United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, on Saturday denounced a recent deadly Christian-Muslim violence in Ethiopia and called for an immediate probe into the incidents.
“I am deeply distressed by the recent violent clashes between Muslims and Orthodox Christians in Ethiopia in which at least 30 people were reportedly killed and more than 100 others injured,” Bachelet said in a statement.
Ms Bachelet urged Ethiopian authorities to allow transparent investigation to bring perpetrators to justice.
In this regard, she urged authorities to promptly initiate and conduct thorough, independent and transparent investigations into each of the deadly incidents and ensure that those found to be responsible are held to account.
The UN rights chief further called for broader action to be taken to reconcile communities in Ethiopia, where Muslims make up about a third of the country’s estimated 115 million population.
The recent religious clashes began in Gondar city of the Amhara region on April 26, during a Muslim funeral in land contested by Christians and Muslims.
“I understand two mosques were burnt and another two partially destroyed in Gondar. In the apparent retaliatory attacks that followed, two Orthodox Christian men were reportedly burnt to death, another man hacked to death, and five churches burnt down in Silt'e zone, in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples' Region, located in the southwest of the country,” Ms Bachelet said.
The EastAfrican has learnt that, since the violent clashes broke out late last month, Ethiopian authorities have so far arrested more than 570 people in at least four cities.
In the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopian authorities last Monday arrested 76 people suspected of having links with a religious violence which marred Idd al-Fitr prayers where tens of thousands of Muslims had gathered to mark the end of Ramadan.
“Those arrested must be fully accorded their due process and fair trial rights in accordance with international human rights law, without discrimination,” Ms Bachelet said.
To avert further religious violence, Ms Bachelet said, the root causes of this “shocking violence [should be] promptly addressed, with the meaningful engagement of survivors, families and affected communities.”
Since the Gondar incident, religious-related tensions have been high in the Christian dominant Horn of Africa nation.
Following the clashes, the Amhara regional government imposed a curfew in the historic tourist destination city of Gondar as security personnel struggle to quell the violence which was spreading to neighbouring states.
Since 2019, religious violence has been taking a toll on and eroding the country's historic and strong religious harmony between Muslims and a large Christian majority.
Sumur Tsehaye, a local political commentator, told The EastAfrican that the Ethiopian government needs to do more to resolve the growing religious intolerance.
“The increasing religious intolerance in Ethiopia coupled with the attacks and counter-attacks point to growing radicalism on both sides of the religious divide,” he said.
“In a country where religion is a crucial social and political heritage, failure from the government to promptly address those critical issues could eventually tear apart the country at some point in time.
“The alarming rise of religious intolerance is a ticking bomb waiting,” Mr Sumur said.
He added that the religious intolerance and related violence could attract international terror groups and their affiliates to set foot in Ethiopia.
Foiled Terror attack
Late last month, Ethiopian authorities said they had foiled a terror plot by Al-Shabaab and arrested 34 suspected members of the group.
Also read: Ethiopia arrests four over hotel bomb attack
In a statement the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS), said the arrested were planning to carry out large-scale terror attacks in different parts of the country during the Easter holiday.
“The suspects were secretly conspiring and preparing to conduct severe terror attacks in Ethiopia's capital Addis Ababa, Oromia and Somali regional states at the time of their arrest,” NISS, Ethiopia's main intelligence body said.