According to medical records and survivor testimonies shared with CNN, the women are raped, drugged and abducted as hostages. In one case, a woman’s vagina was filled with stones, nails and plastic, according to a video seen by CNN and the testimony of one of the doctors who treated her.
According to doctors, almost all the women they treat tell similar stories of having been raped by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers. The women said the troops had a self-proclaimed retributive mission and were operating with almost total impunity in the region.
A CNN team in Hamdayet, a sleepy Sudanese city on the Ethiopian border where thousands of Tigray refugees have gathered in recent months, spoke to several women who described being raped as they fled the fighting.
“He pushed me and said,‘ Tigrayans have no history, no culture. I can do what I want to you and no one cares, “a woman told her attacker. She told CNN she is now pregnant.
Many say they were raped by Amhara forces who told them they intended to ethnically cleanse Tigray, a doctor who worked at the Hamdayet refugee camp told CNN.
“Women who have been raped say that the things they are told when they were raped are that they need to change their identity, either to have breakfast or at least to leave their Tigrinya status … and they have come clean them … clean the bloodline, “Dr. Tedros Tefera said.
“Practically this has been a genocide,” he added.
The influx of refugees has become a drain since Ethiopian forces tightened the border in recent days, worrying refugees who are still waiting to reunite with relatives.
The Ethiopian and Eritrean governments did not immediately respond to CNN’s request to comment on allegations that their forces are conducting a coordinated campaign of sexual violence against women in Tigray.
New reports of sexual violence come when U.S. President Joe Biden sends Senator Chris Coons to meet with Abiy and convey to the United States “concern about the humanitarian crisis and human rights abuses in the Tigray region “. The State Department has previously called for an independent investigation into the atrocities committed during the war.
The Ethiopian government has severely restricted access to journalists until recently, which poses a challenge to verifying survivors ’accounts. And an intermittent interruption of communications during the fighting has effectively blocked the war from the eyes of the world. But in recent weeks, as foreign journalists have been allowed to enter, horrific stories of rape and sexual violence are beginning to appear.
One of the survivors told Channel 4 News that she and five other women were raped by 30 Eritrean soldiers who joked and took pictures throughout the attack. He said he knew they were Eritrean troops because of their dialect and uniforms. She said she was able to return home only to be raped again. When she tried to escape, she remembered being captured, injected with a drug, tied to a rock, stripped, stabbed and raped by soldiers for 10 days.
Outside the safe house, many more young women and girls are being treated at Ayder Referral Hospital, the main medical center in the regional capital Mekelle. Most have been referred by hospitals in rural areas that are not equipped to handle rape cases, Channel 4 News reports.
A hospital doctor told CNN that more than 200 women had been admitted for sexual violence in recent months, but many more cases have been reported in rural villages and centers for internally displaced persons, with limited access to medical care.
Between the lack of access to medical services and the stigma surrounding sexual violence, CNN doctors interviewed said they suspect the actual number of rape cases is far higher than official reports.
A coordinator of a gender-based violence crisis center in Tigray told CNN that they used to hear cases every few days or once a week. Since the conflict erupted, up to 22 women and girls have been seeking rape treatment every day, she said.
Demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections have also increased in recent months. Many of the women who have been raped have contracted sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV, doctors told CNN.
A doctor said many of the women he treated were also physically abused, with broken bones and injured body parts. He said the youngest girl he treated was 8 years old, while the eldest was 60 years old.
The doctor said many women who show up share stories of others who have not: mothers, sisters, friends and other acquaintances.
A spokesman for the UN Office of Human Rights told CNN that they would conduct a joint investigation with EHRC on allegations of serious human rights violations in Tigray.
CNN’s Nima Elbagir and Barbara Arvanitidis reported from Hamdayet. Eliza Mackintosh wrote and reported from London. Bethlehem Feleke reported from Nairobi. Gianluca Mezzofiore and Katie Polglase reported from London.
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