The systematic nature of sexual violence and its reported use as a deliberate weapon of war could constitute war crimes under international law.
Abrha Desta, who heads the social affairs department of the interim Tigray government, declined to comment on the escalation of sexual violence in the conflict between Ethiopian and Eritrean forces and troops loyal to the former Tigray regional government.
However, earlier this week Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted the abuses. “There have been atrocities that have been committed in the Tigray region … reports indicate that atrocities have been committed by raping women and looting property,” Abiy said, without attributing the incidents to groups. individuals.
“Any member of the national defense who committed rapes and looting against our Tigray sisters will be held responsible,” he added.
In response to the TelegraphAccording to Mr Abiy’s specific allegations, Mr Abiy’s spokeswoman Billene Seyoum said the prime minister had “sufficiently addressed this issue” in parliament. “The government does not tolerate sexual violence or any form of violence against citizens,” she added.
Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Ghebremeskel told the Telegraph the accusations were “sad and revolting”. “Eritrean soldiers have never been accused of rape. All fabricated stories – which are foreign to our culture and our laws – are peddled to cover up the crimes of the TPLF that started the war.
The governments’ statements follow the condemnation of senior UN officials, including UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet and WHO director Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who called for an independent investigation into conflict-related sexual violence in Tigray.
A doctor at Adigrat Hospital in northern Tigray, who asked to remain anonymous for fear of reprisal, said 111 women had come for an abortion in the past two weeks just after reporting they were raped by soldiers. Since the beginning of December, the main hospitals in Tigray have recorded 512 cases of sexual abuse committed by soldiers, most of which are gang rapes.
But doctors and nurses at two hospitals in Tigray who spoke with the Telegraph on condition of anonymity, the actual numbers could be significantly higher as the majority of cases go unreported. “Every woman who comes here says there were 20 or more women with her who didn’t have a chance to make it to the hospital,” said Goytom *, a doctor at a hospital in Mekelle.
Many hospitals were destroyed in the fighting, leaving survivors struggling to access medical care and psychological support. “A single facility provides the full range of services for the clinical management of rape victims, and emergency contraception is fully available in less than half of the facilities assessed,” according to the UN chiefs statement.
Hospitals can also become places of danger for women to talk about their experiences. “The soldiers enter the hospitals as they please. They cross the rooms and threaten patients, nurses and doctors. There were recently seven raped women from Zalambessa who disappeared from their beds after seeing soldiers in the hospital, ”said Abraham *, doctor at Adigrat hospital.
Rahel *, a nurse at a rehabilitation center for survivors of sexual violence, said officials in Tigray’s transitional government threatened to close the center. “They believe it is these centers that bring the stories of women victims of sexual violence to the world,” she said. “They don’t want these stories to be broadcast.”
Dr Denis Mukwege, the Congolese gynecologist who won the Nobel Peace Prize, told the Telegraph rape as a weapon of war should be prohibited wherever it is reported. “When rape is used, the world must stand up and say no to rape as a weapon of war. But the world does not do it strongly, it does not stand up. ”
* Some names have been changed. Additional reporting by Will Brown
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