U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet warns escalating fighting in Ethiopia’s Tigray region could spiral out of control if allowed to continue much longer.
More than a week of fighting between the Ethiopian army and forces of the Tigray regional government has resulted in civilian casualties and widespread destruction of homes and infrastructure. Reports of mass human rights violations have sent thousands of people fleeing for safety.
More than 14,500 Ethiopians have fled to Sudan and the U.N. refugee agency says more people are on their way.
U.N. high commissioner for human rights Bachelet is expressing alarm at the rapidly deteriorating situation in Tigray. Her spokesman, Rupert Colville, says she is particularly disturbed by an Amnesty International report of alleged mass killings in Mai-Kadra in southwest Tigray.
He said the report has not been verified and the high commissioner is calling for a full inquiry to determine what happened.
“If confirmed as having been deliberately carried out by a party to the current fighting, these killings of civilians would of course amount to war crimes, and there must be an independent investigation and full accountability for what has happened. However, the first priority right now must be to stop the fighting and prevent any further atrocities from taking place,” Colville said.
Amnesty said photographs and videos of the scene indicate hundreds of people were stabbed or hacked to death. It said the victims appear to have been day laborers, who were not involved in military operations.
Colville said the high commissioner has also received reports of increased airstrikes by Ethiopian government forces and of fierce ground fighting between opposing military forces. He said Bachelet also is alarmed by reports of cuts to water and electricity supplies as well as a communications blackout.
He said Bachelet is renewing her appeal for both sides to stop fighting and to start talking.
“She is strongly urging both sides to realize that there will be no winner in such a situation and calls on them to begin a serious dialogue to resolve their differences without delay. The high commissioner warned that a protracted internal conflict will inflict devastating damage on both Tigray and Ethiopia as a whole, undoing years of vital development progress,” he said.
Colville said the high commissioner is fearful of the consequences if Tigray and Ethiopia fail to heed her warning. If fighting continues, he added, she fears the conflict could easily spill across borders, potentially destabilizing parts of East Africa.