Ethiopia declares state of emergency as UN set to release report on Tigray abuses

Crimes may have been committed, according to human rights chief

Ethiopia has declared a nationwide state of emergency and ordered residents of Addis Ababa to prepare to defend their neighbourhoods amid fears Tigrayan rebels are heading for the capital.

It comes as a UN report on abuses committed during the war in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region is set to be published.

The emergency measures came after several days of reported advances by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) rebel group, which is locked in a brutal year-long war against Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government.

"The state of emergency is aimed to protect civilians from atrocities being committed by the terrorist TPLF group in several parts of the country," state-affiliated Fana Broadcasting Corporate reported.

Possible restrictions include a curfew, road closures and searches of "anyone suspected of collaborating with terror groups", Fana said.

The measure also allows the authorities to conscript "any military age citizen who has weapons" or suspend any media outlets believed to be "giving moral support directly or indirectly" to the TPLF, Fana said.

Lawmakers were expected to approve the state of emergency within 24 hours, it said.

There have been widespread accusations against Ethiopian and allied Eritrean soldiers of gang rapes, mass killings of civilians and accusations of blocking humanitarian aid.

A joint investigation by the UN Human Rights Office and the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has documented alleged violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law committed by all parties during the conflict in Tigray.

But investigators have been accused by the party controlling Tigray of not visiting many of the sites where the violence occurred.

There have also been accusations of gang rapes and killings by Tigrayan forces, particularly by Eritrean refugees living in Tigray.

The government has denied blocking aid and said individual soldiers have been tried for any abuses, without giving details. Eritrea has denied committing abuses. The TPLF, which controls most of Tigray, said some “vigilante” Tigrayan groups may have committed abuses but its own formal forces are not responsible.

The war began a year ago after regional forces and Tigrayan soldiers in the national army seized control of military bases across Tigray, claiming the central government was about to move against Tigray after the region held its own elections despite a government directive delaying them.

The conflict has plunged around 400,000 people in Tigray into famine, killed thousands of civilians and forced more than 2.5 million people in northern Ethiopia to flee their homes.

'Kept in the dark'

UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet agreed in March to an Ethiopian request for a joint investigation in Tigray. She said then it was possible war crimes had been committed.

An investigator from the UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights was among seven UN officials deported by Ethiopia last month.

TPLF spokesman Getachew Reda said the investigators had not visited many sites in Tigray where mass killings allegedly occurred, especially the towns of Mai Kadra. He said the report would be faulty because of that and because the investigators did not involve all parties to the war.

“They have kept us in the dark,” he said.

It was not immediately clear whether findings from the report could form the basis for legal action. Ethiopia is not a member of the International Criminal Court, so the court has no jurisdiction.

Updated: November 3rd 2021, 6:59 AM