Ethiopia confirms widespread rape in Tigray conflict

Women's minister says number of victims still being assessed

Workers from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and volunteers from the Ethiopian Red Cross, distribute relief supplies to civilians in Tigray region, Ethiopia January 6, 2021. Picture taken January 6, 2021. International Committee of the Red Cross/Handout via REUTERS THIS IMAGE HAS BEEN SUPPLIED BY A THIRD PARTY. MANDATORY CREDIT.

Scores of women were raped in Ethiopia's northern Tigray region, authorities confirmed, in the chaotic aftermath of an armed conflict last year that ousted the local ruling party.

"We have received the report back from our taskforce team on the ground in the Tigray region, they have unfortunately established that rape has taken place conclusively and without a doubt," Ethiopian Women's Minister Filsan Abdullahi tweeted on Thursday.

Although witnesses, medics and aid workers spoke of widespread sexual abuse since fighting began in November, Ms Filsan's comments were the first confirmation by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's government.

The minister said the task force, including a team from the attorney general's office, was assessing the number of victims. "We await the investigation of these horrible crimes and hopefully see when the perpetrators are brought to justice," she said.

Sporadic fighting continues after federal troops captured the regional capital Mekelle at the end of November from the Tigray People's Liberation Front, with communications and access to the mountainous region of five million people restricted.

The state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said that 108 rapes were reported in Tigray – nearly half of them in Mekelle – in the past two months.

Some of the victims identified their abusers as federal forces or allied soldiers. The government said it has zero tolerance towards sexual violence.

The rights commission said many rapes were likely to have gone unreported.

"The war and the dismantling of the regional administration have led to a rise in gender-based violence in the region. 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," it said.

Spokesman Adinew Abera said the Women's Ministry had so far assessed only Mekelle and the nearby town of Quiha: "We will deploy experts to all districts of Tigray. So the number will be higher than what is mentioned."

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