UN human rights experts* today expressed grave concern about the widespread sexual and gender-based violence committed against women and girls in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions of Ethiopia by parties to the conflict.
They reiterated the recommendations by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission-Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Joint Investigation report, for authorities to ensure victims are offered full support and redress, and perpetrators are brought to justice.
“These acts of violence constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law,” the experts said. “They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors parties to the conflict.
“These brutal acts have devastating physical and psychological impacts on the victims, which are exacerbated by the lack of access to assistance, support and redress for survivors.”
The reported acts of violence are attributed to members of the Ethiopian National Defense Force, the Eritrean Defense Force, Tigrayan Forces, Tigrayan militias, the Amhara Regional Special Force, and Fano militia, the experts added.
While the exact prevalence of gender-based violence is unknown, the estimates are shocking. From February to April 2021, health facilities registered more than 1,000 cases and, in the month of July alone they reported 2,204 cases in the Tigray region. One of the one-stop centres reported that the victims in over 90 percent of cases were underage girls and estimated that visits to the centre had quadrupled since the conflict erupted a year ago.
“It is important to keep in mind that these figures are an underestimation of the true extent of gender-based violence being committed,” the experts said. “This type of violence is severely under-reported due to fear and stigma, and, in this particular context, inaccessibility to health or support centres.
“Despite the humanitarian situation, proper access to facilities is vital to ensure adequate care, for instance for women and girls at risk of developing life-threatening infections, or to allow for abortion for women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape.”
Violence was committed in both rural and urban areas, in the victims’ homes or the places where they were sheltering. In some cases, women and girls were raped because of their perceived or actual political affiliation, to pressure them to reveal the whereabouts of their male relatives, or as acts of revenge.
“Internally displaced women and girls in Ethiopia and Eritrean refugee women and girls living in the Tigray region have been particularly exposed to sexual violence. Eritrean women and girls, specifically, have been seriously affected by the conflict and doubly victimized,” the experts said.
“In addition to the grave consequences of sexual violence, most victims have also been harmed in other ways by the conflict including by having close relatives killed.
“We would like to remind State and non-State actors parties to the conflict of their duty to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their jurisdiction or effective control, whether by State or non-State actors.
“In particular, we reiterate the recommendations made by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission-Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Joint Investigation report to end all forms of sexual violence, and to issue clear, public and unequivocal instructions to all armed forces and groups to forbid sexual and other gender-based violence and render these acts punishable on the basis of direct and command responsibility.
“We also reiterate the need for Ethiopia and Eritrea to implement the report’s recommendations – to take immediate measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence; provide redress to victims; facilitate immediate access to adequate health care, including the full range of sexual and reproductive health services, and psychosocial support; ensure proper documentation and investigation of all incidences of sexual violence by independent and impartial bodies, and hold perpetrators to account.”
The experts have raised their concerns with the Governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia.