Cape Town — Thousands of prisoners taken by Tigrayan forces have been paraded through the recaptured regional capital, Mekelle, in an apparent breach of the principles of international law governing the treatment of prisoners-of-war.
Dramatic video footage of the prisoners – assumed to be Ethiopian federal soldiers – has been published by the New York Times, accompanied by the report of a correspondent in Mekelle who reported that on Friday “jubilant crowds lined the streets to jeer the captives and cheer the Tigrayan forces… Many of the soldiers bowed their heads and cast their eyes downward.”
View the footage here.
Article 13 of the 1949 Geneva Convention on the treatment of prisoners of war says they “must at all times be protected, particularly against acts of violence or intimidation and against insults and public curiosity.”
The Times quoted Debretsion Gebremichael, leader of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) as saying officials were in touch with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC). He reportedly said foot-soldiers would soon be released but officers would remain in detention.
The Geneva-based ICRC has played a central role in overseeing the treatment of prisoners of war for more than a century. However, it is uncertain whether the treatment of prisoners by the TPLF constitutes a technical breach of the convention, since it is usually states which are signatories to the Geneva Conventions on the conduct of war.
However, the treatment of the prisoners in Mekelle can be expected to inflame the ethnically-based hostility which has been a feature on both sides of the conflict between Addis Ababa and Tigrayan forces which flared up last November. The TPLF charges the federal government with perpetrating genocide, while the federal legislature has declared the TPLF as a “terrorist” organisation.