The United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten issued a statement on Thursday urging all parties to prohibit the use of sexual violence and cease hostilities in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, as well as commit to a zero-tolerance policy for sexual violence under international humanitarian and human rights law.
"I am greatly concerned by serious allegations of sexual violence in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, including a high number of alleged rapes in the capital, Mekelle. There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family under threats of imminent violence," Patten said.
The statement said that medical centres have indicated an increase in the demand for emergency contraception and testing for sexually transmitted infections (STIs), which is often an indicator of sexual violence in conflict, in addition to the increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls in a number of refugee camps.
"I call on the Government of Ethiopia to further exercise its due diligence obligations to protect all civilians from sexual and other violence, regardless of their ethnic origin and those displaced by conflict, and to promptly allow for an independent inquiry into all allegations of sexual and other forms of violence, to establish the facts and hold perpetrators accountable, provide redress to victims, and prevent further grave violations," Patten added.
Constrained humanitarian access and limited resources for service providers have reduced the availability of essential healthcare and assistance for survivors of sexual violence, including sexual and reproductive healthcare.
More than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the area of Shire are living in dire conditions, many of them reportedly sleeping in an open field with no water or food, and more than 59,000 Ethiopians have fled the country into neighbouring Sudan.
The United Nations estimates that of these refugees, more than 25 percent are women and girls of reproductive age.