Abuses have been committed by all parties in the Tigray conflict, says joint UN-Ethiopia report

All sides fighting the war in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region committed violations that may constitute war crimes, according to a joint United Nations-Ethiopia investigation released Wednesday.

The report by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission was released a day after Ethiopia declared a state of emergency. Tigrayan forces said on Monday they could march on the capital to overthrow the government of Africa’s second most populous nation.

The report covers most of the year-long conflict, fought by Tigrayan forces against the Ethiopian army and its key allies: forces from Ethiopia’s Amhara region and soldiers from the neighboring nation of Eritrea.

All parties are accused of torturing and killing civilians, gang rape and ethnically motivated detentions.

It was not immediately clear whether the report’s findings could form the basis for legal action. Ethiopia and Eritrea are not members of the International Criminal Court, so the court does not have jurisdiction.

The report recommended a possible international justice mechanism, saying Ethiopia’s investigations were not comprehensive enough, did not always meet international standards, and were not always transparent.

The report is based on 269 interviews. Many accounts contain graphic details of rapes and mutilations committed by Eritrean soldiers on military bases.

Legesse Tulu, a spokesman for the Ethiopian government, did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the content of the report. Eritrea’s Foreign Minister Osman Saleh declined to comment. Tigray Popular Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesperson Getachew Reda and Amhara regional spokesperson Gizachew Muluneh were unavailable for comment.

All parties committed violations

Eritrea refused to engage with investigators, according to the report, but has denied in the past that its forces carried out violations, despite extensive documentation, including from Reuters. Ethiopia has said that some individual soldiers are on trial for rape and murder. Amhara has denied the abuses.

TPLF spokesman Getachew has previously denied abuses by Tigrayan forces, but said some “vigilante” groups in Tigrayan may have committed rapes.

The 100-page report said that Eritrean soldiers had killed about 100 civilians in the city of Axum; that Ethiopian soldiers dragged some 70 men from their homes and killed them in three villages in southern Tigray; and that Tigrayan forces had killed some 200 Amhara civilians in the city of Mai Kadra, a crime later followed by revenge killings of Tigrayans by Amhara.

The report said it was not an exhaustive list of incidents. Reuters and other news organizations, human rights groups and civil society groups have documented many more killings of civilians that were not mentioned.

The report also accused Eritrean soldiers of forcing Eritrean refugees living in Tigray to return, in violation of international law.

The report accused all parties of blocking aid at different times and said it could not verify whether starvation was used as a weapon of war, as had previously been alleged by the United Nations aid chief. The UN has said that the government implemented a “de facto blockade” of food aid, an accusation the government denied.

Tigray leaders not consulted for the report

The report mentioned that investigators were often hampered in their work, particularly in areas controlled by Amhara forces, or were unable to visit certain areas due to insecurity. He did not mention that Ethiopia deported a UN investigator working on the report in September.

The TPLF, which controls most of Tigray, has said the report was incomplete because investigators did not visit many areas and did not involve Tigray leaders.

“They have kept us in the dark,” Getachew said Tuesday before the full report was released.

The report said the Tigrayan leadership was reluctant to participate due to the presence of investigators from the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.

Among other violations, the report documented allegations that Tigrayan forces had fired at civilians taking refuge in a church in the city of Adi Hageray on November 3.

The war started a year ago after regional forces and Tigray soldiers in the national army took control of the military bases in Tigray. They said the central government was about to act against Tigray after the region held its own elections despite a government directive delaying them.

The conflict has plunged some 400,000 people in Tigray into famine, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2.5 million people in northern Ethiopia to flee their homes.

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet in March accepted Ethiopia’s request for a joint investigation, saying war crimes may have been committed in Tigray.


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