Eyewitness reports suggest that artillery strikes have killed “hundreds of civilians” in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region amid an ongoing military conflict there, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday.
“We have received allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting,” High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet told journalists in Geneva on December 22.
“These reports point to failure by the parties to the conflict to protect civilians. This is all the more concerning given that fighting is said to be continuing, particularly in some areas of north, central and southern Tigray,” she said.
The U.N. on Tuesday noted several recent accounts by people on the ground in Tigray alleging human rights violations.
Witnesses have described “artillery strikes on the town of Humera on the border with Eritrea between 9 and 11 November,” the international body noted.
The U.N. Human Rights Office said it interviewed several people from Humera “who alleged that shells launched from Eritrea had hit residential areas and the hospital. The Ethiopian army and regional Amhara forces and militia then reportedly took control of Humera, allegedly killing civilians and looting the hospital, banks, businesses, supermarkets, and private houses.”
Refugees crossing into Sudan from Ethiopia have made similar claims, “telling reporters and aid workers that artillery shells that hit towns in western Tigray had come from Eritrea,” the Guardian reported on December 21.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki both oppose the Tigray Peoples Liberation Front (TPLF), which dominated Ethiopia’s federal government for nearly 30 years before Abiy was elected to office in 2018. The ongoing conflict between the separatist TPLF and Addis Ababa began on November 4 after Abiy accused Tigrayan forces of attacking a federal military base. Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities have denied Eritrea’s involvement in the Tigray conflict.
“Artillery strikes against the town of Adigrat in early November reportedly forced many families to flee to the mountains, where they were then trapped by heavy fighting between 20 and 24 November, with many people reported to have been killed,” the U.N. further revealed at Tuesday’s press conference.
“Based on multiple accounts, the Amhara ‘Fano’ militia has reportedly committed human rights abuses, including killing civilians and carrying out looting,” the international body said.
It added that the U.N. Human Rights Office “has also received information, which it has not been able to verify, concerning the presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray, their involvement in the hostilities and related serious violations of international law.”
The U.N. Human Rights Office has been unable to verify reports of alleged human rights violations on the ground in Tigray due to an ongoing communications blackout in the northern region that started on November 4. While some telephone lines have since been restored in certain areas, internet connections remain down across Tigray.
“Since fighting flared up in Tigray, more than 54,500 refugees have fled the Tigray region into Sudan,” the spokesperson for the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, Andrej Mahecic, told reporters in Geneva on Tuesday.