Shelling in Ethiopia could amount to war crimes: HRW

Indiscriminate shelling in Ethiopia's Tigray region could amount to war crimes: HRW
2 min read
11 February, 2021
Human Rights Watch has called on the United Nations to open an inquiry into the Ethiopian conflict and hold those responsible to account.
Tigray residents currently lack adequate access to food [Getty]
Ethiopian armed forces indiscriminate shelling of urban areas of the Tigray region in November were likely in violation of the laws of war, Human Rights Watch said on Thursday, calling for an international investigation into the reports.  

Artillery attacks struck homes, hospitals, schools, and markets in the city of Mekelle and the towns of Humera and Shire, killing at least 83 civilians, including children, and wounding over 300, the watchdog found.

"At the war's start, Ethiopian federal forces fired artillery into Tigray's urban areas in an apparently indiscriminate manner that was bound to cause civilian casualties and property damage," said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch.

"These attacks have shattered civilian lives in Tigray and displaced thousands of people, underscoring the urgency for ending unlawful attacks and holding those responsible to account."

Human Rights Watch has called on the United Nations to open an inquiry into alleged violations by the warring parties.

On 4 November, the Ethiopian military began operations in Tigray in response to what Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed claimed were attacks on federal forces and bases by militants affiliated with the region's ruling Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Read also: The geopolitical shadow of Ethiopia's Tigray conflict

Tigray residents made homeless by the fighting currently lack adequate access to food, fuel, water, and medicines. More than 200,000 people are internally displaced, while tens of thousands have also fled to neighbouring Sudan.

The head of the Ethiopian Red Cross Society said on Wednesday that 80 percent of the country's conflict-hit Tigray region were cut off from humanitarian assistance and warned that tens of thousands could starve to death.

Human Rights Watch conducted interviews with survivors, examined satellite imagery and reviewed photographs and videos from the site of six attacks to corroborate witness accounts.

Prime Minister Abiy maintained in November that Ethiopian federal forces had not caused civilian casualties during their military operations in Tigray that month.

Witnesses, however, described a pattern of shelling by Ethiopian federal forces. Many of the artillery attacks did not appear aimed at specific military targets but struck populated areas, Human Rights Watch found.

These attacks caused civilian deaths and injuries, damaged homes and disrupted medical services.

The laws of war applicable to the armed conflict in Tigray prohibit indiscriminate attacks attack that cannot be directed at a specific military target. Serious violations of the laws of war can amount to war crimes, the organisation said.

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