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UN urges "zero tolerance" for sexual violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region

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Ethiopian refugees, fleeing clashes in the country's northern Tigray region, cross the border into Hamdayet, Sudan, over the Sitet River. (UNHCR photo/Hazim Elhag)

January 21, 2021 (JUBA) - The United Nations has urged “zero tolerance” policy and called on all parties to prohibit the use of sexual violence and cease hostilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

In a statement issued on Wednesday, the U.N. secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Pattern said there has been a high number of reported rapes in the Tigray’s capital, Mekelle and reports that some women are being forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities.

“I am greatly concerned by serious allegations of sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, including a high number of alleged rapes in the capital, Mekelle. There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” said Patten.

She added, “It remains critical that humanitarian actors and independent human rights monitors be granted immediate, unconditional and sustained access to the entirety of the Tigray region, including IDP [internally displaced people] and refugee camps where new arrivals have allegedly reported cases of sexual violence”.

According to the UN, 59,000 Ethiopians have fled to Sudan, while some 5,000 Eritrean refugees are living in “dire” conditions in the area of Shire. The U.N. says 25 of the refugees are women and girls of reproductive age.

“I call on all parties involved in the hostilities in the Tigray region to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence, in line with their respective obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law,” Patten said.

“I call on the government of Ethiopia to further exercise its due diligence obligations to protect all civilians from sexual and other violence, regardless of their ethnic origin and those displaced by conflict, and to promptly allow for an independent inquiry into all allegations of sexual and other forms of violence, to establish the facts and hold perpetrators accountable, provide redress to victims, and prevent further grave violations.”

While commenting on the monitoring and investigation missions recently conducted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in Western Tigray and the Amhara region, the UN official called on the Ethiopian government to further exercise its due diligence obligations to protect all civilians from sexual and other violence, regardless of their ethnic origin and those displaced by conflict.

Patten also urged authorities to promptly allow for an independent inquiry into all allegations of sexual and other forms of violence, to establish the facts and hold perpetrators accountable, provide redress to victims, and prevent further grave violations.

On November 4 2020, the Ethiopian government launched a “law enforcement operation” against the leaders of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s ruling party, after TPLF fighters attacked a federal military base. TPLF leaders called the federal government’s response a war against the people of Tigray.

(ST)

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