Ethiopian Airlines did transport military arms including ammunition and rifles on civilian aircraft at the outset of the brutal and bloody conflict in Tigray despite repeated denials from the airline that it has ever transported military armaments on its aircraft according to a new investigation.
The revelations could potentially put Ethiopian Airlines at risk of severe sanctions by the United States after President Biden signed an executive order last month that allows the US government to freeze the assets of entities complicit in serious abuses committed in Tigray.
According to cargo documents sighted by CNN, along with photographic evidence and witness testimony, Ethiopian Airlines transported weapons and ammunition into Eritrea at the start of the conflict.
The Ethiopian government declared an all-out war against separatists in the contested northern region of Tigray last November after fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) launched an attack on Ethiopian forces.
Early on in the conflict, Tigray “suffered indiscriminate bombing” by Ethiopian government forces. By early June, there were 350,000 people facing starvation in Tigray and thousands have reportedly died in the brutal conflict.
Human Rights Watch has collected evidence of civilian massacres, systematic rape and sexual violence, forced displacement and deliberate attacks on civilian infrastructure including hospitals.
Allegations of acts that could constitute war crimes have been made against all sides including the TPLF, as well as the Ethiopian army and Eritrean government forces who received arms from Ethiopia and apparently transported on Ethiopian Airlines flights.
Cargo documents or air waybills as they are known in the airline industry show how Ethiopian Airlines billed Ethiopia’s ministry of defence on six occasions for the transport of military hardware between November 9 and November 28, 2020.
Anonymous airlines sources cited by CNN also claim Ethiopian Airlines was involved in the transport of munitions at the start of the conflict. The majority of flights took place in November but some continued past that date.
CNN also claims to have verified photographic evidence of what appears to be mortar’s being loaded onto an Ethiopian Airlines plane. The airline has strongly refuted the authenticity of the photos.
The airline previously claimed campaigners had engaged in a highly elaborate plot to “tarnish the high reputation of the airline and defame its brand.”
On at least two occasions, Ethiopian Airlines said the allegations were “baseless and unfounded”.
Late last year, the airline was also accused of sacking or putting on administrative leave staff from the ethnic Tigrayan minority. According to The Telegraph (paywall), Ethiopian Airlines is one of the most prominent companies discriminating against Tigrayan’s.
In response to the CNN investigation, a spokesperson for the government-owned airline said it “strictly complies with all National, regional and International aviation related regulations”. an
Described as the “jewel in Ethiopia’s economy”, the airline said that “to the best of its knowledge and its records, it has not transported any war armament in any of its routes by any of its Aircraft.”
Mateusz Maszczynski honed his skills as an international flight attendant at the most prominent airline in the Middle East and has been flying throughout the COVID-19 pandemic for a well-known European airline. Matt is passionate about the aviation industry and has become an expert in passenger experience and human-centric stories. Always keeping an ear close to the ground, Matt's industry insights, analysis and news coverage is frequently relied upon by some of the biggest names in journalism.