The UN human rights office expressed alarm at “multiple, deeply disturbing reports” of air strikes in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, saying at least 108 civilians had been killed since the start of January.
Liz Throssell, an Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) spokesperson, described numerous attacks including on a private minibus, an airport and a camp for displaced people. At least 59 people died in the camp strike, making it the most lethal so far.
“We are alarmed by the multiple, deeply disturbing reports we continue to receive of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects resulting from air strikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
“At least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed and 75 others injured since the year began as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.”
‘Dialogue and reconciliation’
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said later on Friday he was “heartbroken by the suffering of the Ethiopian people”, appealing again for the parties to stop fighting.
“All people who need humanitarian aid must receive it as quickly as possible. It’s time to start dialogue and reconciliation,” he posted on Twitter.
Throssell called on Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians in line with international law which requires verification that targets are military.
“We call on the Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law,” she said.
“Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes.”
Ethiopia’s military spokesman Colonel Getnet Adane and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the alleged strikes.
The government has previously denied targeting civilians in the 14-month-old conflict with rebellious Tigrayan forces. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) that is fighting the central government is not believed to have the air power to carry out strikes.
Meanwhile, the UN’s World Food Programme (WFP) said at the same briefing its distributions were at an all-time low, with the escalation of the conflict meaning no WFP convoy has reached the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, since mid-December.
“Life-saving food assistance operations in northern Ethiopia are about to grind to a halt because intense fighting in the neighbourhood that has blocked the passage of fuel and food,” WFP spokesman Tomson Phiri told reporters.
“After 14 months of conflict in northern Ethiopia, more people than ever need urgent food assistance. With no food, no fuel, no access, we are on the edge of a major humanitarian disaster.”