The UN high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet is urging the Ethiopian government, Tigrayan forces and other armed groups to end the violence and abuses that are keeping northern Ethiopia in crisis.
UN rights chief Bachelet expressed alarm Tuesday at the growing human rights and humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia. She said the 16-month conflict between Ethiopian government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF, has spread into the neighboring regions of Afar and Amhara.
This, she said, has increased the number of civilian deaths and casualties and the destruction of civilian property throughout the region. The high commissioner said no one in this war has clean hands.
The comments come as the UN human rights office released a new report on the Tigray conflict, covering the period from November 22nd of last year to February 28th. Bachelet said her office has documented hundreds of killings and injuries of civilians due to multiple airstrikes by the Ethiopian air force. At the same time, she said, the Tigrayan forces and other armed groups have carried out devastating attacks in Afar and Amhara, resulting in scores of deaths and hundreds of injuries.
She accused the warring parties of gross violations of human rights, of looting, and the destruction of civilian infrastructure, including schools and health facilities.
“The attacks that I have cited, and many others, raise serious concerns under international humanitarian law, which prohibits the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian objects, as well as indiscriminate attacks that strike military objectives and civilians, without distinction. I again urge the government, Tigrayan forces, and all other parties to the conflict to cease such violations,” she said.
Ambassador Mahlet Hailu Guadey is Ethiopia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN in Geneva. She took umbrage at the report, saying it was based on rigged narratives that had nothing to do with the reality on the ground.
She said it was unfortunate that human rights were being cynically used to bolster what she termed “terrorist groups” to the detriment of the Ethiopian government. She added Ethiopia abided by its human rights obligations and was prepared to engage in a constructive dialogue to resolve the conflict.
High Commissioner Bachelet spoke of the growing humanitarian crisis in the region. She notes hostilities and insecurity continue to block the delivery of humanitarian supplies into Tigray. This, she says, has led to growing food insecurity, poverty, and displacement.
“During the reporting period, OHCHR recorded more than 15,000 arbitrary arrests and detentions in connection with the state of emergency decreed by the government. Most appeared to be ordinary citizens of Tigrayan ethnicity. I am encouraged by the authorities’ recent decision to lift the state of emergency,” she said.
Ethiopia launched its military offensive in Tigray on November 4, 2020, to oust the TPLF from its northern stronghold. The UN says 40% of Tigray’s population of 6 million suffer from acute hunger, with 400,000 on the verge of famine.