Friday, February 26, 2021

UN warns of ‘serious’ rape charges in Ethiopia’s Tigray

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The U.N. special representative on sexual violence in conflict says “serious allegations of sexual violence” have emerged in Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, while women and girls face shortages of rape kits and HIV drugs amid restrictions on humanitarian access.

“There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence,” Pramila Patten said in a statement released late Thursday. “Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, while medical centers have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections.”

Patten joined growing calls for immediate and unconditional access to the Tigray region, where fighting broke out in early November between Ethiopian forces and those of the now-fugitive Tigray leaders who once dominated the country’s government.

A spokeswoman for Patten’s office wouldn’t say which “military elements” were involved. The fighters in Tigray include those from the neighboring Amhara region and other parts of Ethiopia as well as soldiers from neighboring Eritrea.

New arrivals in camps for refugees and internally displaced people are reporting sexual violence, and “there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls” inside the camps, Patten’s statement said.

Ethiopia’s government says aid has begun flowing into the Tigray region, and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen on Friday said 85% of all humanitarian aid corridors in Tigray are now open. He was speaking with visiting British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab.

But humanitarian workers have told The Associated Press that access remains limited. In addition, aid is sometimes accompanied by Ethiopian forces.

“We are horrified by the reports and allegations we have received of sexual violence during the conflict in Tigray,” the U.N. humanitarian chief for East and southern Africa, Gemma Connell, said in a separate statement Friday.

“The survivors of these alleged attacks must not be seen as statistics but as individual women and girls whose lives have been profoundly altered by the violations committed against them.”

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