In an effort to put an end to a brutal two-year civil war, Ethiopia's government signed a peace agreement with forces from the northern Tigray region last November. However, locals and aid organizations have informed the BBC that attacks on civilians, particularly sexual assaults against women, have persisted.
Some readers may find the information in this report distressing, including the sexual violence.
Letay spent the night hiding under a bridge as mortar rounds fell and exploded all around her on the day that representatives of the Ethiopian government shook hands with their rivals from Tigray to make peace. Both sides grinned as cameras captured the moment.
She had just escaped an Eritrean soldier's rape while she was by herself in a remote area of north-east Tigray. .
I was unconscious for a long time after it happened before I came to. I had to remain hidden until they had gone. ".
To prevent stigmatization and retaliation, we changed Letay's name as well as the names of the other rape survivors who told their stories to the BBC.
The systematic rape of Tigrayan women by Ethiopian soldiers, as well as by their allies from neighboring Eritrea and militia groups, has been documented during the two-year conflict in northern Ethiopia by the United Nations, human rights organizations, and journalists.
As they pushed toward the capital of Ethiopia, forces from Tigray have also been charged with sexually assaulting women in the Amhara region.
Beginning in November 2020, Tigray was the object of a two-year civil war between two opposing sides. The number of fatalities may reach the hundreds of thousands.
After the peace accord was signed in November, there was optimism that the attacks on civilians would end.
According to women, health professionals, and aid organizations who spoke to the BBC, they did not.
On a shaky phone line, I spoke with Letay, who informed me that the government does not permit journalists to visit Tigray.
"I experienced it twice. It seemed like I was wishing for it, what have I done wrong. " .
Letay claims that two Eritrean soldiers raped her in January 2021; a third soldier declined. .
"The first two of them did as they pleased before asking the third to follow suit, but he declined. "What will I do with her? She is already lying around like a corpse," he questioned. '".
Letay joined a women's support group for survivors and sought medical and psychological assistance after being raped for the first time. Letay had hurried outside on the day of the peace agreement to assist a young girl who had also been raped before being assaulted.
The actual number of sexual assaults committed during the war is difficult to determine.
Since communications were cut off during the fighting, victims are frequently too afraid to speak up.
After the peace agreement was signed in November and December 2022, according to data from the official Tigray Health Bureau, 852 cases were reported in facilities set up to assist survivors.
Working in Tigray, human rights advocates and aid organizations have kept track of sexual assault cases.
Adiama, who is from the town of Zalambesa in northeastern Tigray, claimed that at the end of last month, an Eritrean soldier sexually assaulted her.
Only one of the four of them sexually assaulted me. They even had murderous intentions for me, but they fled after I was violated. ".
Sister Mulu Mesfin, who has worked with rape survivors at Tigray's largest hospital in the regional capital Mekelle since the start of the conflict, left me a voicemail as she passed through a ward.
"My one-stop center has a large population of survivors. They are traveling from various regions of Tigray. The majority of them are fresh cases that occurred within the previous few months. ".
The majority of these assaults in Tigray, according to Sister Mulu and other health professionals we've spoken to, were carried out by Eritrean forces, though militia from the Amhara region and federal government forces are also accused of committing rapes.
One of the reasons Eritrea joined the civil war in support of the Ethiopian government was because of its long-standing rivalry with Tigray, which shares a border with the region and is ruled by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
Isaias Afwerki, the reclusive president of Eritrea, visited Kenya last week and made a rare public appearance.
Mr. Isaias, who is from a nation without a free press, was obviously irate and frustrated when journalists pressed him on difficult topics. He denied all allegations that the forces of his nation massacred people in Tigray.
"Everyone talking about human rights violations [by Eritrean forces], rape, looting, this is a fantasy in the owners' minds, which I call a factory of fabricating misinformation," he said.
Both the African Union, which mediated the peace agreement, and the communications minister of the Ethiopian government have been contacted regarding the allegations in this report, but neither has responded.
The agreement reached in November has improved Tigray. There aren't any ongoing battles. More towns and cities are receiving aid, particularly food and medicine, and banking and communication services have resumed.
Others have spoken to one another for the first time in more than a year, while some families have been reunited. The Parties shall, in particular, condemn any act of sexual and gender-based violence, according to Article 4 of the Agreement. ".
Laetitia Bader, director of Human Rights Watch for the Horn of Africa, asserts that sexual violence is against the terms of the agreement. "One of the concerns we have been bringing up is the significance of the agreement's backers making sure they are vocal about violations.".
The group is still urging journalists and independent investigators to visit northern Ethiopia.
The international commission of human rights experts of Ethiopia, which was established by the Human Rights Commission in Geneva, continues, "We are very concerned by the efforts of the Ethiopian government to try to end and undermine the work of the international commission," she says.
According to Ms. Bader, investigations are essential for any reconciliation process and for ensuring that survivors receive justice.
After the peace agreement, I never anticipated being attacked, says Hilina.
The three-parent family had already left their Humera home and relocated to Shirao, where the mother of three was employed as a street vendor selling maize.
She claims that on November 16th, she was late getting home when she was stopped by two Eritrean troops for violating the curfew. They took her to an empty house after she admitted she didn't have an ID.
Maxar Technologies published satellite images taken on September 26 that showed the expansion of what appeared to be Ethiopian or Eritrean forces in Shiraro.
Hilina claims that she could tell the men were from Eritrea based on their appearance and the dialect they spoke.
"They took me to a vacant house. They pulled a gun and threatened to hurt the person if they didn't keep quiet. I therefore told them they could do whatever they wanted as long as they didn't kill me. ".
As of the morning they released Hilina, she claims she was sexually assaulted the entire night. Since then, she has had an abortion, claiming that she would rather die than bear a child born through rape.
Eritrean troops are reportedly present close to Shiraro, according to aid workers interviewed by the BBC.
Although they have evacuated major cities and towns in accordance with the terms of the peace agreement, they continue to be present in areas close to their border with Tigray.
As we speak to Shashu, an 80-year-old woman, on another shaky phone line, she is unable to control her tears. She says yes when we ask if she wants to carry on with the interview.
Shashu claims that she was raped twice during this war, once before and once after the peace agreement, like Letay.
She claims that since being severely abused by men in November, she has lost control over her urination and feces.
"Two, three people on one person, I was traumatized to the core. It seems like there is nothing good left on my body.