several women during an attack on a town in Ethiopia's Amhara region, Amnesty International said on Wednesday, the latest disturbing testimony from the year-long conflict.
The investigation, which draws on interviews with 16 sexual assault survivors in the town of Nifas Mewcha, follows an earlier report by the rights group that documented the rape of hundreds of women and girls by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers in the Tigray region.
Wednesday's report focused on assaults that took place in August during an offensive by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), with 14 of the 16 women interviewed telling Amnesty they were gang-raped by the rebels, in some cases at gunpoint and with their children watching.
"The testimonies we heard from survivors describe despicable acts by TPLF fighters that amount to war crimes, and potentially crimes against humanity," said Amnesty's secretary general Agnes Callamard.
"They defy morality or any iota of humanity."
In one of the many horrific incidents detailed in the report, Gebeyanesh -- not her real name -- said TPLF fighters gang-raped her while her children, aged nine and 10, wept.
"Three of them raped me while my children were crying," the 30-year-old food seller said.
"They slapped me (and) kicked me. They were cocking their guns as if they are going to shoot me."
Many of the rapists used ethnic slurs against their victims, with a 28-year-old mother-of-two telling Amnesty that one of the four men who assaulted her called her a donkey while her daughter watched.
"He was saying: 'Amhara is a donkey, Amhara has massacred our people, the Federal Defence forces have raped my wife, now we can rape you as we want.'"
Another woman told Amnesty she fell unconscious after TPLF fighters raped her and beat her, using the butts of their guns. The men also stole her jewellery after assaulting her, she said.
Mass rapes, massacres
Amhara government officials told Amnesty more than 70 women reported rapes in Nifas Mewcha during the TPLF's nine-day rule over the town.
The rights group said the vast majority of the women interviewed were suffering from health problems as a result of the sexual assaults but were unable to get the help they needed after Nifas Mewcha hospital was damaged in the TPLF offensive.
The war, which has ravaged northern Ethiopia since November 2020, has been punctuated by accounts of massacres and mass rapes, with thousands of people killed and two million displaced.
A joint investigation by the office of UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) published last week found evidence of "serious abuses" by all sides in the conflict, saying some of the violations may amount to crimes against humanity.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF and vowed a swift victory, but the rebels recaptured most of Tigray by June before expanding into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar.
The TPLF and its allies have claimed several victories in recent weeks, taking towns about 400 kilometres from the capital, and have not ruled out marching on Addis Ababa.
The government says the rebels are greatly exaggerating their gains.