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Ethiopia: UN warns of 'disturbing' mass arrests

November 16, 2021

Police have previously denied that the arrests are ethnically motivated. Almost 200 young children have starved to death in Tigray.

A soldier with the Tigrayan forces reads a book as he guards the headquarters of the Tigrai Mass Media Agency in Mekelle
The TPLF began fighting the Ethiopian government around a year agoImage: Giulia Paravicini/REUTERS

At least 1,000 people have been detained in Ethiopia over the past week, the United Nations said on Tuesday.

Most of those detained are reported to be of Tigrayan origin, the High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

This development is "disturbing," the commissioner noted.

The surge in arrests has occurred since the government introduced a state of emergency on November 2 amid fears that the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters would march on the capital.

The declaration is valid for six months. It allows suspects to be detained without trial for as long as the state of emergency lasts and allows house-to-house searches without a warrant.

Some reports have put the number of detainees as "much higher," the UN statement noted.

What else do we know about the mass arrests?

People have been detained across Ethiopia, including in the Ethiopian capital, Addis Ababa, as well as in Gondar and Bahir Dar, in the north of the country.

A number of UN staff have been arrested since the state of emergency was declared.

Ten local UN staff, as well as 34 drivers subcontracted by the UN, were still being held, UN spokeswoman Liz Throssell said.

The conditions in detention centers were poor and overcrowded. Many were not told the reasons for their detention, the United Nations said.

There have been reports of ill treatment in detention, Throssell added.

Police have previously said the arrests are not ethnically motivated but are aimed at detaining supporters of the TPLF.

Children dying of starvation in hospitals

The conflict, which broke out just over a year ago between Ethiopian federal troops and forces loyal to the TPLF, the ruling party of Tigray, is also behind soaring malnutrition in the Tigray region.

On Tuesday, data from 14 hospitals in Tigray showed that 186 children younger than 5 years old have died of starvation in hospitals.

Tigray is grappling with a communications blackout and what the United Nations describes as a de facto aid blockade, meaning that most essential medical supplies are no longer available.

Hagos Godefay, the head of the health bureau in Tigray's prewar government, warned that the death toll was likely higher.

He noted that health workers had not been able to reach remote areas where the number of children dying of starvation "will double for sure."

An estimated 29% of children are acutely malnourished, up from 9% before the war, Hagos said.

For severe acute malnutrition, the figure is 7.1%, up from 1.3% before the war, he added.

kmm/wd (AFP, AP, Reuters)