NEW YORK (Reuters) – A senior United Nations official warned on Friday that “the risk of atrocity crimes in Ethiopia remains high and likely to get worse” if the country does not urgently combat ethnic violence, stigmatization, hate speech and religious tensions.
U.N. Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, said she had received reports of serious human rights violations and abuses by the parties to the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region and their allies.
“These include extra-judicial killings, sexual violence, looting of property, mass executions and impeded humanitarian access,” Nderitu said in a statement, adding that she had also received “disturbing reports of attacks against civilians based on their religion and ethnicity” in other parts of the country.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered air strikes and a ground offensive against Tigray’s former ruling party – the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – after regional forces attacked federal army bases in the region on Nov. 4.
The TPLF withdrew from the regional capital, Mekelle, and major cities, but low-level fighting has continued. Both sides deny their forces have committed atrocities, and blame other forces for the killing of civilians.
In the region of more than five million people, thousands of people are believed to have died and 950,000 have fled their homes since fighting began.
U.N. aid chief Mark Lowcock warned the U.N. Security Council on Wednesday that conflict in Tigray could trigger broader destabilization in the country and that a dire humanitarian situation in the north was set to worsen.
U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said on Friday that the U.N. and aid groups have nearly 80 humanitarian workers in Ethiopia’s capital Addis Ababa, who have been waiting for more than a month for government approval to travel to Tigray.
“We continue to engage and call on the Government for immediate, safe, and unimpeded access of humanitarian personnel and supplies throughout Tigray,” he said.