BFF-09 UN alleges war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray, urges Eritrea pullout

228

ZCZC

BFF-09

ETHIOPIA-ERITREA-CONFLICT-RIGHTS-UN

UN alleges war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray, urges Eritrea pullout

UNITED NATIONS, United States, March 5, 2021 (BSS/AFP) – UN leaders on
Thursday alleged possible crimes against humanity in Ethiopia’s Tigray region
including by Eritrean troops, as they urged a pullout by the neighboring
country, which denies involvement.

The United Nations also warned of potentially catastrophic hunger as it
pleaded for urgent humanitarian access, although divisions at the Security
Council stopped the international community from showing a common front.

A week after Amnesty International said that Eritrean troops massacred
hundreds of people, the UN rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, joined calls for
an investigation.

Her office said it had corroborated information about incidents including
indiscriminate shelling in the regional capital of Mekele and towns of Humera
and Adigrat in November when Ethiopia launched an offensive.

It had also verified “reports of grave human rights violations and abuses
including mass killings in Axum, and in Dengelat in central Tigray by
Eritrean armed forces.”

A preliminary analysis of the information indicated that “serious
violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes
against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the
conflict,” it said in a statement.

“Without prompt, impartial and transparent investigations and holding those
responsible accountable, I fear violations will continue to be committed with
impunity, and the situation will remain volatile for a long time to come,”
she said.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights office also lamented what it said
were continuing abuses including sexual violence and extrajudicial killings.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the offensive after accusing the local
ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, of attacking federal army
camps.

Abiy — who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 — declared victory after
pro-government troops took Mekele in late November, although the TPLF vowed
to fight on, and clashes have persisted in the region.

– Eritrea ‘must leave’ –

The United Nations for the first time also publicly pointed the blame at
Eritrea, Ethiopia’s onetime rival that has found shared objectives in Tigray.
Both the Addis Ababa and Asmara governments have denied the Eritrean
presence.

“It is now abundantly clear to all, and openly acknowledged by officials of
the government administration in Tigray, that Eritrean defense forces are
operating throughout Tigray,” the UN under-secretary-general for humanitarian
affairs, Mark Lowcock, told a Security Council session on the crisis.

“Countless well-corroborated reports suggest their culpability for
atrocities,” he told the closed-door, virtual session in remarks seen by AFP.

“Eritrean defense forces must leave Ethiopia, and they must not be enabled
or permitted to continue their campaign of destruction before they do so.”

Lowcock called for assistance to be scaled up “dramatically” as he warned
of the potential for “catastrophic” hunger in Tigray, with 4.5 million people
in need of assistance.

Despite a UN agreement with Ethiopia, humanitarian access in Tigray remains
minimal with the United Nations saying that hundreds of thousands of people
in rural parts of the region have not been reached.

Ethiopian authorities “provide regular updates on what they’re doing on the
humanitarian front but then it’s, ‘look here, there’s nothing to see,'” one
diplomat said on condition of anonymity.

– Failure to reach statement –

The Security Council session called by Ireland failed to reach consensus on
a joint statement, with diplomats saying that Russia was the principal
opponent.

Russia and fellow veto-wielding permanent member China saw the move as
interference in internal affairs while non-permanent member India, although
supportive of some statement, believed it should have been narrowly focused
on the humanitarian situation, diplomats said.

A draft statement seen by AFP would have called for immediate humanitarian
assistance as well as a halt to hostilities while asserting the importance
for Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

The new US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said
that the crisis “poses a direct threat to regional peace and security.”

“We need to address it immediately,” she said. “The onus to prevent further
atrocities and human suffering falls squarely on the Ethiopian government’s
shoulders.”

In one shift, diplomats said that the three African nations on the Security
Council — Kenya, Niger and Tunisia — had supported the statement.

The three African nations had been reluctant at a previous session a month
ago, saying that the African Union should take the lead.

BSS/AFP/GMR/0923 hrs