By Michelle Nichols
NEW YORK (Reuters) – More than 500 rape cases have been reported in five clinics in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations said on Thursday, warning that due to stigma and lack of health services, the numbers are likely to real are much higher.
“Women say they have been raped by armed actors, they also told stories of gang rape, rape in front of family members and men forced to rape their own relatives under threat of violence,” said Wafaa, deputy aid coordinator of the UN in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to the member states of the UN in New York.
It said that five medical facilities in Mekelle, Adigrat, Wukro, Shire and Axum had reported at least 516 cases of rape.
“Given the fact that most health facilities are not working and also the stigma associated with rape, the actual numbers are projected to be much higher,” he added.
A dozen senior UN officials on Monday called for a halt to indiscriminate and targeted attacks on civilians in Tigray, in particular by denouncing reports of rape and “other horrible forms of sexual violence.”
Clashes in Tigray broke out in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed also said troops from neighboring Eritrea were in the region.
Redwan Hussein, spokesperson for the government emergency task force in Tigray, Billene Seyoum, spokesperson for the prime minister, Mulu Nega, head of the interim administration of Tigray, Eritrea’s foreign minister Osman Saleh Mohammed, and the minister of Eritrean reporting Yemane Gebremeskel did not respond to calls and messages. requesting comment on the UN statements on Thursday.
The violence in Tigray has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands to flee their homes in the mountainous region of some 5 million.
“Most of the internally displaced people left with nothing but the clothes they were wearing. In general, they are traumatized and tell stories of the difficult journey they made in search of safety. Some reported walking for two weeks and others up to 500 km,” added. Said said Thursday.
“Of the people who traveled with them, some were killed, particularly young people, people were beaten, women were raped, some became pregnant and gave birth on the way, losing their babies,” he said.
The United Nations has expressed concern about the atrocities, while the United States Secretary of State, Antony Blinken, has described the acts carried out as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia rejected Blinken’s accusation.
This week, Abiy acknowledged for the first time that atrocities such as rape had been committed and said that any soldier who committed crimes would be punished.
Dozens of witnesses in Tigray have told Reuters that Eritrean soldiers routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women, and looted homes and crops. Eritrea has not responded to inquiries about reports of atrocities.
(Additional information from the Addis Ababa newsroom; edited by David Gregorio)