Ethiopian Minister for Women Filsan Abdullahi Ahmed noted February 11th that rape had been committed “conclusively and without a doubt” within Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region. The statement, which expressed a rare acknowledgement of the toll on Ethiopia’s Tigrayan population, comes after a task force conducted investigations into allegations of mass sexual assault within the region of around 6 million people, currently isolated from the rest of the world. Filsan went on to say that law enforcement officials “are currently processing the data in terms of numbers,” expressing hope that perpetrators will be “brought to justice.” She did not specify which government body undertook this investigation or which parts of Tigray were visited.
Filsan’s statement came just hours after the Ethiopian Human Rights commission indicated that 108 rape cases had been reported in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, in the last two months, as well as the communities of Adigrat, Wukro and Ayder.
“Local structures such as police and health facilities where victims of sexual violence would normally turn to report such crimes are no longer in place,” the report said, going on to suggest the actual number may in fact be much “higher and widespread” than the reported cases.
Filsan has confirmed what many human rights groups have known for some time. Last month, the United Nations’ special representative on sexual violence said the body had received “disturbing” reports of sexual violence in Tigray, including individuals forced to rape their own family members. The U.N. report went on to say that “some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities, while medical centres have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections.”
Several witnesses who spoke to the Associative Press indicated that these rapes were carried out by both Ethiopian and Eritrean troops, whose presence is widely documented within the region but staunchly denied by the Ethiopian Government.
February 12th marked 100 days of fighting between Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s troops and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (T.P.L.F.). Despite Ahmed’s claim of victory in November, constant clashes across the region indicate that this conflict is far from resolved.
The Ethiopian government has repeated throughout their besiegement of Tigray that their fight is with the T.P.L.F., not the Tigrayan people. However, these shocking reports would seem to indicate otherwise. The Tigrayan population has borne the brunt of this drawn-out, bloody conflict, with indiscriminate shelling, growing reports of food shortages and now evidence of widespread sexual assault and rape. Humanitarian aid, including rape kits and HIV testing and treatment, is vitally needed for these victims – and yet, has not been allowed into this tightly controlled region. Information from Tigray has been equally restricted.
While the admission of the Tigray rapes has offered a glimmer of transparency in a conflict chronically concealed from external media, reporters and humanitarian watchdogs must now be allowed into Tigray to ensure further violations do not occur.