United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet at the Human Rights Council on June 21, 2021 in Geneva.
(FABRICE COFFRINI/AFP via Getty Images)
At the start of a week that saw Ethiopians at the polls for belated general elections, the United Nations human rights chief said she is “deeply disturbed” over reports of major and sustained human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law in Ethiopia’s Tigray region — violations and abuses that include extrajudicial executions, arbitrary arrests and detentions, sexual violence against children as well as adults, and forced displacement, as fighting continues in the troubled region more than six months after breaking out.
The fighting in Tigray began last November, when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed undertook to disarm the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a political party and nationalistic paramilitary rebel group. The conflict pits guerrillas loyal to the ousted leaders of Tigray against Ethiopian government forces and militia from Ethiopia’s Amhara ethnic group, who see themselves as rivals to the Tigrayan guerillas, as well as allied troops from neighboring Eritrea.
More than 2 million people have fled their homes as a result of the violence — more than a third of the total regional population.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said earlier this week that her office has received reports of legal and human rights violations “by all parties to the conflict.”
Addressing the opening 47th Session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Bachelet said there were “credible reports” Eritrean soldiers were still present and active in the Tigray region, despite a promise to leave. The Ethiopian government has promised to hold those who commit abuses to account. The government claims that more than 50 soldiers are on trial for either rape or killing civilians in Tigray, though they have not released any details.
Some 350,000 people in Tigray are facing famine, while 2 million others are at imminent risk. Vatican News has reported claims from farmers, aid workers and local officials, who say that food has been weaponized, with soldiers blocking aid shipments or stealing them outright.
“The humanitarian situation is dire,” Bachelet said in her report, noting “denial of humanitarian access in some localities, and looting of aid supplies by soldiers.”
Ethiopia’s prime minister says those claims are false. “There is no hunger in Tigray,” Abiy told the BBC on Monday after casting his vote in the election. “There is a problem and the government is capable of fixing that.”
Earlier this month, the UN Children’s Fund, UNICEF, said at least 33,000 children in remote areas of Tigray are severely malnourished and will perish without immediate help.