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A Human Rights Watch (HRW) report released this week details increasingly dire conditions for medical professionals, civilians, healthcare facilities, and humanitarian aid agencies working to fill gaps in medical supplies and equipment in the conflict-stricken Amhara region.

The report published on July 3, 2024, highlights that Ethiopian security forces have committed widespread attacks, amounting to war crimes, against medical professionals, patients, and health facilities amidst the conflict between the Ethiopian military and the Amhara militia, known as ‘Fano,’ that began last August.

According to the report, civilians are bearing the brunt of this conflict, with the Ethiopian forces endangering and disrupting the functioning of hospitals and health centers.

The report reveals several key incidents after conducting remote interviews with close to 60 victims and witnesses of abuses, as well as medical professionals and aid workers, and reviewing satellite imagery along with verified photographs and videos.

One such incident occurred in January when Ethiopian soldiers detained and interrogated a medical professional, accusing him of being a “Fano doctor” and questioning his reasons for treating Fano fighters.

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“The colonel [interrogating me] called me a ‘Fano doctor,’” said the doctor. “He started asking why I was giving treatment to Fano. He said [the Fano] are not humans … They are monsters.”

Additionally, on November 30, an apparent drone strike on a clearly marked ambulance in Wegel Tena town killed at least four civilians, badly wounded one, and destroyed much-needed medical supplies.

“Psychologically, hospital staff are disturbed and living in fear of another attack,” reads the report by stressing that doctors seeking to replenish depleted hospital supplies have also aroused the suspicion of government forces, with some coming under attack.

The report added that this has affected the health workers’ ability to provide adequate care to patients in a safe environment. It reveals that the fighting has disrupted the delivery of medical supplies, leading to acute and prolonged shortages of essential medicines in hospitals and health centers. Doctors and health staff have been forced to work under dire and difficult conditions, with shortages of oxygen, medication, and power.

It states that Amhara regional health officials acknowledged the conflict has caused extensive damage to the healthcare system, with 967 facilities pillaged and 124 ambulances seized. The report reveals that humanitarian aid agencies working to fill gaps in medical supplies and equipment have faced an increasingly difficult operating environment due to the ongoing fighting, attacks on aid workers, and movement restrictions.

In response, the rights group urges the Ethiopian government to cease attacks on medical professionals, patients, health facilities, and transport routes in the Amhara region immediately.

“Ethiopian authorities should also work to strengthen the country’s legal framework to protect health care by passing specific legislation that protects healthcare workers, medical professionals, and health facilities,” reads the report.

HRW also calls on international donors to help rehabilitate damaged health facilities in Amhara and other conflict-affected areas. However, the organization notes that concerned governments have neither publicly condemned the attacks by Ethiopian federal forces nor pressed the government to hold those responsible for the abuses accountable.

Additionally, the report urges Ethiopia’s international partners, particularly the African Union and the European Union, to advocate for renewed international oversight of the human rights situation in Ethiopia through multilateral forums.

“Continued civilian suffering from the conflict in Amhara means much greater international scrutiny is needed in Ethiopia,” reads the HRW report.

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