GENEVA

Expressing concern over persistent reports of serious human rights violations and abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the UN human rights chief said Thursday there is an urgent need for an objective and independent assessment of facts on the ground.

Michelle Bachelet, the high commissioner for human rights, said her office had received information about ongoing fighting across the region, particularly in the center of Tigray region, as well as incidents of looting by “various armed actors.”

“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,” said Bachelet in a statement.

“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.”

She said that without prompt, impartial, and transparent investigations and holding those responsible accountable, she feared violations would continue “with impunity,” and the situation will remain volatile for a long time.

The rights office said it has information about the killing of eight protestors by security forces on Feb. 9-10 in Adigrat, Mekelle, Shire, and Wukro.

Sexual violence

More than 136 cases of rape have also been reported in hospitals in Mekelle, Ayder, Adigrat, and Wukro in the east of the Tigray region between December and January, said the office.

It said there are indications that there are many more such unreported cases.

“The government has said investigations are underway into the cases of sexual violence,” said the rights office, adding it had information about indiscriminate shelling in the Tigray towns of Mekelle, Humera, and Adigrat in November.

It also had reports of grave human rights violations and abuses, including mass killings by armed forces from the neighboring country of Eritrea in Axum and Dengelat in central Tigray.

“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,” said the office.

These include the Ethiopian National Defense 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 justice,” said Bachelet.

“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,” she said.

Threat to journalists

The UN rights chief also expressed concern at detentions this week in Tigray of journalists and translators working for local and international media.

While the journalists have been released, the office said there have been worrying remarks by a government official that those responsible for “misleading international media” would be held accountable.

The Tigray region has been the scene of fighting since November when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced military operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), who he accused of attacking federal army camps.

Government troops took control of the regional capital, Mekele, in late November, but the TPLF vowed to fight, and clashes have persisted in the Horn of Africa country, hampering efforts to deliver humanitarian aid.

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