At least 108 civilians have been killed this month in a series of air strikes in Ethiopia’s war-torn northern region of Tigray, the United Nations said on Friday.
The United Nations has also warned of a looming humanitarian catastrophe in the region, where food distributions are about to stop.
The UN human rights office urged the Ethiopian authorities to ensure the protection of civilians, saying that disproportionate attacks targeting non-military targets could amount to war crimes.
Northern Ethiopia has been in conflict since November 2020 when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed sent troops into Tigray after the region’s ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, was accused of carrying out attacks on federal army camps.
“We are concerned by the multiple and extremely disturbing reports that we continue to receive of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects as a result of air strikes in the Ethiopian region of Tigray,” human rights office spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
“At least 108 civilians have been killed and 75 injured since the beginning of the year, as a result of the air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force.”
She detailed a series of airstrikes, including the January 7 attack on Didpet IDP camp, which left at least 56 people dead and 30 wounded, three of whom later died in hospital.
On Monday, Trussell said 17 civilians were killed and 21 wounded after an airstrike targeted a flour mill, and on Tuesday, the state-owned Technical Vocational Education and Training Institute was hit, killing three men.
She added that several other air strikes were reported last week.
“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,” Throssell said.
“Failure to respect the principles of distinction and proportionality may amount to war crimes.”
Meanwhile, the United Nations World Food Program said its distributions were at an all-time low, with the conflict escalating meaning no WFP convoy had reached the Tigrayan capital Mekele since mid-December.
“Life-saving food aid operations in northern Ethiopia are on the verge of halting due to heavy fighting in the neighborhood which has obstructed the passage of fuel and food,” WFP spokesperson Thomson Phiri told reporters.
“After 14 months of conflict in northern Ethiopia, more people are in need of urgent food assistance than ever before.
“Without food, no fuel, and no access, we are on the brink of a major humanitarian catastrophe.”