Workers for international and Ethiopian aid groups said they had received multiple reports of sexual abuse as a consequence of the civil war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, while the United Nations appealed this week for an end to the sexual assaults.
Among a “high number” of allegations, particularly disturbing reports have emerged of people being forced to rape relatives or have sex in exchange for basic supplies, the UN Office of the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict said in a statement on Thursday (Jan 21).
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the military did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters about the reports of rape.
A doctor who treated one such victim in December, Tewadrous Tefera Limeuh, confirmed to Reuters that he provided pills to stop pregnancy and sexually-transmitted diseases, and guided her to a psychotherapist.
“The soldier… forced a gun on her and raped her,” Limeuh, who was volunteering with the Sudanese Red Crescent, said the woman told him.
At gunpoint, the soldier said “choose, either I kill you or rape you,” the 25-year-old woman told Reuters at the Hamdayet refugee camp in Sudan where she had fled from conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.
Ethiopian authorities have previously denied rights abuses, pointing the finger instead at the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party whose forces they accuse of insurrection.
“I call on all parties involved in the hostilities in the Tigray region to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence,” UN special representative Geraldine Boezio said in the statement.
Women and girls in refugee camps within Ethiopia appear to have been particularly targeted, and medical centres are under pressure for emergency contraception and tests for sexually-transmitted infections, the statement said.
Reuters could not independently verify the accounts of rape as media workers have been largely banned from Tigray, aid agencies have struggled for access, and communications were down for weeks.
The 25-year-old woman who spoke with Reuters said her abuser wore an Ethiopian federal army uniform.
Aid workers said other women described their alleged assailants as being militia fighters from Ethiopia’s Amhara region or Eritrean soldiers, both allied with Abiy’s troops.
Abiy’s spokeswoman, Tigray’s interim governor, the mayor of the regional capital Mekelle, Eritrea’s foreign minister and Ethiopia’s army spokesman did not immediately reply to requests for comment on rape allegations.
Tewadrous, the refugee camp doctor, described two other rape cases he had handled. One woman, who said she had escaped from Rawyan town in Tigray, told of three soldiers she identified as Amhara special forces assaulted her, the doctor said.
A medical worker in Adigrat said he treated six women who had been raped by a group of soldiers and told not to seek help afterwards. They found courage to come forward days later, but there were no medicines to treat them, the medic said.
In Mekelle, one man was beaten up after begging soldiers to stop raping a 19-year-old, according to a medical worker who treated both victims. Mekelle charity Elshadai said it has prepared 50 beds for rape victims. (Source: The Straits Times)