G7 countries are "seriously concerned" about alleged human rights violations in Tigray, calling on all parties to provide immediate and "unhindered humanitarian access" to Ethiopia's conflict-hit region.
The foreign ministries of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the UK and the US as well as the European Union's top diplomat said in a joint statement on Friday that they "condemn the killing of civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, indiscriminate shelling and the forced displacement of residents of Tigray and Eritrean refugees".
They called on all parties to "exercise utmost restraint, ensure the protection of civilians and respect human rights and international law" and to "provide immediate, unhindered humanitarian access" to the region.
"We are concerned about worsening food insecurity with emergency conditions prevailing across extensive areas of central and eastern Tigray," the wrote.
Starvation and sexual violence
Ethiopia declared war on the semi-autonomous region controlled by the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in November 2020. The party had been dominant in the federal government for decades but refused to join a new coalition led by Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy following his ascent to power in 2018.
They then complained they were being unfairly treated by the federal government with tensions escalating last year when Tigray held an election despite nationwide ballots being postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The government then accused TPLF of attacking a federal military — which the party has denied — and launched a military offensive.
No one knows how many thousands of civilians or combatants have been killed since the conflict erupted.
Food security in Tigray, which was already facing a deteriorating socio-economic situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic and an infestation of desert locust, was impacted by the disruption of commercial supplies and failure to pay civil servants, the UN has said.
Wafaa Said, the UN's deputy humanitarian coordinator for Ethiopia, said last month that rapid nutrition assessment in the first week of March indicated that among screened children under the age of 5, the proportion affected by acute malnutrition “greatly exceeded the emergency threshold of 15%” in all six areas assessed.
Said cited estimates that 82% of the 229 health centres in Tigray are not functioning, or no communication has been established with them.
The UN humanitarian official also warned of targeted civilians killings and said that five medical facilities recorded 516 rape cases in mid-March.
"It is projected that the actual numbers are much higher," he said. "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."
A probe led jointly by the UN's High Commissioner's Office for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission was announced last week to investigate claims of violations.
The G7 member countries also welcomed the recent announcement by Abiy that Eritrean forces will withdraw from the region, calling for the process to be "swift, unconditional and verifiable."
Abiy only admitted the involvement of Eritrean troops — long an enemy of the Tigray leaders — in mid-March. It is unclear how many Eritrean soldiers took part in the conflict though witnesses have estimated well in the thousands. They have been accused of looting, killing and raping civilians.
The G7 said the violence must give way to a "clear inclusive political process" leading to "credible elections and a wider national reconciliation process".
They added that they "stand ready to support humanitarian efforts and investigations into human rights abuses."