The U.N. human rights chief said on Monday the situation in northern Ethiopia had deteriorated since November and her office had received reports of wide-spread violations including rapes and lethal air strikes.
Michelle Bachelet told the Geneva-based Human Rights Council her staff had recorded 304 deaths and injuries to 373 people in air attacks “apparently carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force” in Tigray and Afar regions.
The government has regularly denied targeting civilians in the 16-month-old war pitting Ethiopia’s federal forces against rebellious forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Ethiopia’s envoy to the Human Rights Council, Mahlet Hailu Guadey, dismissed Bachelet’s statement on Monday, saying it was at variance with the facts on the ground.
“Ethiopia abides by its national and international human rights obligations,” Mahlet said. Ethiopia’s military spokesman, Colonel Getnet Adane, and government spokesman Legesse Tulu did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
In the same speech, Bachelet said her office had received reports of 306 rapes by Tigrayan forces in the Amhara region in Nov-Dec. 2021. Reuters has interviewed women in the Amhara region who have described gang-rapes by Tigrayan forces.
TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said he could not comment on what he called blanket allegations.
“Whatever the merits of such allegations though, we are open for independent investigation into these and other similar allegations,” he added.
Aid workers say civilians have been killed in several air strikes, including a bombing on the night when Ethiopian Orthodox Christians celebrate Christmas Eve in the town of Dedebit, in northwest Tigray near the border with Eritrea in January.
Ethiopia’s government and military did not respond to requests for comment on those reports at the time.
Reporting by Emma Farge and Giulia Paravicini; Editing by Hugh Lawson and Andrew Heavens