Johannesburg — The United Nations released a report on Wednesday warning that atrocities committed by both sides in the brutal war in Ethiopia may amount to crimes against humanity, as the spreading conflict sparked a warning for U.S. citizens to prepare to leave the country. The fighting in northern Tigray has been raging for over a year, with numerous reports of ethnic cleansing, massacres, and gang-rapes.
” We have reason to believe that all Tigray parties committed violations of international humanitarian, refugee, and human rights law during the period. Michelle Bachelet, United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, stated Wednesday that some of the violations could be considered war crimes or crimes against humanity. She cited the UNHCR report. The war was “reckless”, and she urged for an end to all fighting.
The report draws on 269 interviews, many containing graphic details of rapes and mutilations by Eritrean soldiers on military bases. Eritrea sent troops to Ethiopia to assist President Abiy Ahmed in trying to quell Tigrayan rebels.
The U.N. human rights chief was speaking after her office published the report, which it compiled in cooperation with the state-appointed Ethiopian human rights commission. The majority of violations during the reporting period were perpetrated by Ethiopian or Eritrean forces. However, since then they have seen an increase in crimes by Tigrayan troops as well as continued abuses by Ethiopians.
Bachelet stated that
“Eritrean troops were the primary (party) responsible of violations of human right.”
It was not clear if the report’s findings would be the basis of legal action against any parties to the conflict. Eritrea and Ethiopia aren’t members of the International Criminal Court so they don’t have jurisdiction.
Bachelet said the Ethiopian government had assured the U.N. that it was already carrying out investigations and prosecutions over alleged abuses committed by government forces, but she added there was a troubling lack of transparency.
The conflict has created a deepening humanitarian crisis in Tigray. The U.N. has estimated that some 400,000 people are at risk of starvation, and 4.5 million people are in dire need of aid. The most vulnerable people live in places that are still inaccessible because of fighting.
The Ethiopian government has banned many aid organizations from operating in the country, and it has not permitted journalists to travel to Tigray to gain first-hand knowledge of the conditions on the ground.
The U.N. reported that rebel Tigrayan fighters had made substantial advances. Over the weekend they captured two cities near Addis Ababa’s capital. This fueled fears that the rebel Tigrayan fighters could move on Addis Ababa in an attempt to overthrow Abiy’s government.
Abiy declared a state of emergency this week, telling Ethiopians it was their duty to defend the capital from the rebels – with their lives if necessary.
U.S. officials have said that Washington opposes any attempt by the Tigrayan forces to push toward Addis Ababa, but given the rebels recent battlefield successes, the American embassy in the capital urged U.S. nationals in the country on Wednesday to “consider making preparations to leave the country. “
U.S. envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman called the spread of the conflict “unacceptable,” and said the situation was “even more alarming than it was a few months ago.” If the violence is not stopped, he warned that there will be “disastrous” consequences for Ethiopia’s stability and its relations with the U.S. The U.S. is looking at suspending Ethiopia’s duty free market status. This decision was made in response to human rights violations and growing hunger. These benefits could be suspended, which would put at risk Ethiopia’s ambitions to become a manufacturing center. It would also cause a serious blow to Abiy’s hard-earned economic gains. A lot has been made of Abiy’s prime minister for inciting long-standing ethnic divisions. His government will fall, leaving behind a devastated economy and country.
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