Tigray conflict in Ethiopia marked by 'extreme brutality': U.N. report

Published : November 03, 2021 16:18 IST

The U.N. warns 100,000 children in Ethiopia, mainly in Tigray, are at risk of malnutrition in the coming year. Photo: Ben Curtis/AP Photo/picture alliance

Both government troops and Tigrayan forces have committed gross violations of human rights, according to a new report.

A long-awaited report on human rights abuses during the civil conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region has revealed that all sides fighting in the conflict committed violations that may amount to war crimes. The investigation, led by the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and published on the morning of November 3, is among the first investigations into the human rights violations and violence that has killed thousands of people in the country.

The report comes a day after the Ethiopian government declared a nationwide state of emergency after Tigrayan forces claimed to have seized strategic towns and amid fears they were preparing to march on the streets of the federal capital, Addis Ababa. Fighting broke out between Ethiopian government soldiers and Tigray forces in November 2020.

The genesis of the civil conflict lies in the animosity between the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. TPLF soldiers consider Abiy Ahmed a bitter enemy. Before Abiy became the leader of Ethiopia in 2018, the TPLF dominated national politics for nearly 25 years.

There were concerns on the Tigrayan side about the objectivity of the human rights report because the investigation was jointly conducted by the UN and Ethiopia's government-created human rights commission. Those fears deepened after Ethiopia expelled seven U.N. officials last month, including one of the U.N. rights office's investigators.

Conflict marked by 'extreme brutality'

The 100-page report, which draws upon 269 interviews, found evidence of "serious abuse and violations" by all sides in the conflict. Michele Bachelet, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement that the conflict had been "marked by extreme brutality." She insisted on the need to bring perpetrators of a vast array of rights abuses to justice. "The gravity and seriousness of the violations and abuses we have documented underscore the need to hold perpetrators accountable on all sides," Bachelet said.

The report covered the period from November 3, 2020, through June 2021, when the Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire, which it was subsequently accused of breaching. It pointed to extra-judicial executions, torture and sexual violence among other abuses. The abuses could amount to "crimes against humanity and war crimes," according to it.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Chief Daniel Bekele said the report presented an opportunity for "all sides to acknowledge responsibility." He also called on parties to "commit to concrete measures on accountability, redress for victims and sustainable solution to end the suffering of millions." The investigators said they faced significant security risks and administrative challenges and were unable to carry out all planned visits in parts of Tigray.

Concerns about impartiality of report

The joint investigation, led by the U.N. Human Rights Office and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, seeks to document alleged violations of human rights and refugee law committed by all parties to the Tigray conflict. But the involvement of a state-led organization has created fears of it being influenced by government authorities. A spokesman for the TPLF in Tigray said it would be flawed, given that investigators did not visit several sites where violence occurred.

The Ethiopian government has banned almost all human rights watchdog organizations, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. It has also barred international media from entering the country.

Allegations of rape, violence

Ethiopian soldiers, as well as Eritrean soldiers who are fighting alongside government forces, have been accused of rape and violence against women. The new report said women accused Eritrean soldiers of raping them. Prime Minister Abiy won the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to improve ties with Eritrea after years of conflict or frozen ties when the TPLF controlled Ethiopia. But the conflict in Tigray soon followed, along with allegations, disputed by Abiy's government, of allowing Eritrean forces to join in.

Amnesty International published a report in August 2021, saying that the "severity and scale of the sexual crimes committed" were particularly shocking and amounted to "war crimes and possible crimes against humanity." The U.N. has also previously raised concerns several times about the government blocking aid to regions or the dire humanitarian situation on the ground. It estimates that malnutrition could affect more than 100,000 children in the next year.

The Ethiopian government has denied blocking aid and said that it has tried individual soldiers for the abuses, though it has not provided any details. Over 5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance as phone, internet, banking services remain cut off.

rm/msh (Reuters, AP)

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