Sun, 03 Dec 2023

geneva - A report presented Thursday to the U.N. Human Rights Council accuses all parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia of widespread atrocities, many amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity, despite a peace agreement signed nearly a year ago.

The blistering 21-page report from the three-member International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia documents wide-ranging atrocities committed since the conflict between the government and the Tigray Liberation Front erupted November 3, 2020.

In presenting the report, Mohamed Chande Othman, commission chair, warned that the failure of last year's agreement to end the hostilities has shattered optimism that the pact 'would pave the way for an end to one of the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century, one which has devastated communities across northern Ethiopia.'

600,000 deaths

The United Nations and other institutions estimate about 600,000 civilians in Tigray died and more than 2 million were displaced from November 2020 to August 2022.

'Not only has the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement failed to bring about any comprehensive peace,' said Othman, 'but atrocities are ongoing, and conflict, violence and instability is now near national in dimension.'

He said the commission's investigation clearly shows the Ethiopian government and forces under its control, as well as the Eritrean forces in Ethiopia, continue to commit serious violations and atrocity crimes throughout the northern region.

'The Ethiopian national defense forces, Eritrean defense forces, regional forces and affiliated militias perpetrated violations in Tigray on a staggering scale," he said. 'These included mass killings, widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence against women and girls, deliberate starvation, forced displacement and large-scale arbitrary detentions. These amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity."

The commission report confirms that Tigray forces and allied militias also have committed gross violations against civilians in the Amhara and Afar regions, 'including killings, widespread rape and sexual violence, destruction of property and looting, also amounting to war crimes.'

The commission notes grave violations have spread beyond the north of the country to Oromia, where it uncovered 'ongoing patterns by government forces of arrest, detention and torture of civilians.'

Othman said, 'These atrocities - past and ongoing, regardless of the affected region or community - are having severe and ongoing impacts on survivors, victims and their families and have seriously eroded the fabric of society.'

He added: 'The need for a credible and inclusive process of truth, justice, reconciliation and healing has never been more urgent.'

Justice process criticized

The report notes the government of Ethiopia has failed to effectively prevent or investigate violations and has instead initiated a flawed transitional justice consultation process in which victims remain overlooked.

The commission urged the Human Rights Council to ensure continued robust international investigations and public reporting of the situation in Ethiopia.

This advice did not sit well with Ethiopia's permanent representative at the U.N. in Geneva, Tsegab Kebebew. He said the commission's report and findings were based on highly questionable methodological approaches and from very remote locations, which 'have grossly mischaracterized the positive and widely acclaimed political developments in Ethiopia.'

He called the report substandard, professionally deficient and conspicuously political, noting that since the signing of the Pretoria Peace Agreement, Ethiopia has redoubled its efforts to consolidate peace in the country.

'However, we noted with profound regret that the commission has not shown any inclination to recognize the tremendous progress registered in Ethiopia in the silencing of guns - following the African Union-led and Ethiopian-owned peace process,' he said.

African Group backing

Ethiopia received support from the African Group at the U.N., which told the council that Ethiopia's Transitional Justice Policy 'will make significant contributions to restoring peace and security, dispensing justice and ensuring compliance with international human rights and humanitarian law.'

The African Group said it welcomed the measures taken by Ethiopia and 'in light of these developments, the group welcomes the decision of the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights to terminate the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Ethiopia.'

It added that the African Group understands that with the submission of its final report, the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia 'henceforth stands terminated by the council.'

The African Group found welcome backing from the Eritrean government, which called on the Human Rights Council to engage constructively with the government of Ethiopia and 'requests the council not to extend the mandate of the commission.'

The council will vote next month on whether to renew the commission's mandate after its scheduled expiration in December.

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