A UN joint investigation into alleged atrocities in Ethiopia found all sides committed grave abuses that may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes in the yearlong war in the Tigray region.
The report, a collaboration by the UN human rights office with the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), was released on Wednesday as the country enters a new state of emergency with rival Tigray forces threatening to advance on the capital, Addis Ababa.
More than 1,300 rapes were reported to authorities, with many more likely to have been unreported.
Michelle Bachelet, the UN high commissioner for human rights, said the Tigray conflict has been marked by “extreme brutality”.
“Civilians in Tigray have been subjected to brutal violence and suffering,” Bachelet said in a press conference on Wednesday.
“The joint investigation team has covered numerous violations and abuses including unlawful killings and extrajudicial executions, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, violations against refugees and forced displacement of civilians.”
The majority of the violations documented between November 2020 and June “appear to have committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.” The UN has since seen an increase in the number of reports of abuses by Tigrayan forces, as well as by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces.
“It is vital that all parties heed the repeated calls to end hostilities,” Bachelet said.
The probe found several Ethiopian military camps were used to torture captured Tigray forces or civilians suspected of supporting them. Others were detained in “secret locations” and military camps across the country, with arbitrary detentions in many cases.
Tigray forces detained some ethnic Amhara civilians in western Tigray in the early days of the war on suspicion of supporting the military and in some cases tortured them, the report found.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed welcomed the report despite “serious reservations,” saying it dispelled false accusations against his government, including the deliberate denial of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population in Tigray.
The UN findings “clearly established the claim of genocide as false and utterly lacking of any factual basis,” Abiy said in a statement posted on his Twitter account.
A statement with respect to the Joint Investigation Team report of the EHRC and the UNOHCRC. pic.twitter.com/D4WND2uo22
— Abiy Ahmed Ali 🇪🇹 (@AbiyAhmedAli) November 3, 2021
UN officials failed to visit some of the deadliest sites of the war, including the city of Axum, because of security and other obstacles.
Obstacles to the investigation included the Ethiopian government’s failure to release satellite phones procured for the investigation, the report said.
The UN told The Associated Press news agency the collaboration with the EHRC was necessary for its team to gain access to a troubled region. Ethiopian authorities have largely prevented journalists, rights groups and other external observers from entering.
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