UN investigators warn of risk of future atrocities in Ethiopia

Human rights commission says atrocities in Ethiopia continue and urges Human Rights Council to renew its mandate.

Children rest at the shade of a makeshift tent at the compound of the Agda Hotel, in the city of Semera, Afar region, Ethiopia.
Children rest at the shade of a makeshift tent at the compound of the Agda Hotel, in the city of Semera, Afar region, Ethiopia [File: Eduardo Soteras/AFP]

UN-appointed investigators have warned that more atrocities were likely to be carried out in Ethiopia and called for continued scrutiny of Addis Ababa’s human rights record as their work faces termination amid strong African-led opposition.

Thousands of people died in a two-year conflict between the government and regional forces from Tigray, which formally came to an end in November last year. Both sides accused each other of atrocities, including massacres, rape and arbitrary detentions, but each denied responsibility for systemic abuses.

The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, composed of three independent experts, said earlier this week in a report that war crimes and crimes against humanity were still being committed in Ethiopia.

Its two-year mandate is up for renewal in the ongoing Human Rights Council session in Geneva although so far no request has been submitted amid what diplomats describe as strong opposition, mostly from African states.

Ethiopia, which has denied committing widespread abuses, has strongly opposed the probe and tried to cut its work short.

Mohamed Chande Othman, chair of the Commission, told the 47-member council it would be “premature” to end its work and urged it to renew, referring to continuing violations in the region of Ahmara.

“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,” he said on Thursday.

He said it was hoped that the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA), signed in Pretoria in November 2022, “would pave the way for an end to one of the deadliest conflicts of the 21st century”, 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 are now near-national in dimension,” said Othman, adding their latest report confirms that Eritrean troops and Amhara militias continued to commit atrocities against civilians in Tigray.

He criticised Ethiopia’s approach to justice as “deeply flawed”, saying there had been no credible evidence of legitimate investigations or trials of its soldiers whom it accuses of attacking civilians.

Othman also said the commission was particularly concerned about the safety of minority Irob and Kunama communities living near the Eritrean border and a lack of reforms in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s government and its armed forces have repeatedly denied that their soldiers committed widespread crimes and have promised to investigate complaints of individual abuses.

Ethiopia’s ambassador Tsegab Kebebew said the Commission had “grossly mischaracterised the positive and widely acclaimed political developments in Ethiopia”. He did not directly address the other criticisms.

Ivory Coast envoy Konan François Kouame said that it considered the work of the UN Commission as now being terminated and urged the council to instead support Ethiopian-led measures.

Source: Reuters