Women have been gang-raped at gunpoint and men forced to rape their own family members amid a wave of horrifying sexual violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations has been told.  

An Ethiopian woman who fled the ongoing fighting in Tigray region, carries her child.

REUTERS

More than 500 rape cases have been reported to five clinics in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations said on Thursday, warning that the actual numbers might be far 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 U.N. aid coordinator in Ethiopia, said in a briefing to U.N. member states in New York.

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

Women are being gang-raped in front of their families and men are being forced to rape their relatives amid violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, UN warns (file image)

“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.

Ethiopia’s U.N. ambassador, Taye Atskeselassie Amde, told Reuters his government took the allegations of sexual violence “very seriously” and had deployed a fact-finding mission.

“Ethiopia has a zero-tolerance policy for sexual crimes and anyone found responsible for the despicable acts will be held accountable to the fullest extent of the law,” he said.

Dozens of witnesses in Tigray have told Reuters that soldiers from neighboring Eritrea routinely killed civilians, gang-raped and tortured women, and looted households and crops during the conflict.

Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers have been waging a five-month war against regional leaders in Tigray, unleashing a wave of ethnic violence that has targeted civilians (file image)

Fighting in Tigray broke out in November between government troops and the region’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

The violence in Tigray has killed thousands of people and forced hundreds of thousands from their homes in the mountainous region of about 5 million.

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

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