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Ethiopia must be held accountable for war crimes against medical workers and patients: Human Rights Watch

By Emma Burns

July 5, 2024

Credits @FFHR.CZ

Ethiopian security forces have committed war crimes through their attacks on healthcare providers in Ethiopia’s Amahara Conflict, Human Rights Watch said in a report released on Wednesday.

The report entitled “If the Soldier Dies, It’s on You: Attacks on Medical Care in Ethiopia’s Amhara Conflict” details the conditions endured by medical workers, patients and health facilities in the conflict-stricken Amhara region. Human Rights Watch calls on the Ethiopian government and the international community to end attacks on healthcare and increase human rights monitoring in the country.

According to the report, attacks by Ethiopian federal forces and government-affiliated militia on medical workers and healthcare facilities have occurred in at least 13 towns since the conflict between the Ethiopian federal forces and the regional Amhara militia – the Fano – began in August 2023. HRW conducted interviews with 58 victims and witnesses, as well as medical professionals and aid workers. A statement accompanying the report summarises the targeted destruction of healthcare that these interviews uncovered:

Human Rights Watch found that Ethiopian forces endangered or disrupted the functioning of hospitals. Soldiers beat, arbitrarily arrested, and intimidated medical professionals for providing care to the injured and sick, including alleged Fano fighters. The soldiers also unlawfully attacked ambulances and medical transports, interfered with access to humanitarian assistance, and denied the Amhara population the right to health.

Following a drone strike on an ambulance, one doctor described the despair that fell over the local hospital as follows:

Staff were terrorized, unable to focus, and even missed work. All the medications in the ambulance burned. We had used the little budget we had left to procure the medications. We used the ambulance for the referral, emergency, and medication transport. Now we have no other vehicle… this was an unaffordable cost.

International humanitarian law obligates states to provide a certain level of access to healthcare facilities under the right to health.

These attacks are far from isolated instances. Since the conflict began, countless civilians have been killed in breaches of international humanitarian law, which prohibits attacks on civilians and civilian objects. Responding to numerous reports and calls to action, in February, the US Embassy in Addis Ababa called for an investigation into the massacres.

However, HRW Deputy Africa Director Laetitia Bader said, “so long as the [Ethiopian] government feels no pressure to hold abusive forces to account, such atrocities are likely to continue”.

Human Rights Watch reported that the Ethiopian government has yet to respond to its concerns.



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