UN, EU warn Ethiopia's warring sides not target civilians
The UN envoy for human rights, the European Union and Amnesty International have called on the warring sides in Ethiopia's volatile Tigray region to avoid targeting civilians and violating human rights.
Amnesty sounded the alarm over the situation in Tigray on Tuesday after Ethiopian government forces said they were encircling the rebel-held regional capital, Mekelle, ahead of a threatened full-scale attack.
"As Ethiopian federal troops begin preparations to encircle Mekelle, Amnesty International reminds all parties that deliberately attacking civilians and civilian objects is prohibited under international humanitarian law, and constitutes war crimes," Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's director for East and Southern Africa, said. "Indiscriminate and disproportionate attacks are also prohibited."
On Sunday, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed gave the rebels in Tigray a 72-hour ultimatum to surrender peacefully before government troops launch an offensive on Mekelle.
The army threatened a "no mercy" tank assault on the whereabouts of the leader of Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in the city, warning civilians to leave while they could.
However, Debretsion Gebremichael, the leader of the TPLF, dismissed the ultimatum, saying his forces were "ready to die" defending their homeland.
Amnesty appealed to both sides of the conflict not to use heavy artillery in crowded areas, and not to use human shields or place military camps near civilian sites that could be targeted.
The United Nations also urged the Ethiopian government on Monday to provide protection for the civilian population affected by the fighting.
The UN Security Council held its first meeting on Tigray behind closed-doors on Tuesday.
Also on Tuesday, Michelle Bachelet, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said, "The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger."
Her comments came after both parties to the conflict in Tigray claimed military successes.
A communications blackout and restrictions on reporting in the region have made claims from the two sides difficult to verify.
Tigrayans accused of massacre in Ethiopia war
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a government-affiliated rights watchdog, said in a report on Tuesday that at least 600 people — mainly of Amharic descent — had been slaughtered in a "rampage" in the Tigray town of Mai-Kadra on November 9.
The commission accused a local Tigrayan youth group called Samri of carrying out the massacre in the report, saying they "killed hundreds of people, beating them with batons/sticks, stabbing them with knives, machetes, and hatchets and strangling them with ropes."