Amid reports of deteriorating humanitarian conditions in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, several UN officials Monday called for a stop to “indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians, including rape and other horrific forms of sexual violence”. The statement comes amidst an ongoing conflict between central government soldiers and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) in the northern Ethiopia region.
Signatories to the statement include Mark Lowcock, Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs; Michelle Bachelet, High Commissioner for Human Rights; António Vitorino, Director General of the International Organization for Migration and Cecilia Jimenez-Damary, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights of internally displaced persons.
They raised concern over women and children reporting challenges in accessing health, social welfare and justice services and highlighted that facility assessments show gaps in security, staffing, services and supplies of affected regions. Initial assessments of 106 facilities in Tigray show that as of March 2021, nearly 70% of facilities were looted, 30% damaged, and merely 13% were functional.
Tigray health services during the pandemic are less than functional due to the displacement of healthcare workers and non-payment of salaries. Assessments of health service availability report “large and widespread disruptions of services” in nearly 2/3rd of total facilities. Healthcare services directed towards women and children such as childhood vaccination, comprehensive nutrition, clinical management of rape survivors, and emergency contraception are not fully available in even half of the facilities assessed. This has created an environment of fear for civilians, especially women and children, in a conflict region with a lack of direct access to basic healthcare.
The signatories underscored the need for an “independent investigation into conflict-related sexual violence” in Tigray as well as allowing access to the humanitarian staff to allow for prevention and response intervention such as health services and supplies, gender-based violence (GBV) case management, dignity kits, post-rape treatment, mental health support, and safe spaces for women and children.
The UN officials called upon all state and non-state parties in the conflict to comply with international humanitarian and human rights law by ensuring their forces respect and protect civilians, particularly women and children, from all human rights abuses, explicitly condemn all sexual violence and hold perpetrators of abuses accountable.