Disturbing reports of an alleged massacre have surfaced in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, amid fighting between national and regional forces that may become impossible to control, the UN human rights chief warned on Friday.
Reacting to emerging details of mass killings involving scores of victims in the town of Mai-Kadra, Michelle Bachelet said “if the Tigray national (and) regional forces and Ethiopian Government forces continue down the path they are on, there is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control”.
This risked “heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders,” her spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told journalists at a press briefing in Geneva, Switzerland.
Equally worrying are “ethnically and religiously motivated hate speech, incitement to violence”, arbitrary arrests, killings, mass displacement and destruction in various parts of the country, said senior UN prevention of genocide special adviser, Pramila Patten, and the UN’s Responsibility to Protect senior adviser, Karen Smith.
Such ethnically-motivated attacks and reportedly ethnic profiling of citizens heightened the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the UN senior officials added.
Although the UN rights chief noted that the details of the alleged atrocity reported by Amnesty International in southwest Tigray “have not yet been fully verified”, she urged a full inquiry.
“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,” she said.
The High Commissioner repeated her call to “stop the fighting and prevent any further atrocities from taking place”, before highlighting the devastating military power being brought to bear in the conflict.
“Despite the severing of communications with Tigray making it difficult to verify the extent of the damage so far, we’ve received reports from a variety of sources suggesting increased airstrikes by Government forces as well as fierce ground fighting between the opposing forces,” she said.
Cuts to essential services for vulnerable populations as well as a communications blackout and access problems “by road and by air” for relief agencies were also deeply worrying, Ms. Bachelet added.
Regional and political tensions have risen since 2018, when newly-elected Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed merged several ethnically based regional parties into a single national force, amid an ambitious reform programme.
Violence erupted at the start of the month in Tigray involving federal and local forces, following the reported takeover of an army base in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, which prompted the Ethiopian Prime Minister to order a military offensive.
Prior to the Tigray escalation, dozens of people in western Oromia region were killed and injured in attacks.