The United Nations expressed alarm Tuesday at surging arrests in Ethiopia since the country introduced a state of emergency November 2.
The U.N. human rights agency said most of those detained in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa as well as in Gondar, Bahir Dar and other locations were of Tigrayan origin.
“According to reports, at least 1,000 individuals are believed to have been detained … with some reports putting the figure much higher,” spokeswoman Liz Throssell told reporters in Geneva.
The arrests have been occurring since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government declared a state of emergency two weeks ago, when Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) fighters threatened to march on the capital.
Lawyers have also said that thousands of Tigrayans have been arbitrarily detained since the announcement of the measures, which allow authorities to detain without a warrant anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups.”
Among those arrested since the state of emergency was declared are a number of U.N. staff members.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated his call for the immediate release of the employees in a statement from his spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday evening.
“As far as the secretary-general is aware, the staff members are being held without charge, and no specific information has been provided regarding the reasons for their arrest,” Dujarric said.
Throssell said 10 local U.N. staff members and 34 drivers subcontracted by the U.N. were still being held.
“We call for all those still in detention to be immediately released,” she said, adding that if that does not happen, “a court or other independent and impartial tribunal should review the reasons for their detention, or they should be formally charged.”
She acknowledged that it was “challenging” for the remaining U.N. rights agency staff members to do their work, adding this was why “we have reports of at least 1,000 people detained, but we’re not in a position to give a more definitive number.”
Detention conditions were generally reported to be “poor,” she said, with many of those detained held in overcrowded police stations.
Throssell decried that many of those detained had reportedly not been informed of the reasons for their detention, let alone formally charged.
“We are also concerned at some reports of ill-treatment in detention,” she said, adding that while the agency had no specific evidence of torture in detention, this was clearly a concern.
The war between the Ethiopian authorities and the TPLF has over the past year killed thousands, displaced more than 2 million people, and left hundreds of thousands in famine-like conditions.
The U.N. says all sides in the conflict have committed serious human rights violations.