UNITED NATIONS – The heads of nine UN agencies and other officials demanded a halt to attacks against civilians in Ethiopia´s embattled Tigray region, “including rape and other horrific forms of sexual violence.”, AP reported.
They called for an independent investigation into “conflict-related sexual violence in Tigray” that involves the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
In a joint statement, the UN agencies, the UN special investigator on the human rights of internally displace people, and two umbrella organisations representing non-governmental groups doing humanitarian work also called on all parties in Tigray to explicitly condemn all sexual violence and ensure their forces “respect and protect civilian populations, particularly women and children, from all human rights abuses.”
No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since months of political tensions between Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed´s government and the Tigray leaders who once dominated Ethiopia´s government exploded in November into war. Eritrea, a longtime Tigray enemy, is accused of teaming up with neighboring Ethiopia in the conflict, which Abiy´s government has denied.
The region remains largely cut off from the world, with few journalists allowed in, and only now are steps being taken to allow the United Nations human rights office into Tigray to help investigate allegations of atrocities.
The dozen signatories, including UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and UN humanitarian chief Mark Lowcock, urged the warring parties to take action to bring perpetrators of abuses to justice.
They stressed that “humanitarian access is essential” and aid workers need to reach all regions affected by conflict and violence, including major towns and rural areas.
Many displaced people are living in unfinished or damaged buildings without separate spaces and latrines for women and men, girls and boys, “thus increasing risks of gender-based violence and the spread of certain infectious diseases,” the officials said.
UN deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said Monday the conflict continues to drive massive displacement, with tens of thousands of people arriving into Shire, Axum and Adwa, most fleeing fighting in Western Tigray in the last few weeks. There are also reports of people uprooted by violence in the northwest and central areas, he said.