The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on Thursday called for an independent assessment of the facts on the ground in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, given what she described as “persistent reports of serious human rights violations and abuses she continues to receive.”
“Deeply distressing reports of sexual and gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property by all parties continue to be shared with us, as well as reports of continued fighting in central Tigray in particular,” Bachelet said. “Credible information also continues to emerge about serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Tigray in November last year.”
“Without prompt, impartial and transparent investigations and holding those responsible accountable, I fear violations will continue to be committed with impunity, and the situation will remain volatile for a long time to come,” she added.
Her statement prompted Amnesty International to call on the United Nations to “immediately launch an investigation into ongoing allegations of grave violations in the conflict in Tigray, including potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.”
The UN statement citing “persistent, credible reports of grave violations in Tigray” came just before the UN Security Council’s scheduled informal discussion of the crisis in Tigray.
It came less than a week after Amnesty International and other international news organizations, including Today News Africa in Washington DC released reported about the massacres allegedly committed by Eritrean troops in Axum and Maryam Dengelat, respectively.
Amnesty International’s investigation concluded that the Eritrean troops’ massacre of hundreds of civilians in Axum in late November 2020 amounts to a possible crime against humanity. The organization also found Ethiopian forces may be responsible for war crimes and, in a previous investigation, quoted witnesses who accused forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) of carrying out a massacre in Mai-Kadra, a potential war crime.
“The UN High Commissioner’s statement today underscores the gravity of the alleged crimes being committed by all sides in the Tigray conflict, and the urgency of the UN acting now. It must dispatch an international, impartial investigation to monitor and report on the situation and to collect and preserve evidence of crimes committed by all parties,” said Sarah Jackson, Deputy Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes at Amnesty International.
“Given the complexity and gravity of the situation, an UN-led investigation, rather than a joint investigation with Ethiopian institutions, is urgently needed to establish the truth and lay the foundations for accountability. There is no time to lose – work on this must begin now, before evidence could be destroyed and memories begin to fade.”
In her statement, Bachelet emphasized the need for “an objective, independent assessment” of the situation. She reported that “preliminary analysis of the information received indicates that serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the conflict, including: the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Eritrean armed forces, and Amhara Regional Forces and affiliated militia.”
Amnesty International said it has welcomed the High Commissioner’s call for other independent human rights monitors to be provided access to Tigray “with a view to establishing the facts and contributing to accountability”. The organization requested access to Tigray on 3 December 2020 and is still waiting for a response.