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The UN secretary-general’s special representative on sexual violence in conflict, Pramila Patten, on Thursday expressed grave concern over serious allegations of sexual violence in Ethiopia’s conflict-stricken Tigray region.

The allegations include a high number of alleged rapes in Mekelle, the capital of Tigray. There are also disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence, said Patten in a statement.

Some women have also reportedly been forced by military elements to have sex in exchange for basic commodities. In addition, there are increasing reports of sexual violence against women and girls in a number of refugee camps, she said.

Patten called on all parties involved in the hostilities in Tigray to commit to a zero-tolerance policy for crimes of sexual violence, in line with their respective obligations under international humanitarian and human rights law.

She called on the federal government of Ethiopia to further exercise its due diligence obligations to protect all civilians from sexual and other violence, regardless of their ethnic origin and those displaced by conflict; promptly allow for an independent inquiry into all allegations of sexual and other forms of violence; establish the facts and hold perpetrators accountable; provide redress to victims; and prevent further grave violations.

It remains critical that humanitarian actors and independent human rights monitors be granted immediate, unconditional and sustained access to the entirety of the Tigray region, including camps for internally displaced persons and refugees, she said.

Immediate medical and psychosocial assistance must be accompanied by protection measures, to ensure that those who have been forced from their homes due to violence are not placed at further risk of sexual violence within the camps.

This includes the more than 5,000 Eritrean refugees in and around the area of Shire living in dire conditions, as well as the more than 59,000 Ethiopians who have fled into neighboring Sudan. The United Nations estimates that of these refugees, more than 25 percent are women and girls of reproductive age, she said.

Constrained humanitarian access and limited resources for service providers have reduced the availability of essential health care and assistance for survivors of sexual violence, including sexual and reproductive health care.

Access to life-saving assistance, such as dignity kits, post-rape kits, treatment to prevent HIV and sexually transmitted infections and psychosocial support is also critical.

Accordingly, enhanced funding and support are urgently required to scale up the provision and coverage of essential services, said Patten.

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