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A new report indicates Ethiopia's military is abusing civilians

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Ethiopia's civil war ended last year, but a new report alleges that members of the military have continued to commit widespread acts of sexual violence on civilians. NPR's Ari Daniel reports. And a note, listeners, you will find the details in this story disturbing.

ARI DANIEL, BYLINE: In the report, there are just two photos, each of a different woman, stand-ins for the women and girls across Tigray, in the country's north, who've allegedly suffered the torture and assaults detailed in the report. Dr. Ranit Mishori is senior medical adviser with U.S.-based Physicians for Human Rights. The group co-authored the report.

RANIT MISHORI: Sexual violence is being used as a tactic to harm populations, to terrorize populations. The cases are very brutal and quite horrifying.

DANIEL: The other co-author is the Organization for Justice and Accountability in the Horn of Africa. Here's someone with that group.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: The report highlights the really systematic, widespread and non-random nature of these attacks.

DANIEL: This woman asks that we not use her name because she fears speaking out could make her or her family a target of reprisal.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: In the vast majority of the cases, there were multiple perpetrators. It was often accompanied by physical violence.

DANIEL: Sexual violence used by armed forces during the civil war has been reported previously by the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International. But this new report shows that months after the peace agreement was signed, sexual violence against women and girls has continued. The findings were drawn from medical records at multiple health facilities across Tigray. More than 300 records detailing conflict-related sexual violence involving girls and women from ages 8 to 69, with nearly half occurring after the cease-fire. In some cases, family members were killed. Many of the survivors faced medical complications. Dr. Mishori.

MISHORI: Really severe physical scars, reproductive organs being damaged. These things can impact women's lives for decades. And then we had individuals with obviously severe trauma and mental health issues, PTSD and depression and anxiety.

DANIEL: Not to mention numerous unintended pregnancies, and for some, HIV infection. Medical treatment's been delayed or nonexistent due to Tigray's crumbling health care system that itself came under fire in the war. As for who's to blame for this violence.

MISHORI: Most of the survivors pointed the finger at people wearing military fatigues. So while it's hard to know exactly who they were, from the records, they were all members of military or paramilitary groups.

DANIEL: Most likely, according to the report, groups associated with the governments of Ethiopia and neighboring Eritrea. NPR reached out to both governments for comment but neither has yet responded. In February, Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki was asked about alleged rape and other abuses in Tigray by his country's forces. He called it a, quote, "fantasy."

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT ISAIAS AFWERKI: For those who come to promote their agendas in the region, we say enough is enough.

DANIEL: The authors of the report say urgent medical and psychosocial support is needed for these women, as well as justice.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: There needs to be a really credible, measurable justice system in place that can help address the serious human rights violations and that can hold perpetrators accountable.

DANIEL: The researchers say their report captures just a sliver of this kind of violence. And they hope it brings attention to the suffering of a people in a part of the world they say doesn't get enough attention or help.

Ari Daniel, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Ari Daniel is a reporter for NPR's Science desk where he covers global health and development.
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