Press briefing notes on Ethiopia

We are alarmed by the multiple, deeply disturbing reports we continue to receive of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects resulting from airstrikes in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. At least 108 civilians have reportedly been killed and 75 others injured since the year began, as a result of air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force.

On Wednesday this week, an airstrike claimed the life of a 72-year-old man. The previous day, on 11 January, the state-owned Technical Vocational Education and Training institute was hit, reportedly killing three men and leaving 21 people injured – most of them women.

And on Monday, 10 January, 17 civilians were reportedly killed and 21 injured – most of them women – after an airstrike, reportedly carried out by a drone, hit a flour mill where they had gathered to grind their grains into flour.

The deadliest airstrike so far, which hit the Dedebit IDP camp on 7 January, left at least 56 people dead and 30 others wounded. We have since established that three of those who were critically injured later died in hospital while receiving medical treatment, pushing the death toll from that single strike to at least 59.

Numerous other airstrikes were reported last week, hitting a private minibus traveling from Adiet to Axum city, Shire airport, Mai-Aini refugee camp and other areas.

We call on the Ethiopian authorities and their allies to ensure the protection of civilians and civilian objects, in line with their obligations under international law. Any attack, including airstrikes should fully respect the principles of distinction, proportionality and precautions in attack. In particular, parties to the conflict must take all feasible measure to verify that targets are indeed military objectives and suspend an attack if it becomes apparent that the target is not a military objective or that the attack would be disproportionate. Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality could amount to war crimes.

We are also concerned by the continuing arbitrary arrests and detention amid the state of emergency. While we welcome the recent release of several high-profile individuals, including key opposition figures who had been in detention for many months, we remain concerned that many more people – at least hundreds – remain indefinitely detained in appalling conditions and without being brought before a court of law or other tribunal to review the reasons for their detention, among other violations of procedural guarantees.