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UN rights chief says war crimes may have been committed in Ethiopia after CNN reveals Tigray massacre


The UN’s high commissioner for human rights has called for an independent investigation into human rights violations that may amount to war crimes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, days after CNN published an exclusive report about a massacre in a village there.

On Thursday, Michelle Bachelet said there was a need for an “independent, objective assessment” of the situation on the ground in Tigray, given the “deeply distressing reports of sexual and gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property by all parties.”

“Credible information also continues to emerge about serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Tigray in November last year,” Bachelet added.

A CNN investigation published on Friday revealed a massacre which took place during a religious festival in the town of Dengelat late last year. Eyewitnesses told CNN that a group of Eritrean soldiers opened fire at church whilst mass was underway, claiming the lives of priests, women, entire families and a group of more than 20 Sunday school children.

The UN Human Rights Office said it had “managed to corroborate information” about the massacre in Dengelat, along with other incidents including indiscriminate shelling in Mekelle, Humera and Adigrat.

“A preliminary analysis of the information received indicates that serious violations of international law, possibly amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, may have been committed by multiple actors in the conflict, including: the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, Eritrean armed forces, and Amhara Regional Forces and affiliated militia,” Bachelet’s office said in a statement.

Amnesty International charged in a report Friday that Eritrean forces killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the city of Axum in November through indiscriminate shelling and shooting and extrajudicial killings, in what the human rights organization said could amount to a crime against humanity.

Eritrea’s government denied involvement in the atrocities reported by Amnesty, but has yet to respond to CNN’s request for comment in relation to the Dengelat massacre.

Thousands of civilians are believed to have been killed since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military operation against leaders in the Tigray region. CNN has previously reported that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea have perpetrated many of the extrajudicial killings, assaults and human rights abuses in the Tigray region.

More recently, the UN Human Rights Office said it had received reliable information from sources regarding the killing of eight protesters by security forces between February 9 and 10 in Adigrat, Mekelle, Shire and Wukro.

More than 130 cases of rape have also been reported in eastern region hospitals in Mekelle, Ayder, Adigrat and Wukro between December and January, the UN statement said.

Bachelet called on the Ethiopian government to “grant my Office and other independent monitors access to the Tigray region, with a view to establishing the facts and contributing to accountability, regardless of the affiliation of perpetrators.”

Whilst welcoming statements by the Ethiopian government on accountability, Bachelet “urged the authorities to ensure that those commitments are translated into reality and stressed that the UN Human Rights Office stands ready to support efforts at advancing human rights.”

Amnesty International joined Bachelet’s call for an independent investigation on Thursday.

“The UN High Commissioner’s statement today underscores the gravity of the alleged crimes being committed by all sides in the Tigray conflict, and the urgency of the UN acting now,” Sarah Jackson, Amnesty’s deputy regional director for East Africa, the Horn, and the Great Lakes, said in a statement.

“Given the complexity and gravity of the situation, a UN-led investigation, rather than a joint investigation with Ethiopian institutions, is urgently needed to establish the truth and lay the foundations for accountability. There is no time to lose — work on this must begin now, before evidence could be destroyed and memories begin to fade.”

US Secretary of State Tony Blinken spoke Tuesday with Abiy “to emphasize the United States’ concern about the humanitarian and human rights crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” the State Department said.

In response to CNN’s investigation, Ethiopia’s government said it would “continue bringing all perpetrators to justice following thorough investigations into alleged crimes in the region,” but gave no details about those investigations.

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