GENEVA – UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet has warned that growing violence in Ethiopia’s northern Tigris region threatens to spread to the entire Horn of Africa.
Preliminary results from a joint investigation by the UN Office for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission have been submitted to the UN Human Rights Council over alleged violations in the Tigers.
Since its last update in June, fighting in Tigra has continued and has spread to neighboring Afar and Amhar regions. The UN’s chief rights watchdog said mass arrests, killings, systematic looting and sexual violence had displaced nearly two million people in the region and created an atmosphere of fear. He said civilian suffering is widespread and impunity is widespread.
Bachelet said investigators have documented multiple allegations of human rights abuses, including extrajudicial killings, torture and enforced disappearances. He said sexual and gender-based violence, including gang rape, is a feature of extreme cruelty and racially targeted.
“Since the last update of my council to date, allegations of human rights violations have involved government forces and their allies,” Bachelet said. “We have received disturbing reports that local fishermen have seen dozens of bodies floating across the river in the west. Tigris and Sudan in July.
The Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire in Tigra in late June, about eight months after the start of military operations in the region. Shortly afterwards, Tigrian rebels recaptured the capital, Mekele.
According to Bachelet, Tigrian forces have committed many human rights violations since taking control of parts of Tigre and expanding into neighboring areas.
“During the review period, Tigrian forces were accused of being responsible for attacks on civilians, including indiscriminate killings, which resulted in the displacement of about 500 people in Afar and an estimated 200,000 people in Amhar.” Individuals, including children, have been injured in recent clashes in the region.
Bachelet said accountability for human rights violations and a national reconciliation process is the only solution to the conflict in Tigris and to achieve a lasting peace.
Daniel Bekel, head of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said all parties to the conflict had committed violence, including sexual violence against civilians and the use of child soldiers. But he thinks the situation in Tigra is complicated.
He said the commission is still analyzing the information and evidence collected and is not ready to share any results and decisions at this stage. He said the commission’s findings, decisions and recommendations would be in the final report of the joint investigation, which would be released on November 1.