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Bachelet: Violations of International Law Imperil Civilians in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region

FILE - United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.
FILE - United Nations' High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet.

The U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michele Bachelet, is warning that civilians in Ethiopia’s Tigray region are in extreme peril amid allegations of widespread violations, some possibly amounting to war crimes.

It is difficult to verify many of these allegations and to gauge the extent of human suffering in Tigray because of the ongoing communications blackout in many areas.

Human Rights Chief Bachelet is calling for unhindered access to the region by independent human rights monitors to assess conditions, protect civilians and bring perpetrators of crimes to justice.

The high commissioner’s spokeswoman, Liz Throssel, says the human rights office has received consistent information pointing to violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law by all parties to the conflict.

“These include artillery strikes on populated areas, deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting…Among the accounts, witnesses described artillery strikes on the town of Humera on the border with Eritrea between the 9th and 11th of November,” said Throssell. "We interviewed several people from the town who alleged that shells launched from Eritrea had hit residential areas and the hospital.”

Throssell says the Ethiopian army and regional Amhara forces and militia reportedly took control of Humera. They allegedly killed civilians and looted the hospital, banks, businesses, supermarkets and private houses.

She cites several other shocking incidents, the worst reportedly being the alleged mass killing of several hundred people, mainly Amharans, in Mai Kadra, on November 9th.

“The high commissioner has previously stressed that if civilians were deliberately killed by a party or parties to the conflict, these killings would amount to war crimes and there need to be an independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations to establish accountability and ensure justice,” said Throssell.

Throssell says her office also has received information, as yet unverified, concerning the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray, their involvement in the hostilities and related serious violations of international law.

The Ethiopian government has denied that Eritrean troops are involved in the conflict.

Before the conflict began seven weeks ago, some 96,000 Eritrean refugees were sheltering in four camps in Tigray. Since then, many have fled the camps in fear of safety.

Earlier this month, U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said his agency had received many disturbing reports of Eritrean refugees in Tigray being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea. Around the same time, the United States said it believed Eritrean troops were active in Ethiopia and called for them to be withdrawn.