When the two main warring parties in Ethiopia’s Tigray region agreed on a “cessation of hostilities” deal ten months ago, there was hope the brutal two-year conflict was drawing to a close. Some even dared to dream that commanders and officials responsible for war-time atrocities might face justice.
Neither has happened.
Since the signing of the November 2022 agreement, grave abuses, including killings and sexual violence, have continued in Tigray. The human rights and humanitarian situation is still dire.
Eritrean forces remain in parts of the region, have obstructed humanitarian assistance, and are reported to have kidnapped people and pillaged property in areas they control. In Western Tigray Zone, authorities and Amhara regional forces, as well as militias known as Fano, continued an ethnic cleansing campaign and forcibly expelled Tigrayans.
And insecurity and abuses are spreading in Ethiopia.
In April, violence erupted in the Amhara region, south of Tigray, with government military operations against Fano militias. The government blocked mobile internet access and arrested several journalists who had been reporting on developments there.
By early August, clashes intensified, and reports of civilian casualties and damage to civilian infrastructure increased. The government then declared a sweeping state of emergency in the Amhara region that restricts basic human rights, with mass arrests of ethnic Amharas reported in the region and in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa.
In the Oromia region – a vast area in the center of Ethiopia – an ongoing insurgency and government counterinsurgency campaign against the Oromo Liberation Army have resulted in serious abuses against civilians, such as arbitrary detentions, summary executions, and large-scale massacres including of minority communities there.
Victims and their families have been seeking justice and redress for abuses, but the cessation of hostilities agreement in Tigray lacked details on how to hold perpetrators to account. Instead, it referred to the government’s commitment to implement a “transitional justice policy framework to ensure accountability, truth, reconciliation, and healing.”
You can understand that survivors of abuses and others might not trust such promises nor put their faith in Ethiopia’s domestic legal processes generally. Most importantly, there seems to be little national political will to ensure comprehensive justice and redress for victims of serious abuses.
Clearly, international attention and investigations are still needed.
The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), established by the UN Human Rights Council in December 2021, is the only existing body with both the expertise and mandate to independently investigate abuses committed in Ethiopia since November 2020. It can also collect and preserve evidence for future prosecutions.
However, the ICHREE’s current mandate expires in September 2023.
Given the gravity of what’s been happening and what continues to unfold in Ethiopia, the UN Human Rights Council at its September session needs to renew its mandate, so it can continue its work.