(Source: Daily Telegraph) –
Doctors say victims of conflict-related sexual violence are seeking emergency contraception and HIV prevention drugs in northern Ethiopia
Hundreds of women are rushing to Tigray’s hospitals in northern Ethiopia for emergency contraception and HIV prevention drugs after being systematically raped, often gang-raped, by Eritrean and Ethiopian soldiers fighting in a brutal civil war.
Dozens are seeking abortions, medical care and psychological support in overwhelmed hospitals, many of which have been destroyed by a five-month conflict between Ethiopia’s federal government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Thousands more are thought to be suffering in silence as they fear reprisals by security forces and rejection from their families, survivors, doctors and aid workers told the Telegraph.
In one of the first in-depth investigations of allegations of rape as a weapon of war in the conflict – which would constitute a war crime – the Telegraph has spoken to dozens in the region to uncover the true extent of what is happening.
One video, which was widely circulated on social media and has been verified by the Telegraph, shows a surgeon in Adigrat hospital removing long nails and pieces of plastic from the vagina of one woman after she was raped and tortured.
Melat*, 20, was at home in Wukro with her elder brother Danayi* when Ethiopian federal soldiers came in, she said. “When five Ethiopian soldiers came to our house to rape me, Danayi tried to defend me from them. ‘I cannot let you rape my sister,’ he said to them. The soldiers shot my brother in the head and took turns raping me,” Melat recalled, still in shock. “They raped me beside the corpse of my brother.”
Like many Tigrayan women, she is now pregnant from the attack. Many others have contracted HIV or other sexually transmitted diseases.
Ethiopian and Eritrean forces have for months been battling troops loyal to the former Tigrayan regional government in a war that has left thousands dead and millions on the brink of starvation. The resulting humanitarian disaster has left 4.5 million people in need of emergency assistance.
A coalition of Tigray’s political opposition recently stated that more than 50,000 people might have died since fighting began on November 4. Survivors, doctors, aid workers and experts speaking to the Telegraph all pointed to rape being systematically used as a weapon of war by Ethopian and Eritrean forces despite being harassed and threatened by soldiers in a bid to prevent them from speaking out.
“It’s absolutely ethnic cleansing, rape is being used as a weapon of war, it is being used as scare tactics,” an aid worker who has just returned from Tigray, who asked to stay anonymous, said.
Selam, a 26-year-old coffee seller in Edaga Hamus, 100km away from Tigray’s capital of Mekelle, said she was abducted by Eritrean soldiers with 17 other women in January.
“They took us into the forest. When we arrived there, there were around 100 soldiers who were waiting for us. They tied the hands and feet of each one of us. And then they raped us without mercy,” she told the Telegraph as she fought through tears.