U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Michele Bachelet warns the increasingly brutal conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region threatens to spill over to the whole Horn of Africa.
Preliminary findings of a joint investigation by the U.N. Human Rights Office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission into alleged violations in Tigray have been submitted to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Since her last update in June, fighting has continued unabated in Tigray and has expanded into neighboring Afar and Amhara regions. U.N. rights chief Bachelet said mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence have displaced nearly two million people in this region and created an atmosphere of fear. She said civilian suffering is widespread and impunity is pervasive.
Bachelet said investigators have documented multiple allegations of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances. She says sexual and gender-based violence, including gang rapes, have been characterized by a pattern of extreme brutality and ethnically targeted.
“From my last update to the Council to date, allegations of human rights violations have continued to implicate government forces and its allies," Bachelet said. "We have received disturbing reports that local fishermen found dozens of bodies floating along the river crossing between Western Tigray and Sudan in July. Some allegedly had gunshot wounds and bound hands, indications that they might have been detained and tortured before being killed.”
The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray at the end of June, nearly eight months after it began its military offensive in the region. Shortly after, Tigrayan rebels retook the capital Mekelle.
Bachelet reports Tigrayan forces have perpetrated many human rights abuses since gaining control of parts of Tigray and expanding to neighboring regions,
“During the period under review, the Tigrayan forces have allegedly been responsible for attacks on civilians, including indiscriminate killings resulting in nearly 76,500 people displaced in Afar and an estimated 200,000 in Amhara," Bachelet said. "More than 200 individuals have reportedly been killed in the most recent clashes in these regions, and 88 individuals, including children, have been injured.”
Bachelet said accountability for human rights abuses and a national reconciliation process are the only solution to the conflict in Tigray and to achieving a sustainable peace.
The chief of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Daniel Bekele, said all parties to the conflict have committed violence against civilians, including sexual violence and use of child soldiers. But he notes the situation in Tigray is complex.
He said the Commission is still analyzing the information and evidence gathered and is not ready to share any findings and conclusions at this stage. He said the commission’s findings, conclusions and recommendations will be contained in the final report of the joint investigation, to be published November 1.