NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Thousands of people have been detained in Ethiopia’s capital since the government declared a state of emergency over the country’s intensifying war, the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission estimated Wednesday, as ethnic Tigrayans report being targeted for their identity alone.
The human rights group’s estimate is the largest yet of the detentions that have occurred since Nov. 2 as teams of volunteers roam the streets in the capital looking for Tigrayans suspected of supporting the Tigray forces fighting Ethiopia’s military in a year-old war.
The commission expressed “grave concern” that it was unable to gather complete data on detainees, and it said at least 714 people had been detained in one Addis Ababa sub-city alone. It said another monitoring team found that up to 300 people had been detained in the eastern city of Dire Dawa.
Authorities are not doing enough to justify the reasons for detentions, it said.
“Large numbers of the detainees were of Tigrayan background,” the statement said, noting that the elderly and nursing mothers were among those held. At detention centers the commission’s monitoring teams were able to visit, some were overcrowded and had no toilets, and many had no access to health care, it said.
Ethiopia’s government has said it is detaining people suspected of supporting the Tigray forces, but witnesses, lawyers and human rights groups have expressed concern that the state of emergency’s sweeping powers are being used to pick up people based on ethnicity alone.
The AP has confirmed that American and British citizens have been among people detained, and United Nations staffers have been held as well.
“Propaganda is part of their war,” one of the community policing volunteers in Addis Ababa, Leul Hassen, told the AP earlier this week, referring to Tigrayans suspected of supporting the rival forces, as the volunteers checked people’s identity documents. “We have no time for that.”
The United Nations human rights office on Tuesday cited reports that authorities have detained at least 1,000 people in Addis Ababa, the northern cities of Gondar and Bahir Dar, and other places. Spokeswoman Liz Throssell described the state of emergency’s provisions as “extremely broad, with vague prohibitions going as far as encompassing ‘indirect moral’ support for what the government has labeled ‘terrorist groups.’”
“We need to see people detained released,” U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters Wednesday during a visit to neighboring Kenya amid diplomatic efforts in pursuit of a cease-fire, talks and humanitarian access in the war that has killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million and pushed hundreds of thousands of people into famine.
But both Ethiopia’s government and the Tigray forces who long dominated the national government have shown little public sign of halting the fighting.