The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Tuesday urged the parties in the conflict in Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray regional state “to give clear orders” to their forces to protect the civilian population.
The High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, said this in a statement issued in Addis Ababa.
“The highly aggressive rhetoric on both sides regarding the fight for Mekelle (capital of Tigray regional state) is dangerously provocative and risks placing already vulnerable and frightened civilians in grave danger,” Bachelet said.
“I fear such rhetoric will lead to further violations of international humanitarian law,” she said.
She also expressed alarm at reports of a heavy build-up of tanks and artillery around Mekelle, the capital city of Tigray province, following the Government’s issuance of a 72-hour ultimatum.
“Such rhetoric suggests possible breaches of the cardinal principles of distinction, proportionality and precaution in the conduct of hostilities that are designed to ensure the civilian population is protected.”
Bachelet said that under international law, parties to a conflict should take all possible measures to protect the civilian population under their control from the effects of attacks, namely by avoiding, to the extent feasible, locating military objectives in densely populated areas.
“I remind all parties to the conflict that the obligation to respect international law is not conditional on the other party’s behaviour.
“All parties to the conflict are bound to respect international humanitarian law and human rights law as applicable. The protection of civilians is paramount,” she stressed.
In particular, the High Commissioner recalled that it was prohibited to treat as a single military objective a number of distinct military objectives located in a densely populated area.
According to the statement, more than 40,000 people have fled from the Tigray region into neighbouring Sudan amid the ongoing fighting.
Since the early hours of Nov. 4, the Ethiopian government has been undertaking military operations against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), which rules over Ethiopia’s northernmost Tigray regional state.
The federal government’s operation followed the TPLF’s attack on the Northern command base of the Ethiopian Defence Force, a division stationed in the region for over two decades and based in Mekelle city, capital of Tigray region.
Meanwhile, the Ethiopian government on Tuesday stressed that “large number” of Tigray Special Forces and the militia are surrendering as part of the 72-hour ultimatum.
The Ultimatum was given by the Ethiopian government for TPLF fighters to surrender peacefully to the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF).
“Using the government’s 72-hour period, a large number of Tigray militia and special forces are surrendering.
“Many have surrendered through the Afar region, and the remaining forces are surrendering peacefully,” the state of emergency task force, said in a statement.
“The Ethiopian government would like to thank members of the Tigray Special Force and the militia who are responding to the call,” the statement read.
“Those still under the control and captivity of the TPLF and are unable to surrender, are asked to disarm wherever they are and refrain from being exploited by the TPLF until the National Defence Forces rescue them,” it added.
The Ethiopian government late on Sunday disclosed that its military operations in the northern Tigray regional state were now in their “final and crucial phase,” as it announced a 72-hour ultimatum.
Edited By: Fatima Sule and Abdullahi Yusuf