Ethiopia: 'Exceedingly Worrying and Volatile Situation in Ethiopia', Michelle Bachelet, UN Rights Commissioner

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed in Addis Ababa in 2018.

The following is a transcript of remarks UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet made at a press conference in Geneva on 9 December 2020 in response to questions on Ethiopia:

The situation in Ethiopia is exceedingly worrying and volatile and - as I had warned - is spiraling out of control, with appalling impact on civilians.

In the Tigray region itself, fighting is reportedly continuing - in spite of Government claims to the contrary. We have reports that particularly areas surrounding towns like Mekelle, Sherero, Axum, Abiy Addi, and the borders between the Amhara and Tigray regions, fighting continues between federal forces and the TPLF, and affiliated militias on both sides.

We have corroborated information of gross human rights violations and abuses - and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including indiscriminate attacks that have resulted in civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects, looting, abductions and sexual violence against women and girls. We are also concerned by reports of forced recruitment of Tigrayan youth to fight against their own communities.

A major impediment is that communication in the region remains limited, and we have been unable to access the worst affected areas so are unable to fully verify these allegations through fact-finding missions.

There is an urgent need for independent monitoring of the human rights situation in the Tigray region, for all necessary measures to protect civilians, and for accountability for violations.

The humanitarian situation is deeply distressing. In spite of an agreement between the Government and the UN, unfettered humanitarian access has not been possible. I appeal to the Government to fulfill the Prime Minister's pledge to ensure humanitarian access, and to ensure access to water, electricity and other basic needs is restored.

Elsewhere in Ethiopia, there are numerous reports of ethnic profiling of Tigrayans, including in Addis. We have reports of dismissals from jobs - including in the civil service - harassment of Tigrayan journalists and hate speech against Tigrayans. Such discriminatory actions are deeply unjust but are also fostering divisiveness and sowing the seeds for further instability and conflict. I urge the Government to take immediate measures to halt such discrimination.

We are also concerned that there has been a reported rise in intercommunal violence in recent weeks in other parts of Ethiopia, particularly in the Amhara, Benishangul-Gumuz, Somali, Afar and Oromia regions, which has reportedly resulted in fatalities.

I urge the Government to ensure that humanitarian actors can do their life-saving work without fear of attack, and to ensure that those responsible for attacks against humanitarian workers are held accountable in accordance with norms of international human rights law and international humanitarian law.

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