The UN’s humanitarian partners are receiving corroborated reports of targeted civilian killings, sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement, restricted movements of civilians and extensive looting of civilian property.

People stand in a classroom allegedly looted by Eritrean forces at Ksanet Junior Secondary School in Wukro, north of Mekele, on March 1, 2021.
People stand in a classroom allegedly looted by Eritrean forces at Ksanet Junior Secondary School in Wukro, north of Mekele, on March 1, 2021. (AFP)

More than 500 rape cases have been reported to five clinics in Ethiopia's Tigray region, the United Nations said, warning that due to stigma and a lack of health services the actual numbers were likely to be 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 being forced to rape their own family members under the threat of violence," Wafaa Said, deputy UN aid coordinator in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to UN member states in New York on Thursday.

She said at least 516 rape cases had been reported by five medical facilities in Mekelle, Adigrat, Wukro, Shire and Axum.

"Given the fact that most health facilities are not functioning and also the stigma associated with rape, it is projected that actual numbers are much higher," she added.

A dozen top UN officials on Monday called for a stop to indiscriminate and targeted attacks against civilians in Tigray, particularly calling out reports of rape and "other horrific forms of sexual violence."

READ MORE: Why deadly crisis in Ethiopia's Tigray region is growing

Horror amid displacement

The UN’s humanitarian partners continue to receive corroborated reports of targeted civilian killings, sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement, restricted movements of civilians and extensive looting of civilian property, Said noted.

In terms of access for humanitarian staff, Said said, it is hindered by insecurity and clashes that continue in many parts of the region involving Ethiopian forces, Eritrean forces, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, and forces from the neighbouring Amhara region.

Fighting 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 has also said troops from neighboring Eritrea were in the region.

READ MORE: HRW: Eritrea killed hundreds of civilians in Ethiopia massacre

While it’s impossible to identify the full scale of displacement, Said told the diplomats local officials currently estimate that around 950,000 people fled their homes, most with just the clothes they were wearing.

"Most of the internally displaced people left with nothing more than the clothes they were wearing. They are generally traumatised and tell stories of the difficult journey they took in search of safety. Some reported walking for two weeks and some as far as 500km," Said said on Thursday.

"Of the people who traveled with them, some were reportedly killed particularly youngsters, people were reportedly beaten, women were subject to rape, some were pregnant and delivered on the way losing their babies," she said.

The United Nations has raised concerns about atrocities, while  Secretary of State Antony Blinken has described acts carried out as ethnic cleansing. Ethiopia rejected Blinken's allegation.

This week, Abiy acknowledged for the first time that atrocities such as rape had been committed and said any soldiers committing 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 households and crops.

Eritrea has not responded to queries on reports of atrocities. 

READ MORE: Ethiopia’s leader admits rape, looting committed in Tigray war

Source: TRTWorld and agencies