By Peter Kenny
GENEVA (AA) - The conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region has expanded to other areas and forced at least 2 million people from their homes and many civilians are not getting assistance, the deputy UN human rights chief said on Friday.
Nada Al-Nashif was addressing a special session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) called by the EU.
"The conflict in the Tigray region has, in recent months, extended to other areas of the country. It now involves an even wider range of actors, with serious impact on civilians," said Al-Nashif.
“Acute food insecurity is now affecting more than 9.4 million people in northern Ethiopia, according to OCHA (Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs). Within Tigray, 5.2 million people – roughly 90 % of the population – is in need,” she added.
The request for the special session was supported by nations – including Austria, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Mexico, the Netherlands, Poland, the Marshall Islands, South Korea, Ukraine, and the UK.
The special session call was also supported by 36 observer states, including Australia, Belgium, New Zealand, Norway, Paraguay, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, and the US, but it did not have the backing of the African Group.
- Joint investigation
Al-Nashif, in her speech, also recalled the findings of the joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and UN Human Rights Office.
The report found that all parties to the conflict – including the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Tigrayan Forces, and Eritrean Defense Forces – have, “to varying degrees, committed violations of international human rights."
"Some of the incidents investigated could potentially amount to international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity," Al-Nashif stressed.
The report recommended all parties to the conflict to take measures needed "to protect civilians and civilian infrastructure; and to agree, without preconditions, to immediately end hostilities and end any measures that may exacerbate the already acute humanitarian crisis."
"While the government of Ethiopia expressed some reservation regarding the joint investigation's findings, it committed to undertake comprehensive and impartial investigations into the alleged serious violations and to implement some of the report's recommendations," Al-Nashif said.
"The Tigray People's Liberation Front and the Eritrean Government entirely rejected the report and its findings,” she added.
On behalf of the EU, Anita Pipan, the Slovenian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, said that the "gravity and scale of violations and atrocities committed against civilians by all sides, including sexual and gender-based violence and ethnic violence, are unacceptable."
The EU is convinced there is no military solution to this crisis, and it reaffirmed its strong support for African Union and regional mediation efforts, led by former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo.
"The widespread targeting of ethnic groups, hate speech, and incitement should be of the utmost concern," said Pipan.
"In this regard, the EU calls for transparency on the situation of persons arrested since the declaration of the state of emergency including by allowing visits to detention facilities."
Zenebe Kebede, the Ethiopian ambassador to the UN in Geneva, accused the HRC of targeting his country “for defending a democratically elected government,” and the peace and future of its people.
“The initiative of this special session, on the other hand, failed to condemn the pillage, destruction of property, rape and sexual abuse, use of child soldiers by these rebel forces, the TPLF (Tigray People's Liberation Front),” Kebede said.
- TPLF’s claim
In a statement, the TPLF on Friday claimed that the Ethiopian government bombed a popular market, killing civilians in the northern Tigray region of Alamata.
“On 16 December, the government of Ethiopia has carried out six rounds of bombings (with jets and drones) at a marketplace of the city of Alamata, as a result, 28 people were killed and 76 others are wounded so far,” the statement said.
Witnesses in the region told Anadolu Agency that there had been an attack in the area.
“We have video evidence, the hospitals are nonfunctional so the death toll may go up. We have no medicine. We call for peace and an end to the indiscriminate bombings that are killings us,” a witness said on condition of anonymity.
The regional Tigray TV broadcast scenes from the alleged attack site showing rubble and dozens of injured people, some lying motionless on the ground as others cried.
A government official, who spoke to Anadolu Agency on condition of anonymity due to restrictions on speak to the media, confirmed the government was aware of the TPLF allegations and said that the reports were false.
"The allegation concerning (the) bombing of Alamata town – an area claimed by Amhara and Tigray regions – by the Ethiopian air force is a trumped-up one," the official said.
"They had to fake something of the sort to correspond to the meeting now being held by the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, a meeting which Ethiopia (is) vehemently opposed to,” the official added.
Last Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that Ethiopia is increasingly facing the prospect of an implosion that would be "disastrous" for its neighbors.
Blinken said Ethiopia's warring parties have the option to turn to negotiations and prevent all-out collapse but warned that if civil war envelops the country, the consequences for the region would be dire.
"I am very concerned about the potential for Ethiopia to implode given what we're seeing, both in Tigray, but also as we have different forces and different ethnic groups that are increasingly at odds," Blinken said at the State Department.
*Andrew Wasike in Nairobi and Addis Getachew in Addis Ababa contributed to this story.