The UN rights chief voiced deep concern Wednesday over the situation in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray and beyond, warning it was “spiralling out of control”.
“The situation in Ethiopia is, I think, really worrying and volatile,” Michelle Bachelet told journalists in Geneva, adding that the conflict was having an “appalling impact on civilians.”
Thousands have been killed in fighting that began November 4 between government forces and those loyal to the leadership of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
The fighting was declared over on November 28, but Bachelet voiced alarm that “in the Tigray region itself, fighting is reportedly continuing, in spite of government claims to the contrary.”
Bachelet said her office had corroborated information about a range of “gross human rights violations and abuses,” including attacks on civilians, looting, abductions and sexual violence.
“There are reports of forced recruitment of Tigrayan youth to fight against their own communities,” she said.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said blocked communication in the region was making it particularly difficult to verify all of the allegations her office was receiving.
“There is an urgent need for independent monitoring of the human rights situation in the Tigray region, for all necessary measures to protect civilians, and for accountability for violations,” she said.
Bachelet also decried the “deeply distressing” obstacles to humanitarian relief efforts in Tigray.
“In spite of an agreement between the government and the UN, unfettered humanitarian access has not been possible,” she said, appealing to the government to “ensure humanitarian access, and to ensure access to water, electricity and other basic needs is restored.”
Bachelet also voiced concern about the situation beyond Tigray, pointing to intercommunal violence in recent weeks in other parts of Ethiopia, with reported fatalities.
And she warned that Tigrayans in other parts of the country appeared to be facing “ethnic profiling”, including in the capital Addis Ababa.
“We have reports of dismissals from jobs, including in the civil service, harassment of Tigrayan journalists and hate speech against Tigrayans,” she said.
“Such discriminatory actions are deeply unjust but are also fostering divisiveness and sowing the seeds for further instability and conflict,” she warned, calling on the government to take “immediate measures to halt such discrimination.