U.N. investigation finds 'extreme brutality,' blame on both sides of Ethiopia-Tigray conflict

An Ethiopian refugee from the Tigray region and her child wait to receive aid at the same camp that hosted Ethiopian refugees during the famine in the early 1980s, in Sudan on December 1, 2020. File Photo by Ala Kheir/EPA-EFE
An Ethiopian refugee from the Tigray region and her child wait to receive aid at the same camp that hosted Ethiopian refugees during the famine in the early 1980s, in Sudan on December 1, 2020. File Photo by Ala Kheir/EPA-EFE

Nov. 3 (UPI) -- An investigative report released by the United Nations Human Rights Office on Wednesday blamed both the defense forces in Ethiopia and the militant Tigray People's Liberation Front for atrocities that have occurred during the yearlong civil conflict in the African nation.

The report is a rare collaboration between the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and so far is the only investigation into the civil war in Ethiopia, which will be exactly one year old on Thursday.


The 156-page report details how both Tigray militants and Ethiopian forces have put civilians in harm's way and failed to take measures to ensure their safety during the conflict, which is estimated to have killed almost 10,000 people.

The investigation also faults supporters of the Tigray movement and forces from neighboring Eritrea that are aligned with Ethiopian troops.


The report says the failures are a violation of international human rights and humanitarian and refugee laws.

"The [Ethiopian National Defense Forces, Eritrean Defense Forces and opposition Tigray Special Forces] carried out attacks on civilians resulting in the deaths of and injuries to men, women, boys and girls," the report says. "Parties to the conflict failed to take sufficient precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects.

"ENDF and TSF occupied and used civilian infrastructure, such as schools and health facilities without appropriate justification for military usage."

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The report says both sides have used torture and other illegal techniques against civilians, as well as sexual violence.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict ... have committed sexual and gender-based violence and that, in many cases, rape and other forms of sexual violence have been used to degrade and dehumanize the victims," it states.

"There are reasonable grounds to believe that violations of international human rights and humanitarian law related to sexual violence, including rape, have been committed ... and require further investigation. Some of these may further constitute war crimes and, in view of their widespread and systematic nature, crimes against humanity."

The assessment notes "extreme brutality" amid the fighting and says Ethiopian and Eritrean forces are responsible for a "big numbers of violations."

Ethiopian National Defense troops are seen during a military parade in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. File Photo by EPA-EFE

The United Nations called on all sides to end the fighting and find a diplomatic solution, and also to document human rights abuses, punish violators and allow civilians to live free of military violence.

The fighting began on Nov. 3, 2020, when Tigray militants targeted Ethiopian positions in the northern region. A number of factors led to the conflict -- including a military offensive ordered against Tigray leaders, political reforms and the Tigray People's Liberation Front's loss of political power. The TPLF was the main ruling party in Ethiopia for many years, but is no longer officially recognized by the government of Ethiopia.

On Tuesday, Ethiopia declared a state of emergency and urged citizens to take up arms against Tigray fighters as the rebel group claimed to capture two cities near the main route to the capital, Addis Ababa.

U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said Tuesday that the "stability of Ethiopia and the wider region is at stake" and called for an immediate end to hostilities and unrestricted humanitarian access.

"The secretary-general is extremely concerned by the escalation of violence in Ethiopia and the recent declaration of a state of emergency," a spokesman for Guterres said.


In addition to the thousands dead, more than 2 million people in Africa's second-most populated country have been displaced since the start of the conflict. Humanitarian workers have been blocked from delivering aid to the region, and some have been harassed and killed.

The United Nations has said repeatedly that more than 5 million people in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia, which is 90% of the Tigray population, are in dire need of humanitarian aid -- including 400,000 who face famine conditions and more than 100,000 children at risk of life-threatening malnutrition over the next 12 months.

Last month, Ethiopia expelled seven senior U.N. officials over accusations of "meddling in the internal affairs of the country."

In response to the fighting, U.S. President Joe Biden signed an order last month calling for a cease-fire and authorizing economic sanctions against Ethiopian government leaders if they don't take steps to end the bloodshed.

Tuesday, Biden's administration also threatened to remove the country from the African Growth and Opportunity Act trade agreement, which grants duty-free access to the United States. U.S. officials said there have been "gross violations of internationally recognized human rights."


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