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Ethiopia: Civilians again mired in intractable and deadly war, Human Rights Council hears

“Our investigation indicates that their use has exposed civilians to new and heightened risks,” she said. “We have received reports of drone strikes in Tigray in the last four weeks, which have allegedly killed and injured civilians, including children.”

Worst rights violations

In their first, extensive report to the Human Rights Council in Geneva, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia said that they believed that crimes against humanity had also been committed in the on-off war that erupted in the northern region in November 2020.

A child sits inside a vehicle burned out during fighting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Serious rights violations in Tigray were “ongoing”, the report maintained, noting that fighting resumed last month, breaking a five-month ceasefire.
According to the Commission chairperson, rape and crimes of sexual violence had happened “on a staggering scale” since the earliest days of the conflict, “with Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and regional militias targeting Tigrayan women and girls with particular violence and brutality”.
Tigrayan forces had also committed rape and sexual violence against Amhara women and girls and Eritrean refugees, Ms. Murungi said, highlighting the devastating long-term impacts for the survivors that included trauma, unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection.
This denial and obstruction of access to basic services, food, healthcare and aid relief “amount(ed) to the crimes against humanity of persecution and inhumane acts”, the Commission chairperson insisted.
Rejecting the report’s findings, the Ethiopia delegation repeated its claim that the federal government had been subjected to “unfair and biased scrutiny” at the Council for more than a year.

Desperate conditions

Today, international humanitarian access into Tigray continues to be blocked, despite the dire situation there, Ms. Murungi said.
The international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia was established after the Human Rights Council adopted resolution S-33/1 on 17 December 2021.
“During their searches of homes in Kobo, for example, Tigrayan forces looked for weapons and pulled many men from their homes, executing them, often in front of their families.”

Starvation ‘tactic’

According to the latest dire humanitarian data from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), conflict and displacement in northern Ethiopia has left more than nine million people in need in Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions, while severe drought is affecting millions more in the south.
Turning to Tigrayan forces, Ms. Murungi insisted that they had also likely committed serious human rights abuses “which amount to war crimes”.
Citing OCHAMs. Murungi said that that the combined effect of the Federal government’s measures had left 90 per cent of the population in acute need – an 80 per cent increase since the beginning of the conflict.
Citing information from “credible sources”, Commission chairperson Kaari Betty Murungi – who like the two other members of the panel is an independent UN-appointed rights expert – said that there had been an “escalation” in drone attacks by Government forces that used explosive weapons “with wide area effects in populated areas”, since hostilities resumed.

It mandated a panel of three human rights experts – appointed by the President of the Human Rights Council – “to conduct a thorough and impartial investigation into allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict”.“We also have reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government is committing the war crime of using starvation as a method of warfare,” the top independent rights expert continued, noting that Tigrayan forces had reportedly looted humanitarian aid.

Tigrayan women and girls not spared

Addis Ababa was engaged in responding to an “insurrectionist armed group that has endangered the territorial integrity of the country”, the Council heard.
“Most of the population in Tigray must now survive on limited and nutritionally inadequate diets,” she said, adding that there had also been “an increase in child marriages and child labour, human trafficking, and transactional sex as desperate means for survival”.

‘Unfair and biased scrutiny’

Extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare” have happened in Ethiopia since the earliest days of the conflict, the Council heard.
A child sits inside a vehicle burned out during fighting in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
#HRC51 | Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia told the Human Rights Council that it found reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the conflict had committed serious violations & abuses of international human rights & humanitarian law https://t.co/w9dGB6qK4x pic.twitter.com/5OKpgw8Yei
These included “large-scale killings of Amhara civilians, rape and sexual violence, and widespread looting and destruction of civilian property in Kobo and Chenna in August and September 2021.

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