On June 24, 2021 María Hernández, Yohannes Reda, and Tedros Gebremariam, emergency responders for Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), were killed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. The government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the winner of a Nobel Peace Prize, instantly blamed the tragedy on dissident forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. But newly acquired evidence and interviews with investigators, government officials, and people aware of what happened that day detail a very different version of events. The three MSF staff were traveling through an active conflict zone in central Tigray where some of the fiercest fighting in a brutal eight-month civil war had taken place. Soldiers fighting for the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) had been routed in a deadly offensive led by Tigray fighters, and several divisions were hanging on for dear life.
Ethiopian soldiers in the area were tense, fearing for their lives, and suspicious of foreigners and aid workers with knowledge of their whereabouts.
It was in this context that several senior ENDF officers gave the order to kill the three aid workers. They were pulled from their car, forcibly dragged off the road, and shot at point-blank range.
Using geo-coordinates, eye witness accounts, and photographs of the crime scene, this story in The New York Times documents for the first time the events that led to these brutal murders. The story also reports on the painful search for justice that the families of the victims and MSF as an aid organization have embarked on by visiting the family and friends of María in the village of Sanchotello in Spain.
The killings marked a significant turning point in the ability of foreign aid groups to work in Tigray, where nearly a million people are experiencing famine, and the U.S. government is investigating allegations of ethnic cleansing. The crime is also just one of many atrocities carried out by warring parties in Ethiopia that have yet to be atoned for.