UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday stressed the urgent need for an objective, independent assessment of the facts on the ground in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, given the persistent reports of serious human rights violations and abuses she continues to receive.
“Deeply distressing reports of sexual and gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property by all parties continue to be shared with us, as well as reports of continued fighting in central Tigray in particular,” Bachelet said. “Credible information also continues to emerge about serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Tigray in November last year.”
“Without prompt, impartial and transparent investigations and holding those responsible accountable, I fear violations will continue to be committed with impunity, and the situation will remain volatile for a long time to come.”
The UN Human Rights Office has been receiving information about ongoing fighting across the region, particularly in the centre of Tigray region, as well as incidents of looting by various armed actors. Reliable sources have shared information about the killing of eight protestors by security forces between 9 and 10 February in Adigrat, Mekelle, Shire and Wukro. More than 136 cases of rape have also been reported in hospitals in Mekelle, Ayder, Adigrat and Wukro in the east of Tigray region between December and January, with indications that there are many more such unreported cases. The Government has said investigations are under way into the cases of sexual violence.
The Office has also managed to corroborate information about some of the incidents that occurred in November last year, indicating indiscriminate shelling in Mekelle, Humera and Adigrat towns in Tigray region, and reports of grave human rights violations and abuses including mass killings in Axum, and in Dengelat in central Tigray by Eritrean armed forces.
A preliminary analysis of the information received indicates that serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the conflict, including: the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Eritrean armed forces, and Amhara Regional Forces and affiliated militia.
“With multiple actors in the conflict, blanket denials and finger-pointing, there is a clear need for an objective, independent assessment of these reports – victims and survivors of these violations must not be denied their rights to the truth and to justice. We urge the Government of Ethiopia to grant my Office and other independent monitors access to the Tigray region, with a view to establishing the facts and contributing to accountability, regardless of the affiliation of perpetrators,” Bachelet said.
Bachelet also expressed concern at detentions this week in Tigray of journalists and translators working for local and international media. While the journalists have now been released, there have been worrying remarks by a Government official that those responsible for “misleading international media” would be held responsible.
“Victims and witnesses of human rights violations and abuses must not be hindered from sharing their testimony for fear of reprisals,” the High Commissioner said.
Bachelet welcomed recent statements by the Government on accountability and measures taken on access for humanitarian actors. She urged the authorities to ensure that those commitments are translated into reality, and stressed that the UN Human Rights Office stands ready to support efforts at advancing human rights, including efforts by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission aimed at ensuring accountability.
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