The United Nations human rights chief has said that a long-awaited joint investigation into abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray conflict failed to unfold at the site of one of its deadliest attacks, the alleged massacre of several hundred people in the holy city of Axum.
Michelle Bachelet told the UN Human Rights Council on Monday that the deployments in eastern and central Tigray, where witnesses have accused Ethiopian and allied forces in neighboring Eritrea of some of the worst abuses of the 10-month war. , “could not continue.”
He cited “sudden changes in the security situation and in the dynamics of the conflict.” She did not elaborate.
The war underwent a dramatic turnaround in late June when Tigray forces retaken much of the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia and Ethiopian and allied forces withdrew.
The change in the war came midway through the joint investigative work of the UN human rights office and the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, carried out between May 16 and May 20. of August.
The joint report will be released on November 1, a delay from its scheduled release this month.
“It is already clear that the documented cases comprise multiple allegations of human rights violations, including attacks on civilians, extrajudicial executions, torture and enforced disappearances, among other serious abuses,” Bachelet said.
“Sexual and gender-based violence has been characterized by a pattern of extreme brutality, including gang rape, sexualized torture, and ethnic-directed sexual violence.”
Bachelet added that during the period under review, Tigrayan forces had allegedly been responsible for attacks against civilians, including indiscriminate killings that resulted in the displacement of nearly 76,500 people in the Afar region and some 200,000 more in Amhara.
More than 200 people have reportedly been killed in the most recent clashes in these regions, and 88 people, including children, have been injured, he said.
“We have also received serious reports about the recruitment of children into the conflict by the Tigrayan forces, which is prohibited by international law,” Bachelet said.
A joint statement last week said the team conducted investigations in the regional capital of Tigray, Mekele, as well as the communities of Wukro, Samre, Alamata, Bora, Maichew, Dansha, Maikadra and Humera in the southern and western parts of the region.
The team also carried out investigations in Gondar and Bahir Dar, in the neighboring Amhara region, along with Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa.
Conflict ‘runs the risk of engulfing the Horn of Africa’
Northern Ethiopia has been mired in conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops to Tigray to remove the regional ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), a move he said, it occurred in response to TPLF attacks on army camps. The TPLF said that federal forces and their allies launched a “coordinated attack.”
The fighting has dragged on, with multiple reports of mass killings and other alleged war crimes, and hundreds of thousands of people starving.
In June, Tigray’s forces retaken Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, and the federal forces largely withdrew. Since then, Tigrayan forces have launched offensives in neighboring Amhara and Afar regions, displacing hundreds of thousands of people and prompting reports of summary executions and indiscriminate shelling.
Tigray forces have denied those charges, saying they are trying to break what they describe as a humanitarian blockade on Tigray and prevent pro-government forces from regrouping.
Noting the extent of the fighting in Ethiopia, Bachelet said the conflict runs the risk of spreading “to the entire Horn of Africa.”
“If the situation does not improve, Ethiopia will be the scene of a human tragedy on an unprecedented scale in this century,” British Ambassador Rita French told the human rights council, adding that the Ethiopian government is “presiding over a blockade of Tigray facto “where 400,000 now face famine conditions.
Ethiopia’s attorney general, Gedion Timothewos Hessebon, told the council that due to the joint investigation deadline, the team did not investigate recent reported killings in places like the Amhara community of Chenna Teklehaymanot.
The attorney general also criticized a separate investigation by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, a body of the African Union, as unilateral and “therefore not recognized by the Ethiopian government.”
The report of that body will be available by the end of the year, the vice chairman of the commission of inquiry, Remy Ngoy Lumbu, told the council.