Ethiopia

Ethiopia: Bachelet urges end to ‘reckless’ war as Tigray conflict escalates

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Impact of the armed conflict on human rights situation in Tigray and neighbouring regions since June

GENEVA (3 November 2021) -- With the conflict in the Ethiopian region of Tigray escalating, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, has today made an impassioned plea for all parties to end the violence and prioritise the protection of civilians and full respect for their human rights.

"I am deeply concerned that, at an already critical point, a broad state of emergency has now been declared in Ethiopia. This risks compounding an already very serious human rights situation in the country. Further restrictions on access could also push an already extremely difficult humanitarian situation over the edge," Bachelet said.

"The emergency measures announced last night raise very serious concerns. While international law allows certain emergency measures in response to significant threats to the life of the nation, strict requirements must be met, and key rights cannot be limited at all."

"The risks are grave that, far from stabilising the situation, these extremely broad measures -- which include sweeping powers of arrest and detention - will deepen divisions, endanger civil society and human rights defenders, provoke greater conflict and only add to the human suffering already at unacceptable levels," Bachelet warned.

Recent days have seen reports of continued shelling by the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) of the Tigrayan regional capital of Mekelle, among other incidents, and further advances by Tigrayan forces into the neighbouring region of Amhara, with continued allegations of gross violations and abuses of international human rights law and serious violations of international humanitarian law.

"Nobody is winning this reckless war which is engulfing increasing parts of the country. Every day more people are suffering and dying," Bachelet said. "Our joint report with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission today laid bare the terrible toll on civilians of the conflict in Tigray from 3 November 2020 until 28 June 2021, with reasonable grounds to believe all parties to the Tigray conflict have committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law. We fear such horrific violations and abuses are continuing, based on the consistent reports that are emerging."

"While the majority of the violations documented between November 2020 and June 2021 appear to have been committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, we have since seen an increasing number of allegations of human rights abuses by Tigrayan forces, as well as continued reported violations by the ENDF and the Eritrean Defence Force (EDF)," the UN Human Rights Chief added.

"The latest reports of killings and indiscriminate attacks highlight the need for proper investigations and accountability for what has been unfolding in Ethiopia over the past year, and which, tragically, shows little sign of abating," Bachelet said. Should there not be transparent and credible national accountability processes, the High Commissioner calls for an independent international investigative mechanism.

She also highlighted the dire humanitarian situation in the country: "As millions face food insecurity and even the threat of famine, restrictions on access by humanitarian agencies are deeply concerning. I urge the parties to guarantee safe and regular access for the humanitarian aid that millions depend on."

The High Commissioner stressed the urgent need for sustained, inclusive political dialogue with the genuine intention, on all sides, to reduce tensions, to protect civilians to avoid more civilian suffering, and further damage to civilian objects and essential infrastructure, and find peaceful solutions to the underlying disputes between the parties.

Allegations of violations and abuses documented after 28 June 2021 (the cut-off date of the joint report)

Following the Ethiopian Government's ceasefire on 28 June 2021, the ENDF and the EDF withdrew from Tigray, apart from the contested western and southern parts of the region. On 29 June 2021, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) stated it had retaken Mekelle, Tigray's regional capital. The following weeks saw the conflict spread into Afar and Amhara regions amid advances by Tigrayan forces, resulting in further displacement of civilians, increased humanitarian needs and food insecurity, and disruption of livelihoods. This update offers a brief survey of serious human rights violations and abuses committed since the end of June up to the present, based on both remote and physical monitoring, including a mission to Sudan in July 2021 to interview Ethiopian refugees.

Tigray

The UN Human Rights Office has received allegations of indiscriminate airstrikes and shelling by the ENDF in and around Mekellein recent weeks.

On 18 October, three boys, who were looking after cattle, were killed and eight other civilians injured when airstrikes hit farmland 15km from Mekelle. In another incident on the same day, seven civilians were injured following airstrikes near a market in Mekelle.

The Ethiopian Government asserted its airstrike on 18 October targeted a former military base that was being used by the TPLF. On 28 October 2021, an airstrike reportedly launched by the ENDF killed six civilians, including two children, and injured some 24 others. The airstrike caused extensive damage to property, with the parties again offering conflicting accounts as to its military justification.

There were also reports of widespread detention and associated mistreatment by the Tigray Special Forces (TSF) in Tigray. Information gathered by the UN Human Rights Office indicated that 87 detainees were being held in one detention centre in July, accused of various offences, including murder and being linked to the federal government or the regional Amhara government.

According to reports, some 5,684 ENDF soldiers, including 610 women, as well as two children, 28 pregnant women and 80 civilian ENDF employees were detained in another detention centre in the region in August. Six men and three women had reportedly died in custody due to a lack of medical treatment.

Arbitrary detention of Tigrayan civilians in Western Tigray, allegedly by Amhara Special Forces and the Fano militia, increased significantly in June and July, with people detained in Mai Kadra, Adebey and Rawyen subsequently transferred to Humera, according to reports.

From July, recent refugee arrivals in Sudan spoke of a highly organised system of detaining people in Western Tigray, initially targeting young men but changing from mid-July to encompass the general civilian population. There is no confirmation of exact figures but the UN Human Rights Office has received information indicating that thousands have been detained in unofficial places of detention, such as grain warehouses and storage facilities.

The UN Human Rights Office received disturbing reports that on 25 July, some 90 people trying to flee from Humera in Western Tigray to Sudan across the Setit-Tekeze river came under fire, allegedly by Amhara forces, Fano militia and the ENDF. Of these, 30, including a 13-year-old unaccompanied child, reportedly made it across. Three days later, reports indicated that some 39 bodies, mainly male, had been discovered down-river.

Amhara

Reports indicate that Tigrayan forces have advanced in the South Wollo zone in Amhara, with fighting in and around the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha, said to have caused large-scale displacement of the civilian population. There are further unverified but deeply worrying reports of summary executions in Kombolcha.

Between 5 and 6 September, some 205 civilians were reportedly shot dead by TSF soldiers as they withdrew from the neighbourhoods of Chenna, Boza and Weken. In Chenna, where 47 civilians were reported to have been killed, UN Human Rights Office staff were shown where some of the victims had been buried.

Sexual and gender-based violence has been a recurrent and widespread aspect of the conflict. The UN Human Rights Office has established that between 4 and 9 September, at least 19 women and 13 girls were raped, allegedly by TSF members, in North Gondar.

Afar

Fighting continued for two months in Afar, after the Tigrayan Special Forces (TSF) entered the region on 16 July before withdrawing on 8 September. Reliable sources indicated that hundreds of civilians were killed by the TSF between July and August.

Among the incidents documented on 5 August, more than 200 civilians, half of them children, were reportedly killed in Galikoma in Gulina district as they sheltered in a health facility and a school that were hit by shelling. Detailed circumstances have not been fully established but these developments appear to coincide with a TSF advance toward the location.

On 11 October, six civilians were killed in Ewa district, as a result of shelling reportedly from areas captured and controlled by the TSF in neighbouring Amhara.

END

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