U.N. human rights experts warn that peace in northern Ethiopia’s Tigray region will not last unless violations committed during more than two years of armed conflict are investigated and perpetrators held to account.
The three-member U.N. International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, which presented its latest report to the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva Tuesday, welcomed the November 2 peace agreement that ended hostilities between the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, or TPLF.
Since the peace agreement was signed, “the region has witnessed a significant and so far, sustained reduction in conflict,” said Mohamed Chande Othman, chair of the commission.
He said the two-year war adversely affected the lives of millions of people in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of northern Ethiopia.
“We especially welcome commitments to human rights, protection of civilians, unhindered humanitarian access and accountability,” he said.
Despite these positive developments, Othman told the Human Rights Council the gravity and scale of violations committed in Ethiopia since the war’s outbreak in November 2020 must not be forgotten.
“Our 2022 September report found reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict had committed war crimes and violations and abuses of human rights since fighting erupted in November 2020,” he said.
This view was echoed Tuesday in the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human rights violations around the world. The Ethiopian government rejected the U.S. assertion that all sides in the two-year Tigray war committed war crimes, calling the statement “inflammatory.”
The U.N. commission has continued to investigate these allegations in addition to accusations of serious violations and abuses committed since the signing of the peace agreement.
The commission has documented serious offenses allegedly committed by all parties including Eritrean forces operating on Ethiopian territory, and forces from the Tigray, Afar, Amhara and Oromia regions.
They include attacks on civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, denial of humanitarian assistance, arbitrary detention, violations of children’s rights and hate speech.
The U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) reports conflict and displacement have left 9.4 million people across Tigray, Afar and Amhara in dire need of humanitarian aid. The World Food Program reports 5.5 million people in these regions are facing severe hunger.
Othman said independent investigations and accountability for grave violations are essential to ensure justice for survivors and “deter the commission of future violations and abuses.”
He noted that information for this report has been gathered from victims, survivors and witnesses remotely because the Ethiopian government has refused the commission’s investigation team access to the country.
“We strongly urge the government to reconsider its decision not to cooperate with the commission,” he said. “Under international law, the federal government has the primary responsibility to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the conflict.”
Tsegab Kebebew Daka, Ethiopian ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, cautioned the commission against using “inflammatory information,” which he said had the potential to undermine the peace agreement.
He said his government was firmly committed to investigating all cases of human rights violations and ensuring that victims received redress.
He noted that the peace agreement also provided transitional measures, “which include adopting transitional justice policy, to ensure accountability, truth-telling, redress for victims, healing and reconciliation.”
Daniel Bekele, chief commissioner of the National Human Rights Commission of Ethiopia, called on the U.N. council and international community to support the implementation of “a genuine human rights, victim-centered transitional justice policy for Ethiopia.”
He said the Ethiopian commission spoke to more than 700 victims of human rights violations who indicated that their primary needs were “to live without fear, to have peace and security and reparations to get their lives back.”
Steve Ratner, a member of the U.N. commission, said the panel would support whatever mechanism for transitional justice the Ethiopian people and government choose, provided it contained “accountability and justice for those who committed international crimes, truth and acknowledgement for the victims, remedies and redress for them and the establishment of mechanisms to ensure non-repetition of these abuses in the future.”