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Member states of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) must renew the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) and maintain international scrutiny on the country, Amnesty International said Monday, as the commission releases an alarming report on conflict-related abuses.
The commission’s report, which was released Monday addresses the ongoing armed conflict in Tigray region since November 2020 which further expanded to Amhara and Afar regions. The report also covered how ongoing rights violations and abuses have become increasingly widespread in the country particularly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, noting that hostilities in Ethiopia have escalated to a “national scale.”
The report also concludes that the Ethiopian government “has failed to effectively investigate violations and has initiated a flawed transitional justice consultation process” in relation to the armed conflict that has afflicted northern Ethiopia since November 2020.
“The ICHREE’s latest report sends a clear warning that this is not the time for the UN to lower the accountability bar on Ethiopia. Serious, ongoing human rights abuses and the unfolding crisis in the Amhara region show that Ethiopia is at a dangerous precipice. Reducing scrutiny now would further embolden impunity and abandon victims of heinous violations and set a bad precedent for the UN’s ability to exercise meaningful scrutiny over human rights crises in other parts of the world” said Tigere Chagutah, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East and Southern Africa.
The fate of the ICHREE — the only remaining independent and credible investigative mechanism on Ethiopia — will be decided at the 54th session of the UNHRC, which is currently ongoing.
The ICHREE was established in September 2022 under a resolution led by the European Union (EU), yet there has been no clear signal of a resolution to renew the ICHREE to date, casting doubt on the future of the investigative body and of international scrutiny on Ethiopia. On 14 September, the EU Ambassador to Ethiopia shared a post on X, formerly known as Twitter, referencing HRC agenda item 10, which provides for a lower level of UN engagement based on technical assistance and may leave little room for the continuation of the ICHREE’s mandate.
“The EU and its member states must support a resolution that continues the ICHREE’s mandate, in line with their stated commitment to justice and accountability for Ethiopia. ICHREE is critical for international monitoring of the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia. It is also an important early warning mechanism that supports the UN’s capacity to prevent further violations and human rights crisis in the country,” said Tigere Chagutah.
“The international oversight role that the ICHREE plays is critical for preserving African initiatives on resolving crises in Ethiopia, both for the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) and other initiatives in Oromia, and for regional stability. African states that are members of the Human Rights Council should support ICHREE’s mandate” added Tigere Chagutah.
Dangerous escalation of rights violations
The ICHREE’s report was released ahead of a debate on Ethiopia at the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council on 21 September. The report states that the ICHREE finds reasonable grounds to believe that the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF) and allied regional special forces committed war crimes and crimes against humanity within the context of the ongoing armed conflict in the Tigray region. The report also states that Tigrayan and allied fighters committed war crimes in the Afar and Amhara regions, all within the context of the same armed conflict in northern Ethiopia.
The report concludes that “the current situation across the country continues to bear hallmarked risks of future atrocity crimes”. Amnesty International’s own findings indicate that serious human rights violations have persisted even after the signing of a peace agreement for the region. Amnesty International is also alarmed by reports of gross human rights violations in the context of ongoing crisis in the Amhara region.
“Grave human rights violations are no longer restricted only to the Tigray region. In recent months, they have intensified in other parts of the country. Amnesty International shares the view that there is a very real risk that human rights violations could escalate dangerously in the country due to the emerging crisis dynamics in the Amhara region — clear steps by the UNHRC to maintain and increase accountability on Ethiopia are critical,” said Tigere Chagutah.
The UNHRC established the ICHREE on 17 December 2021, mandating it to conduct investigations into allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law, violations of international humanitarian law, and violations of international refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict.
The commission released its first report last year, after which the UNHRC renewed the ICHREE’s mandate for a further year.
In its latest report, the commission investigated and verified 54 separate cases of mass killings carried out by the ENDF and the EDF in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The report also revealed that mass killings in Tigray occurred “in the context of a siege, during which the ENDF and EDF deliberately interrupted food and medical supplies and cut off essential services, including banking, telecommunications, electricity, and trade.”
The report also showed that sexual and gender-based violence, predominantly rape by multiple-perpetrators and situations of sexual slavery targeting women and girls, are ongoing in conflict-affected regions of the country.
This finding aligns with Amnesty International’s latest report on recent crimes under international law and human rights violations titled “Today or Tomorrow, They Should Be Brought Before Justice” – Rape, Sexual Slavery, Extra-Judicial Executions, and Pillage by Eritrean Forces in Tigray.”