UN investigators said Monday they believe the Ethiopian government is behind ongoing crimes against humanity in the Tigray region, warning that resuming conflict there increases the risk of “further atrocities”.
In its first report, the Commission of Human Rights Experts for Ethiopia said it had found evidence of a wide range of abuses by all sides in the country since fighting erupted in the northern Tigray region in November 2020.
The commission, set up last year by the UN Human Rights Council and made up of three independent legal experts, said it had “reasonable grounds to believe that in several cases these violations amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
The experts highlighted the appalling situation in Tigray, where the government and its allies have denied some six million people access to basic services, including internet and banking, for over a year, and where 90 percent of humanitarian aid is being cut off by severe restrictions on humanitarian access A population that urgently needs help was left behind.
The report said there was “reasonable reason to believe that the federal government and allied regional state governments have committed and continue to commit the crimes against humanity of ethnic persecution and other inhumane acts.”
They “deliberately caused great suffering or serious injury to body, mental or physical health by continuing to refuse and obstruct humanitarian assistance to Tigray,” the report said.
In a statement, Commission Chair Kaari Betty Murungi described the humanitarian crisis in Tigray as “shocking, both in scale and in duration”.
“Widespread denial and obstruction of access to basic services, food, health care and humanitarian assistance is having a devastating impact on civilian populations, and we have reasonable grounds to believe that this amounts to a crime against humanity,” she said.
“We also have reasonable grounds to believe that the federal government is using hunger as a weapon of war,” she added, urging the government “to immediately restore basic services and ensure full and unrestricted access for humanitarian assistance.”
Murungi also called on the Tigrayan forces to “ensure that humanitarian organizations are able to operate unhindered.”
Tigray has been bombed several times since fighting resumed between government forces and their allies in late August, and by rebels led by the TPLF, which ruled Ethiopia for decades before Abiy took office in 2018.
The return to fighting shattered a March ceasefire and dashed hopes for a peaceful resolution to the war that has killed scores of civilians and sparked a humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia.
“With a resumption of hostilities in northern Ethiopia, there is a very real risk of further civilian suffering and atrocities,” Murungi warned.
“The international community should not turn a blind eye and instead step up efforts to ensure a cessation of hostilities and the restoration of humanitarian aid and services to Tigray,” she said.
“Failing to do so would be catastrophic for the Ethiopian people and would have wider implications for peace and stability in the region.”