Statement at the 54th Human Rights Council Session.
Excellencies, Distinguished Delegates and Observers,
Since the Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia last briefed the Council in March of this year, the situation in Ethiopia has deteriorated significantly. At that time, there was some optimism that the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, signed in November 2022, 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. This has not proved to be the case. Not only has the CoHA failed to bring about any comprehensive peace, but atrocities are ongoing and conflict, violence, and instability is now near-national in dimension.
Our latest report confirms that Eritrean troops and Amhara militias continue to commit atrocities against civilians in Tigray, including rape and sexual violence against women and girls. The Commission is especially concerned about the safety of minority Irob and Kunama communities who live near the Eritrean border. The Commission has also documented the continued forced expulsion of Tigrayans from Western Tigray; tens of thousands of women, men, and children cannot return to their homes. Refugees who flee from the conflict face further violations, including human trafficking.
The continued presence of Eritrean forces on Ethiopian territory – more than 10 months after the COHA required their departure and after this Council called for their withdrawal – confirms an ongoing pattern of atrocities. It is a clear sign of continued complicity in and tolerance of such violations by the Ethiopian government. In so doing, Ethiopia has failed in its primary legal duty as a state to protect its population from human rights violations by an external force. Moreover, the Commission considers that the prospect of accountability for atrocities by Eritrean forces is virtually non-existent.
Beyond Tigray, the Commission is gravely concerned about the deteriorating situation in Amhara region. The announcement last month of a state of emergency was swiftly followed by alarming reports of human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings and large-scale arrests of Amhara civilians. The Commission’s investigation points to a broader pattern of increased securitization of the state through states of emergencies and Command Posts without civilian oversight.
These ongoing violations did not emerge from nowhere. Rather, they are a direct continuation of, and follow a pattern set by, earlier massive violations of international law dating back to November 2020. As our report reveals, we cannot overstate the gravity of crimes committed by all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia and their implications for future peace and stability.
The Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence Forces, regional forces and affiliated militias perpetrated violations in Tigray on a staggering scale. 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.
Tigray forces and allied militias also committed violations against civilians in Amhara and Afar regions, including killings, widespread rape and sexual violence, destruction of property and looting, also amounting to war crimes.
Grave violations have spread beyond the north of the country. In Oromia, the Commission uncovered ongoing patterns by Government forces of arrest, detention, and torture of civilians, in particular men and boys, accused of links with the OLA. Extrajudicial killings of civilians are accompanied by impunity, while sexual violence against women and girls continues but is seriously underreported.
The Commission is also concerned about ongoing attacks against Amhara and Oromo civilians in Oromia and Amhara regions by OLA, its splinter groups, and fano militia.
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. Entire families have been killed, relatives forced to watch horrific crimes against their loved ones, while whole communities have been displaced. Many are fearful to return; other unable to. Survivors of rape and sexual violence have yet to receive adequate medical and psychosocial support.
The need for a credible and inclusive process of truth, justice, reconciliation, and healing has never been more urgent. Yet Ethiopia’s current transitional justice consultation is not that process.
Earlier this year, the Federal Government released its draft “Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice” paper. The Policy Options paper was followed by a series of consultations held across the country since March. We have carefully assessed the process to date and find it deeply flawed, falling far short of African Union and international standards.
Fundamentally, the process is not driven by the needs of the victims; it also lacks inclusivity and transparency. Our many interlocutors made clear that they do not trust the process, and moreover, expressed fear of risk of reprisals of they speak out about human rights violations. The government is rushing to meet an arbitrary deadline for their completion. As for accountability of its forces, the government has offered no credible evidence of legitimate investigations or trials.
Our Commission has repeatedly sought through different channels to engage with the Government of Ethiopia on transitional justice and the rest of its mandate – including by providing an advisory note on ensuring consultations meet regional and international standards. We regret we received no response.
We had hoped that, despite the government’s refusal to cooperate with our Commission, it might engage with regional human rights mechanisms. Instead, the Government largely ignored the Commission of Inquiry established by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. That Commission was quietly terminated in May 2023 without producing a final report.
In light of the Ethiopian Government’s actions, the Commission cannot help but conclude that the government has adopted a strategy of what has been termed “quasi-compliance”. By this we mean a deliberate effort to evade regional and international scrutiny through the creation of domestic mechanisms and instrumentalizaion of other institutions. These mechanisms ostensibly advance accountability but in practice result in the alleviation of international pressure and preclude the prospect of stronger international oversight.
For the hundreds of thousands of victims and survivors, this cannot be allowed to continue.
I wish to conclude by pointing out to the Council that the situation in Ethiopia exhibits most of the indicators for future atrocities identified in the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. As our investigation has shown, the Ethiopian government and forces under its control have a clear record of committing serious violations as well as continued capacity to commit atrocities crimes – as do the Eritrean forces still in Ethiopia, regional armed groups and militias. Ongoing situations of violence across the country are accompanied by other risk indicators, such as the imposition of emergency laws and other security measures that erode fundamental rights; prevalence of hate speech; and restrictions on internet and telecommunications.
Our report offers a series of recommendations for Ethiopia, including benchmarks for a legitimate transitional justice process. We have also made recommendations to the international community. All these are oriented toward ending the current violence and preventing its recurrence. That mission of prevention is also a core purpose of both the African Union and the Human Rights Council. At this time of grave violations, ending international scrutiny now would be premature.
We urge this Council to ensure robust and continued international investigations and public reporting of the situation. Failure to do so would not only be an abdication of the Council’s responsibility, it would send a devastating message to the victims and survivors of this conflict.