The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission called Wednesday for the immediate release of more than 8,500 people from the war-torn Tigray region it said were being illegally held in two camps.
The 8,560 men, women and children there had been subjected to “illegal and arbitrary arrests” on the basis of their ethnic identity and detained since December, said the EHRC.
The two camps were at Semera, capital of the Semera region bordering Tigray, said the EHRC, which is a public institution with independent status.
Families had been broken up with men and women being separated, it added.
Several people had died of disease because medical care and humanitarian aid in the camps was very limited. Those being held were forbidden from going to health centres except to give birth, said the Commission.
“The current situation has no legal basis, in addition has subjected those living in the camps to multiple human rights abuses, so it has to stop immediately and without precondition,” said EHRC chief Daniel Bekele in a statement.
The security forces in the Afar region had carried out the arrests, in collaboration with the local authorities in several district bordering Tigray, said the Commission.
But Bekele said anyone reasonably suspected of offences could only be detained using the normal procedures of criminal law.
The conflict erupted in Tigray late last year when Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed — a Nobel Peace Prize laureate — sent troops in to topple the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
He said he acted in response to rebel attacks on army camps.
Untold numbers of people have since been killed in Tigray, as well as the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
Millions are also in the grip of a humanitarian crisis, with many in Tigray on the brink of famine and the region still without basic services such as electricity and communications.