Men forced to rape family members in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, says UN

Over 500 rape cases reported to clinics, as Ethiopia says Eritrean troops to withdraw

Tigrayan refugees at a water station at Hamdeyat Transition Centre near the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Sudan. Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

Tigrayan refugees at a water station at Hamdeyat Transition Centre near the Sudan-Ethiopia border in Sudan. Photograph: Nariman El-Mofty/AP

 

More than 500 rape cases have been reported to five clinics in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations has said, warning that the actual numbers might be far higher.

“Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence,” Wafaa Said, deputy UN aid co-ordinator in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to UN member states in New York on Thursday.

She said at least 516 rape cases had been reported by five medical facilities in Mekelle, Adigrat, Wukro, Shire and Axum.

“Given the fact that most health facilities are not functioning and also the stigma associated with rape, it is projected that actual numbers are much higher,” she added.

Ethiopia’s UN ambassador, Taye Atskeselassie Amde, told Reuters his government took the allegations of sexual violence “very seriously” and had deployed a fact-finding mission.

“Ethiopia has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual crimes and anyone found responsible for the despicable acts will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Eritrean troops

Dozens of witnesses in Tigray have told Reuters that soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women and looted households and crops during the conflict.

Eritrea’s information minister Yemane Gebremeskel, responding in general terms to the UN briefing, said on Friday that sexual violence and rape “are an abomination to Eritrean society” and should be harshly punished if they occurred.

Eritrea has repeatedly denied its troops were in Tigray, although Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed on Tuesday acknowledged Eritrean troops were present in the region.

On Friday, Mr Abiy said Eritrea has agreed to withdraw troops from Ethiopian territory along their common border.

“Eritrea has agreed to withdraw its forces out of the Ethiopian border,” he said in a statement on Twitter the day after arriving in Eritrea’s capital, Asmara, to meet President Isaias Afwerki.

Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed: said Eritrea has agreed to withdraw troops from Ethiopian territory along their common border. Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed: said Eritrea has agreed to withdraw troops from Ethiopian territory along their common border. Photograph: Phill Magakoe/AFP via Getty Images

The Ethiopian National Defence Force will take over guarding the border area effective immediately, Mr Abiy said.

A dozen top UN officials called on Monday for an end to indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians in Tigray, particularly calling out reports of rape and “other horrific forms of sexual violence”.

Fighting in Tigray broke out in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The violence in Tigray has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million.

The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities, while US decretary of state Antony Blinken has described acts carried out as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia rejected Mr Blinken’s allegation.

Mr Abiy on Tuesday acknowledged for the first time that atrocities such as rape had been committed and said any soldiers committing crimes would be punished. – Reuters