UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet on the human rights situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia
48th session of the Human Rights Council
Geneva, 13 September 2021
I thank you for the opportunity to brief this Council on the grave human rights situation in the Tigray region of
Ethiopia, since my last update in June and based on my Office’s global mandate.
Fighting has continued unabated and has expanded to neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions. Together with other pockets of
intercommunal violence, the conflict risks spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa.
In the last few months, mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence have continued to create an
atmosphere of fear and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian
population. Civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive.
Even with the changing dynamics in the conflict, there has been one constant: multiple and severe reports of alleged
gross violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law by all parties.
In the context of this ongoing human rights crisis, I appreciate the Government of Ethiopia’s cooperation with the
OHCHR-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission joint investigation. I also thank the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, led by
the Chief Commissioner, and my Regional Representative in Addis Ababa for their leadership in this difficult and complex
undertaking and urge them to continue their efforts.
By way of an update, the first two field deployments went ahead as planned to Mekelle, parts of Eastern Tigray and
Southern Tigray. However, due to sudden changes in the security situation and in the conflict dynamics, the team had to
shorten its stay in Maikadra, and deployments to East and Central Tigray, including Axum, could not proceed.
The joint report, with its findings and recommendations, is expected to be released on 1 November 2021. It is already
clear that cases documented comprise multiple allegations of human rights violations, including attacks on civilians,
extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances among other grave abuses. Sexual and gender based violence
has been characterised by a pattern of extreme brutality, including gang rapes, sexualised torture and ethnically
targeted sexual violence. I acknowledge the Government’s express commitment towards accountability for sexual violence
and I look forward to hearing about the outcomes of any actions taken.
From my last update to the Council to date, allegations of human rights violations have continued to implicate
Government forces and its allies. We have received disturbing reports that local fishermen found dozens of bodies
floating along the river crossing between Western Tigray and Sudan in July. Some allegedly had gunshot wounds and bound
hands, indications that they might have been detained and tortured before being killed.
There are continued reports of large-scale arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayan civilians in unofficial sites in
Western Tigray. Reports also suggest that people of Tigrayan ethnicity have been profiled and detained by law
enforcement officials on ethnic grounds, with hundreds having reportedly been arrested in recent security sweeps, mostly
in Addis Ababa, and several businesses belonging to ethnic Tigrayans having reportedly been closed.
Incitement to hatred and discrimination, and rising levels of inflammatory rhetoric were also documented targeting
people of Tigrayan ethnicity. History has unmistakably taught us the dangers of this kind of rhetoric. De-escalation
measures must urgently be put in place.
Threats and attacks on journalists have also been reported, as well as the suspension of media outlets’ licenses and
intermittent restrictions and shutdowns of Internet and telecommunications in Tigray.
Since gaining control of parts of Tigray and expanding to neighbouring regions, reports have also identified Tigrayan
forces as perpetrators of human rights abuses.
During the period under review, the Tigrayan forces have allegedly been responsible for attacks on civilians, including
indiscriminate killings resulting in nearly 76,500 people displaced in Afar and an estimated 200,000 in Amhara.
More than 200 individuals have reportedly been killed in the most recent clashes in these regions, and 88 individuals,
including children, have been injured. On 5 August, Tigrayan forces allegedly attacked and killed displaced people,
mainly women, children, and older people, sheltering in a camp in Galikoma Kebele, in the Afar Region.
We have also received serious reports of recruitment of children into the conflict by Tigrayan forces, which is
prohibited under international law.
While I remain extremely concerned by the human rights situation in Tigray and neighbouring regions, I have taken note
of the Government’s earlier commitment to accountability for human rights violations in Tigray. In my meeting with the
Attorney General last June, he informed me about some of the measures the Government was taking, including prosecuting
sexual and gender-based violence. I look forward to hearing about the Government’s progress in this regard, emphasizing
the need for transparency in any such proceedings, as an important part of redress for victims. I also urge the
Government of Ethiopia to accept the recommendations of the joint investigation report as part of its efforts to bring
International, regional and national human rights and humanitarian actors must be given unhindered access.
I also reiterate my call to the Eritrean Government to ensure accountability for alleged widespread human rights
violations by their forces in the Tigray region.
Beyond Tigray, further efforts are required to put an end to deadly intercommunal violence. And the response cannot be a
I reiterate what I told the Council last June: grievances must be addressed through meaningful peacebuilding and
reconciliation efforts to avoid the risk that Ethiopia will be torn apart, with profound implications for the country
and the rest of the Horn of Africa.
The solution to the conflict in Tigray can only be found through a political process and dialogue. I commend the African
Union’s mediation efforts in this regard. I call on all parties to immediately end hostilities without preconditions and
negotiate a lasting ceasefire.
Looking ahead, a sustainable peace will only come through accountability, a genuine inclusive dialogue and a national
More substantive efforts must be undertaken by all sides to renew the social contract between the Government and its
people. Only once this is in place will Ethiopians be able to fully enjoy their fundamental rights and freedoms.