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Tigray: UN condemns murder of 3 MSF humanitarians as ‘appalling violation’ of international law

A woman receives medicine at a health centre in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.
© UNICEF/Mulugeta Ayene
A woman receives medicine at a health centre in the Tigray region of Ethiopia.

Tigray: UN condemns murder of 3 MSF humanitarians as ‘appalling violation’ of international law

Peace and Security

Three employees of the Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) agency have been killed by unknown attackers in the restive Tigray region of Ethiopia, drawing swift condemnation from UN Secretary-General António Guterres who said on Saturday he was “deeply shocked” by the murders.

According to news reports, MSF lost contact with a vehicle that had been carrying workers from the Spanish branch of the agency, on Thursday afternoon, and their bodies were discovered on Friday morning, close to the empty vehicle.

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The victims were identified as Spanish national, Maria Hernandez, and Ethiopian staff members Yohannes Halefom Reda, and Tedros Gebremariam Gebremichael. “No words can truly convey our sadness, shock, and outrage against this horrific attack”, said MSF in a statement.

MSF is an independent, international medical humanitarian organisation, made up of tens of thousands of health professionals, logistical and administrative staff, operating worldwide.

Conflict began in Tigray last November, between central Government forces and regional forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), throwing the region into a humanitarian crisis with fighting sparking massive displacement and warnings from the UN, of a looming famine.

Standing ‘in solidarity’

In a statement, the UN chief described the murders as “totally unacceptable and an appalling violation of International Humanitarian Law. The perpetrators must be found and severely punished.

“I stand in solidarity with our humanitarian partners who are risking their lives to provide protection and relief to people in Tigray”, Mr. Guterres added.

The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, said in a statement, she was outraged at the brutal murders. “Humanitarian and human rights workers are civilians and as such can never be targeted. Parties to the conflict must fully respect international human rights and humanitarian law.”

The “shocking killings come as we continue to receive reports of ongoing serious violations of international humanitarian law and gross human rights violations and abuses in Tigray”, she added, calling for a “timely, transparent, thorough investigation into the killing of our humanitarian colleagues and all reports of violations, and perpetrators must be held accountable.”

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In a message on Twitter, the head of the International Organization for Migration (IOM), António Vitorino, said he was shocked by the killing of the MSF workers, “who were serving some of the most vulnerable people…IOM condemns in the strongest terms, the targeting of aid workers in conflicts.”

Executive Director of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), David Beasley, said he was “shocked by the terrible news”, adding that the workers had been “simply trying to help others in great need…our thoughts and prayers are with their families and friends during this difficult time.”

Missile strike

The Tigray conflict has continued unabated in recent days, with civilians bearing the brunt of the violence. On Tuesday, amidst conflicting accounts, an Ethiopian Government air strike hit a market in the village of Togoga, reportedly killing many civilians, including women and children.

On Friday, Secretary-General António Guterres issued a statement strongly condemning the attack, expressing his “deepest condolences to the families of the victims”.

“The Secretary-General reiterates the need for all parties to uphold their responsibilities under international humanitarian and human rights law and to ensure the protection of civilians. He calls for an independent and swift investigation into this incident.”

He called once again, “for an immediate end to the fighting and for urgent steps to peacefully resolve the conflict.”

The UN humanitarian response to the highly volatile and complex security situation, includes getting food assistance to around 5.2 million in need. So far around 3.7 million people have been accessed.

More than 1,000 children were treated for severe acute malnutrition and around 5,000 for moderate acute malnutrition in recent days, while more than 22,000 received medical services in the second week of June.