Photo taken in the One Stop health center, which deals exclusively with women victims of sexual abuse. Almost unique in Tigray. Located in Mekele, capital of Tigray, at the Ayder Referral Hospital. May 2021. RFI/ Sébastien Németh
17 June 2021
In Ethiopia, the conflict in the north has been ongoing since November. After three weeks, the federal government claimed victory, but the fighting continues. The war has left thousands dead. But rapes are also rampant. A report on one of the only centers in Tigray managing cases of sexual violence. The One Stop Center in Mekele, the regional capital.
Azadamara [Azmera] talks with One Stop staff. Azadamara, a 45-year-old farmer, was preparing food in her home when three federal soldiers attacked her a month ago. Sobbing down her throat, she said: “The soldiers accused me of being the mother of rebels. They kept my family outside and then raped me one by one in the house. They beat my genitals and my stomach. It lasted four hours. My body and mind were broken. I hid the truth from my children. Women who have been raped cannot speak out or the community will reject them. Others have suffered the same fate. It is a strategy. The army wants us to stop being fertile. They fear that our future children will take revenge.”
Azadamara received psychological support. She has had urine tests, blood tests, STD screening. She is far from being the only victim. Sister Mulu created One Stop a year and a half ago. Today, the center can no longer cope with the influx.
“With the war, we have gone from 30 to 200 people a month. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. For the past month, the cases have been even more serious. With gang rapes and objects introduced into the genitals. These women arrive in a very unstable state. Some are injured after being raped by 40 or 50 soldiers. I have never seen such a tragedy. We are exhausted. We need more space and medicine,” she says.
One Stop also runs a shelter in town where about 40 very fragile or potentially endangered people can stay for several months. But the flow of patients never stops. As a social worker, Hira tries to bring comfort to the victims. “The survivors are damaged. I encourage them to speak up. And we are preparing a project that can help them. Sometimes I cry with them. It’s very stressful. At home, I’m on edge. So it’s a difficult mission.”
One Stop has nine employees, including police officers and lawyers so that investigations can be initiated. Hadas is a prosecutor. She fights for the perpetrators to be punished one day, even if she is not too confident. “The judicial system has collapsed. But we are collecting medical evidence, testimonies, so that one day we can hold the government, the military, accountable. Our capacities are limited. We don’t have the identity of the criminals. We don’t know which group they belong to. They rape in one place and leave elsewhere the next day. We feel useless,” she says.
For the first time, at the end of May, the public prosecutor announced the conviction of four soldiers, adding that 53 soldiers were under investigation. This is far too few, according to observers.