The world has watched as long-standing political and ethnic rivalries in Ethiopia have turned into active conflict and horrific mass atrocities in the northern region of Tigray.
This escalation of hostilities has resulted in one of the most vicious conflicts in recent memory, marked by ethnic-targeted killings, destruction of crops, denial of food, and brutal sexual violence.
However, a combination of factors, including unemployment and other economic difficulties, drought, and human rights abuses have driven hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians to migrate over the past decade, travelling by boat over the Red Sea and then by land through Yemen to Saudi Arabia in addition to Sudan and other Middle East countries.
Long-standing experience in multiple humanitarian crises around the world have built a strong evidence base that scarcity of resources combined with inadequate safeguards contribute to a profoundly heightened risk of sexual exploitation and abuse (SEA).
Sexual Exploitation and Abuse
Men in uniform have reportedly forced civilians to rape family members and gang rape has been common. Based on credible agency reports, former UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Mark Lowcock estimated in April 2021 that 30 percent of all incidents against civilians involved sexual violence.
He concluded that Ethiopian soldiers are using sexual violence “as a weapon of war, as a means to humiliate, terrorize and traumatize an entire population today and into the next generation.” The conditions for women and girls who have fled are appalling. Access to health care––especially sexual and reproductive health services––is limited, and shelter is inadequate at best, unsafe at worst.
In addition, nearly 5,000 children have lost contact with their parents or been orphaned since fighting erupted, with many livings in informal camps where they have no adults to care for them and limited food and shelter, Save the Children said.
UN experts warn about Eritrean women and children sex trafficking
Women and children are increasingly susceptible to kidnapping and sex trafficking as they leave ongoing armed violence in Ethiopia’s Tigray, Afar, and Amhar regions, a delegation of UN-appointed independent human rights experts said on Monday.
The experts stated in a statement that the protracted conflict in the three northern regions has increased the risks of trafficking for sexual exploitation as a type of sexual violence in conflict.
UN experts expressed grave concern over Eritrean refugee women and children being particularly vulnerable to sex trafficking.
“Urgent action is required to combat trafficking, particularly for sexual exploitation, and to offer help and protection for all victims, without regard to race or ethnicity, country, handicap, age, or gender,” they wrote.
Meanwhile, independent experts have warned that hundreds of children who have been separated from their families, particularly in Tigray, are especially vulnerable.
They also stated that adequate procedures were not made to identify victims of trafficking or to facilitate their recovery in ways that fully account for the significant trauma they had undergone. “The failure to provide accountability for these serious human rights violations and grave crimes creates a climate of impunity, allows trafficking in persons to persist and perpetrators to go free,” underscored the six UN experts.
Global Rights Watch (GRW) also stresses the urgent need to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence; provide redress to victims; and ensure proper documentation and investigation of all incidences of sexual violence, and hold perpetrators into account.