GENEVA — U.N.-backed human rights experts say war crimes continue in Ethiopia despite a peace deal signed nearly a year ago to end a devastating conflict that has also engulfed the country’s Tigray region. The violence has left at least 10,000 people affected by rape and other sexual violence — mostly women and girls.
The experts’ report, published on Monday, comes against the backdrop of an uncertain future for the team of investigators who wrote it: The U.N. Human Rights Council is set to decide early next month whether to extend the team’s mandate in the face of efforts by the Ethiopian government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed to end it.
The violence erupted in November 2020, centering largely — though not exclusively — on the northern Tigray region, which for months was shut off from the outside world. The report cites atrocities by all sides in the war, including mass killings, rape, starvation, and destruction of schools and medical facilities.
Mohamed Chande Othman, chairman of the international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia, said the situation remains “extremely grave” despite a peace accord signed in November.
”While the signing of the agreement may have mostly silenced the guns, it has not resolved the conflict in the north of the country, in particular in Tigray, nor has it brought about any comprehensive peace,” he said.
“Violent confrontations are now at a near-national scale, with alarming reports of violations against civilians in the Amhara region and on-going atrocities in Tigray,” Othman added.
The report said troops from neighboring Eritrea and militia members from Ethiopia’s Amhara militia continue to commit grave violations in Tigray, including the “systematic rape and sexual violence of women and girls.”
Commissioner Radhika Coomaraswamy said the presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia showed not only “an entrenched policy of impunity, but also continued support for and tolerance of such violations by the federal government.”
“Entire families have been killed, relatives forced to watch horrific crimes against their loved ones, while whole communities have been displaced or expelled from their homes,” she said.
Citing consolidated estimates from seven health centers in Tigray alone, the commission said more than 10,000 survivors of sexual violence sought care between the start of the conflict and July this year.
But accountability and trust in the justice system in Ethiopia have been lacking.
The commission said it knows of only 13 completed and 16 pending military court cases addressing sexual violence committed during the conflict.
The figures in the report offer a sweeping look at a conflict that was known to be rife with cases of sexual violence, even after the signing of the peace deal.
Ethiopia has also announced a state of emergency in the Amhara region last month, and the experts said they have received reports of “mass arbitrary detention of Amhara civilians,” including at least one drone strike carried by government forces.
Amhara, Ethiopia’s second most populous region, has been gripped by instability since April, when federal authorities moved to disarm its security forces following the end of the war in neighboring Tigray.
“This evolving situation has huge implications for stability in Ethiopia and the wider region, and in particular the tens of millions of women, men, and children who call it home,” Othman said, and stressed the need for continued monitoring.