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EU Council Conclusions on Ethiopia Shortchange Justice

Ethiopia’s Cooperation with UN Probe into Wartime Abuses Key to Accountability

Displaced Tigrayans sit alongside metal shacks at a reception center for internally displaced people in Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 9, 2021.  © 2021 Ben Curtis/AP Photo

Six months after the warring parties to the armed conflict in northern Ethiopia signed a cessation of hostilities, European Union foreign ministers adopted formal conclusions that set out the EU’s future engagement with Ethiopia.

The EU ministers noted the importance of accountability and transitional justice for sustainable peace and reconciliation. But they also set the bar for re-engagement so low that they overlooked the lack of progress on key requests, including on justice, that the EU made early in the conflict.

More striking, the EU should have signaled its support for the independent United Nations inquiry it fought to establish and renew at the conflict’s peak. The conclusions stress the importance of “independent, transparent and impartial investigations,” and of “safeguarding of evidence for future prosecution.” Yet rather than urging the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), the only international, independent probe collecting and preserving evidence of international crimes for prosecutions, EU ministers merely stated they look forward to ICHREE’s report, which they conceded as being final.

EU ministers, too, seem to rely only on domestic options, with possible support by the UN human rights office, to deliver on accountability for grave atrocities committed by the warring parties. Yet throughout the conflict, pledges by Ethiopian officials to deliver on accountability have been slow, marred by serious due process issues, and have lacked transparency.

Crucially, the signing of the truce has not ended abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray region. Eritrean forces remain in Tigray, where much of the conflict had been fought, and are reportedly carrying out killings and sexual violence, and obstructing humanitarian assistance. There are consistent reports of forcible displacements of Tigrayans from Western Tigray in a continuing campaign of ethnic cleansing. If the EU is serious about justice for war crimes in Ethiopia, it should make clear to authorities that genuine engagement with the UN investigation is a condition for re-engagement. Marginalizing ICHREE will only undermine its work to document and gather evidence on which future accountability could be based.

Justice is a right to which victims of the Ethiopian conflict are entitled and which they demand. It is also crucial for sustainable peace. This is the message the EU should express to clarify that its formal conclusions are not a departure from its push for justice.

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