The UN has called on all parties involved in hostilities to commit to a policy of zero tolerance for sex crimes.
The United Nations has received “disturbing” reports of violence and sexual abuse in the conflict-stricken region of Tigray, Ethiopia, including from individuals forced to rape members of their own families.
Pramila Patten, the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, said she was very concerned about the serious allegations in the northern region, including “a high number of suspected rapes” in the capital of Tigray, Mekelle.
“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own families, under threats of imminent violence,” Patten said in a statement Thursday.
“Some women were also reportedly forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.”
Patten called on all parties involved in the hostilities to commit to a policy of zero tolerance for crimes of sexual violence.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, announced military operations in Tigray in early November, saying they came in response to the regional ruling party’s attacks on federal army camps.
Abiy declared victory after federal forces entered the regional capital in late November, though leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) remain at large and have vowed to continue fighting.
Thousands of people have died in the conflict, according to the International Crisis Group, though a power outage and restrictions on access to media and humanitarian aid made it difficult to assess the situation on the ground.
In her statement on Thursday, Patten noted that “medical centers have indicated an increase in demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict.”
She called for full humanitarian access to Tigray, including camps for internally displaced people “and refugee camps where new arrivals have reportedly reported cases of sexual violence.”
She expressed concern that “more than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the Shire region are living in dire conditions, many of them sleeping in an open field without food or water, as well as more of 59,000 Ethiopians who fled the country. in neighboring Sudan ”.
Tigray’s interim administration did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Earlier this month, state media broadcast footage of a meeting in which an unidentified man in military uniform expressed concern about the rapes in Mekelle.
“Why are women raped in the city of Mekelle,” the man asked.
“It wouldn’t be shocking if it happened during the war, because it’s not manageable, so you would expect it. But right now, as the federal and local police are back in town, it’s still happening.