Image copyright PA Image caption Amnesty International says soldiers must not have had guns or ammunition with them in the villages
Government soldiers and rebels in Ethiopia’s Tigray region have raped and tortured at least 32 women, Amnesty International has said.
It said the victims were held at gunpoint during raids on villages, while soldiers and rebels raped and tortured them.
Cholera and waterborne diseases are rife in the region, which has a history of violence and government persecution of minorities.
The government said foreign reports contained exaggerated information.
The women were reportedly detained in January, although Amnesty says it received reports that rapes and torture took place before the attacks on villages were launched.
‘Vicious and brutal’
Amnesty says survivors have reported being raped or threatened with rape, including some who have also had to face excessive force at hospitals.
“The accounts provided by these women show an extraordinary disregard for women’s lives, dignity and safety in these remote areas,” said Seif Magango, Amnesty’s deputy Africa director.
“These atrocities, which the Ethiopian government must urgently investigate, may amount to crimes against humanity.”
According to the group, soldiers took the women and girls to villages which they had come to raid, including to places they were not born in.
In one case, Amnesty said the rebels rounded up women outside a school during a choir performance and that women had to wade through floods to escape from the fighting.
Government forces are also accused of rounding up civilians and executing them, sometimes by bullet to the head.
On Wednesday, the African Union called for an inquiry into “serious allegations of serious human rights violations” in the region.
“The African Union condemns in the strongest terms the rape and gang rape of ethnic female students and women in an attack conducted by Ethiopian government forces in the western Tigray region of Ethiopia in January,” the AU said in a statement.
In a statement, the Ethiopian government denied all allegations.
“The government condemns in the strongest terms these unverified allegations of aggravated crimes and murders in the Tigray region,” it said.
“Any or all such reports by international, regional or domestic parties should be referred to Ethiopia’s Federal Independent Commission for Human Rights for prompt investigation, as this is due to the grave nature of the crimes.”