OTTAWA — Canada and other G7 nations are denouncing what they describe as human rights violations and calling for immediate access for humanitarian aid groups in Ethiopia's conflict-ridden Tigray region.
Foreign Affairs Minister Marc Garneau and his counterparts from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the United Kingdom and the United States say in a joint statement they are extremely concerned people are starving as conditions in Ethiopia's northernmost region worsen.
They denounce reports of mass civilian killings, sexual and gender-based violence, and the forced displacement of thousands of local residents and Eritrean refugees living there.
They say it is "essential that there is an independent, transparent and impartial investigation into the crimes reported," including holding those responsible for human rights abuses to account.
Ethiopia declared war on the region in November in battle between Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy's national ruling party and the Tigray People's Liberation Front, which had ruled the semi-autonomous region.
The conflict escalated quickly with accusations of war crimes, massacres and rape, many of which have been difficult to confirm because of restricted access to the region by aid workers and journalists.
"We condemn the killing of civilians, sexual and gender based violence, indiscriminate shelling and the forced displacement of residents of Tigray and Eritrean refugees," the G7 foreign ministers said in the joint statement.
"All parties must exercise utmost restraint, ensure the protection of civilians and respect human rights and international law. "
Ethiopians in Canada have protested recently outside Parliament Hill, demanding the world pay attention to the situation and calling on Canada to act.
Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, who visited Ethiopia a year ago, spoke to Abiy by phone in late February and raised the ongoing war in Tigray. A summary of their conversation said Trudeau raised the importance of humanitarian access and aid, and the need to restore access for journalists.
The Tigray People's Liberation Front had been one of the dominant parties in the precursor to Abiy's coalition Prosperity party. But the TPLF refused to join Abiy's new party.
In the fall the TPLF went ahead with regional elections, after Abiy postponed national votes due to COVID-19.
The group later attacked a federal military base in early November. That attack prompted Abiy to declare war on the region.
It's estimated as many as million people have been displaced by the conflict, and local aid groups say people are starving, lack access to clean water and basic medical care.
The region was already hurting from impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and an infestation of locusts that harmed crops.
The United Nations has repeatedly called for leaders to improve access for aid groups, saying millions of people are at risk.
The G7 ministers say they took note of commitments made by Abiy's government to address the human rights abuses and hold those responsible to account and "look forward to seeing these commitments implemented.
"We call for the end of violence and the establishment of a clear inclusive political process that is acceptable to all Ethiopians, including the citizens of Tigray, and which leads to credible elections and a wider national reconciliation process," the statement read.
"We the G7 members stand ready to support humanitarian efforts and investigations into human rights abuses."
This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 2, 2021.