The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet has called on parties involved in the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region to give “clear and unambiguous orders” to their forces to protect and not target civilians.
In a statement on Tuesday, Ms. Bachelet warned that ahead of what it is feared will be a major battle for the regional capital, Mekelle, “such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law”.
The UN human rights chief’s statement was made in response to reports that TPLF fighters were stationing themselves among the civilian population.
The UN Human Rights Chief is deeply concerned that rhetoric on both sides “is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger”.
Reports of a heavy build up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle, following the Ethiopian Government’s 72-hour ultimatum to the forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to surrender. The deadline will be reached in a matter of hours.
“Such rhetoric suggests possible breaches of the cardinal principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities that are designed to ensure the civilian population is protected,” Ms. Bachelet said.
However, this does not give the Ethiopian Government “carte blanche to respond with the use of artillery in densely populated areas” as it seeks to take control of the region, she added, stressing that under international law, parties to a conflict should take all possible measures to protect civilians.
Meanwhile, UN Secretary-General António Guterres said in a statement he was deeply concerned over the unfolding situation in the Tigray region, and urged the leaders of Ethiopia to do everything possible to protect civilians.
He also calls for the free and safe movement of people searching for safety and assistance, regardless of their ethnic identity, across both national and international borders.
The Secretary-General said in his statement that he was giving “the full support of the United Nations to the initiative of the Chairperson of the African Union, President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa, to facilitate peaceful solutions. He urges all parties to seize this opportunity to de-escalate tensions.”
Amid the conflict, Ethiopian refugees continue to stream into Sudan, with the number surpassing 40,000 since the crisis began, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has reported, adding that humanitarian needs are outpacing the response capacity.
“[We] have been able to deliver and distribute life-saving aid, including food, to more people. But the humanitarian response continues to face logistical challenges and remains overstretched. There is not enough shelter capacity to meet the growing needs”, Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson, told journalists at a media briefing in Geneva.
Mr. Baloch also voiced concern over the situation of civilians, including displaced persons and aid workers in the Tigray region.
He reiterated the call on all parties to enable the free and safe movement of affected people in search of safety and assistance, including across international and within national borders, regardless of their ethnic background. (Source: UN News)