In the first weeks of the conflict in the Tigray region, Ethiopian forces shelled heavily populated areas, killing at least 83 civilians and displacing thousands, Human Rights Watch said Thursday.
“According to the report, which focuses on the regional capital Mekele and the towns of Shire and Humera, artillery attacks by forces backing Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner, “struck houses, hospitals, schools and markets.
“At the war’s start, Ethiopian federal forces fired artillery into Tigray’s urban areas in an apparently indiscriminate manner that was bound to cause civilian casualties and property damage,” said Laetitia Bader, HRW’s Horn of Africa director.
The study calls for a UN investigation into alleged violations of war laws.
In early November, Abiy declared military operations against Tigray’s ruling party leadership, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), saying this was in response to TPLF-orchestrated attacks on federal military camps.
After pro-government troops took Mekele in late November, he proclaimed victory, but the TPLF vowed to fight on, and aid workers say persistent instability has hindered the delivery of humanitarian assistance that is desperately needed.
Abiy has previously said that the military behaved with special regard for civilian lives, informing lawmakers in late November that as his forces entered Tigray’s towns, no civilians were killed.
Thursday, his office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
According to the International Crisis Agency, thousands have died in the Tigray conflict, and tens of thousands of refugees have streamed into Sudan across the border.
‘We have been at a loss’
In the western city of Humera, doctors confirmed that during the first week of fighting, at least 46 people were killed and 200 wounded on a single day, HRW said, adding that “total casualties that day were most likely higher.”
“Civilians started arriving in the hospital with injuries to the abdomen, chest, head. We were at a loss,” HRW quoted a doctor as saying. “People with no hands, people with their stomachs hanging out.”
A doctor at a hospital in Mekele has previously told AFP that 27 civilians were killed in “artillery and rocket shelling” on November 28, the day federal forces arrived, and that more than 100 were wounded.
“Many of the artillery attacks did not appear aimed at specific military targets but struck generalised populated areas,” HRW said.
Much of Tigray remains unavailable to humanitarian workers and the media, making it difficult to get a complete picture of the toll of the on-the-ground fighting and current conditions.
Ethiopia “should promptly allow UN investigators into Tigray to document the conduct by warring parties in a conflict that has devastated the lives of millions and should no longer be ignored,” Bader said.
Access to Help
Fears of a humanitarian crisis in Tigray are rising, with the UN warning this week that conditions were “extremely dire” and that “our ability to respond has been outpaced by needs.”
Abera Tola, head of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society, said at a press conference on Wednesday that 80 percent of Tigray was ‘unreachable’ and cautioned that tens of thousands of people might die of hunger.
In a statement Thursday, the Red Cross issued a statement specifying that Abera meant the Red Cross did not have “capacity and capability to reach 80 percent of the vulnerable community”.
“That is why we are appealing to the public and international community to fill the (gap),” the statement said.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government-affiliated but independent body, also said on Thursday that “the ongoing conflict has “impeded the circulation of basic goods, the provision of humanitarian assistance and hindered the complete resumption of transport services for humanitarian aid.
The government says it is working to provide humanitarian support to anyone in Tigray who needs it, while at the same time expanding access to aid workers as the security situation allows.
SOURCE: THE GUARDIAN