The United Nations has warned that women are being gang-raped by soldiers in front of their families and men are being forced to rape their relatives in a wave of sexual violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray province.
According to Wafaa Said, the UN aid coordinator in Ethiopia, more than 500 rape cases of sexual violence have been reported at five medical centres in the northern state.
‘Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence,’ she said.
Tigray region of Ethiopian has seen an increase in violence by soldiers on civilians since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a military offensive against Tigray’s regional leaders (who control the TPLF party) in November 2020.
Ahmed, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, said the assault was aimed at the TPLF party which had ruled Ethiopia for three decades until 2012 and continued to control the Tigray region, despite attempts by the Ethiopian federal government to bring it under federal control.
The military offensive has also brought in soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea, resulting in heavy ethnic violence that has seen civilians indiscriminately killed, while hundreds of thousands have been displaced and left without food.
‘Most of the internally displaced people left with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing,’ Said told the UN on Thursday.
‘They are generally traumatized and tell stories of the difficult journey they took in search of safety. Some reported walking for two weeks and some as far as 300 miles,’ Said said on Thursday.
‘Of the people who traveled with them, some were reportedly killed particularly youngsters, people were reportedly beaten, women were subject to rape, some were pregnant and delivered on the way losing their babies.’
The U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described the acts carried out by Ethiopian military as ethnic cleansing but Ethiopia has rejected Blinken’s characterization.
This week, prime minister Abiy (pictured below) acknowledged for the first time that atrocities such as rape had been committed.
He also said guilty soldiers will be punished but said Eritrean soldiers are reportedly the ones who have committed the most crimes.
Dozens of witnesses in Tigray have told Reuters that Eritrean soldiers routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women and looted households and crops.
In a major announcement on Friday March 26, Aiby said that Eritrean soldiers have agreed to leave the region – just five days after he acknowledged for the first time that they were even there.
‘Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces out of the Ethiopian border,’
He added that the Ethiopian National Defence Force will take over guarding the border area effective immediately, Abiy said.