10 prisons and documentations of all inmates in Tigray were destroyed when the regional government of Tigray, which was under the control of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), collapsed in November 2020, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission revealed.
The Commission, releasing the findings of its monitoring and investigative mission in the region, which took place from January 10 to January 23, 2021, citing the Interim administration of the region, said the dispersal of prisoners made the task of tracking major offenders nearly impossible.
Hence, making it one of the causes for the substantial increase of looting, gender-based violence and other major crimes based on what the interim administration has reported to the Commission. Rapes and sexual violence have been committed on civilians in five localities of Tigray regional states.
According to the Commission, information obtained from health professionals and the regional health bureau, indicates that 108 instances of rape have been reported to health facilities over the past two months alone.
The efforts to return and fully equip former local police force members to their function is only making limited progress, said the Commission, while indicating the resources availed to federal security forces do not match the needs of the region.
The fighting in the region, which has left over 2.5 million people in need of urgent assistance, has also brought a serious blow to government structures, while public offices are yet to resume operations in the region.
“The war has left the regional governmental structure in shambles and caused physical damages to key infrastructural systems. This has led to serious gaps in provision of local administrative, safety and security as well as basic social services,” the Commission said.
The interim administration is attempting to rebuild the civil service in the region, despite facing complex challenges.
Citing the interim administration, the Commission said the presence of Eritrean soldiers in the North-Western and Eastern Tigray, and the fall of Western and Southern Zones of Tigray, under the control of Amhara Region’s administration, adds to the challenge of fully re-establishing the regional governmental structure.
The Commission also highlighted that slow progress of efforts to restore the infrastructure and to fully resume social and administrative services in Tigray region is exposing residents and internally displaced persons to further human rights violations. It has received reports of loss of lives, bodily and mental injury, instances of gender-based violence, looting and other human rights violations including in the areas of Tigray which it has not been able to access yet.
“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. Hence, there is a possibility that the actual number of cases might be higher and more widespread than the reported cases,” the report reads.
While the Commission noted some improvements in terms of provision of humanitarian assistance in Mekelle and other areas that it visited, more effort is still required to meet the extent of humanitarian needs on time.
People displaced to Mekelle from other parts of the region still face shortage of food, clean water and insufficient provision of health services. The ongoing security situation in some parts of Tigray and ongoing disruption to health services has forced injured persons and families of injured persons to walk long distances to get medical help.
When the Commission visited Ayder Hospital’s in-patient wing for children, 16 of the 20 children being treated for trauma had sustained injuries as a result of the war. Some of the hospitalized children have lost at least a body part or suffered another form of bodily injury. Medical professionals also confirm that one of the main reasons for injuries to children in particular is “landmines and hand grenades left lying on the ground.”
The statement quoted EHRC Chief Commissioner, Daniel Bekele (PhD), as saying “While there are many indications and reports of the scale of human rights violations occurring in Tigray Region, the comprehensive overview of the full extent of its impact on civilians is still hindered by the security situation. The Commission will continue its monitoring work and carry out investigations.”
While reiterating the Commission’s previous calls with regards to the loss of lives and internal displacement resulting from the war, he strongly urged for “A more focused and immediate action to put a stop to the alarming and deplorable human right violations caused by gender-based violence and injuries to children.”