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High Commissioner to Human Rights Council: Fighting Continues Unabated in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia but a Solution Can Only be Found through a Political Process and Dialogue

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2021年9月13日

AFTERNOON

13 September 2021

Fighting was continuing unabated in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and had expanded to neighbouring regions, risking spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa, Michele Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, this afternoon told the Human Rights Council, adding that a solution to the conflict could only be found through a political process and dialogue.

In the last few months, mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence had continued to create an atmosphere of fear and an erosion of living conditions that had resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian population, Ms. Bachelet said. Civilian suffering was widespread, and impunity was pervasive. Even with the changing dynamics in the conflict, there had been one constant: multiple and severe reports of alleged gross violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law by all parties.

Daniel Bekele, Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said the joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Office into alleged violations committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray had investigated attacks against civilians and civilian objects and other protected persons and objects; unlawful or extra-judicial killings; forced displacement of people; sexual and gender-based violence; torture and other ill-treatment; arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearances; and violations against refugees.

Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, Vice-Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into the Human Rights Situation in Tigray Province in Ethiopia, said that the violence in the province of Tigray since November 2020 had led to serious and massive violations of human rights. Several local and foreign actors were said to be involved in this conflict. The African Commission, as the main body for the promotion and protection of human rights, had created its own Commission of Inquiry.

Gedion Timothewos Hessebon, Attorney General of Ethiopia, reiterated the position of the Government of Ethiopia that all credible allegations of serious human rights violations that had been reported in relation to the situation in Tigray and other regions in Ethiopia should be thoroughly investigated. He criticised the temporal scope of the joint investigation by the Ethiopian and United Nations human rights commissions, noting that the cut-off was the declaration of the cease-fire of the Government, meaning that many violations would not be covered, and that the investigation would be incomplete and might not give a full picture of the situation.

He also regretted that the African Human and Peoples Rights Commission had opted to conduct a unilateral investigation outside the scope of invitation extended to it by the Government of Ethiopia. It was hence not recognised by the Government of Ethiopia.

Speaking during the enhanced interactive dialogue were the European Union, Sweden, United States on behalf of a group of countries, Cameroon on behalf of a group of countries, Ethiopia on behalf of a group of countries, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, Greece, Luxembourg, Spain, Venezuela, Austria, Netherlands, United States, Russian Federation, New Zealand, Ireland, Belgium, China, Italy, Sri Lanka, UN Women, Philippines, United Kingdom, Sudan, Iran, Cuba and Eritrea.

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Society for Threatened Peoples, Centre for Human Rights, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Centre for Global Nonkilling, Coordination des Associations et des Particuliers pour la Liberté de Conscience, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, International Bar Association and CIVICUS.

China spoke in right of reply.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here. All meeting summaries can be found here. Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s forty-eighth regular session can be found here.

The Council will resume its work at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, 14 September, to hold an interactive dialogue on the report of the Group of Experts on Yemen, followed by a general debate on the High Commissioner’s oral updates presented in the morning meeting.

Enhanced Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Update on the Situation of Human Rights in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia

Opening Statements

MICHELLE BACHELET, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that fighting was continuing unabated in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and has expanded to neighbouring regions, risking spilling over to the whole Horn of Africa.

In the last few months, mass detentions, killings, systematic looting, and sexual violence had continued to create an atmosphere of fear and an erosion of living conditions that had resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian population. Civilian suffering was widespread, and impunity was pervasive. Even with the changing dynamics in the conflict, there had been one constant: multiple and severe reports of alleged gross violations of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law by all parties.

She expressed appreciation for the Government of Ethiopia’s cooperation with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights-Ethiopia Human Rights Commission joint investigation as well as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, for their leadership in this difficult and complex undertaking.

It was already clear that cases documented comprised multiple allegations of human rights violations, including attacks on civilians, extrajudicial killings, torture, and enforced disappearances among other grave abuses. Sexual and gender-based violence had been characterised by a pattern of extreme brutality, including-gang rapes, sexualised torture and ethnically targeted sexual violence.

The High Commissioner spoke of continued reports of the large-scale arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayan civilians in unofficial sites in Western Tigray as well as threats and attacks on journalists, the suspension of media outlets licenses, and intermittent restrictions and shutdowns of the internet and telecommunications in Tigray. Concerning the Tigrayan forces, they had allegedly been responsible for human rights abuses such as attacks on civilians, including indiscriminate killings, as well as the recruitment of children into the conflict, which was prohibited under international law. While looking forward to hearing about the Government’s progress in this regard, the High Commissioner emphasised the need for transparency in any such proceedings, and urged the Government of Ethiopia to accept the recommendations of the joint investigation report as part of its efforts to bring about accountability.

“International, regional and national human rights and humanitarian actors must be given unhindered access”, she said. The High Commissioner concluded by noting that the solution to the conflict in Tigray could only be found through a political process and dialogue. She commended the African Union’s mediation efforts in this regard and called on all parties to immediately end hostilities without preconditions and negotiate a lasting ceasefire.

DANIEL BEKELE, Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said the joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations Human Rights Office into alleged violations committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray had concluded its field work and, the team was currently analysing the full range of information collected. In accordance with the terms of reference, the Commission was not yet in a position to share any finding or conclusion. The types of human rights issues that they had investigated against all parties to the conflict included: attacks against civilians and civilian objects and other protected persons and objects; unlawful or extra-judicial killings; forced displacement of people; sexual and gender-based violence; torture and other ill-treatment; arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearances; and violations against refugees.

The last resolution of this Council on Tigray (47/13) had coincided with the first full week, since the announcement of a ceasefire by the Ethiopian Government on 28 June. At the time, the ceasefire and the military developments seemed to indicate, and indeed gave hope, for an improvement of the humanitarian situation as well as a pathway to peace. However, less than three weeks into July, significant challenges emerged as the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front) had put forward a set of preconditions to accept the ceasefire, and launched a military offensive on neighbouring regions, hampering the movement of aid convoys. This was followed by regrouping of military forces in neighbouring regions, national mobilisation for war and counter offensive military operations. Tens of thousands of people had been displaced in Afar and Amhara regions, adding to the massive toll of displacement in Tigray and other parts of the country. The Council members should be cognisant that the human rights story of all these conflicts, including in Tigray, was not merely a black and white narrative. It had nuanced complexities and soldiers or fighters of all parties to the conflict and their affiliated groups were credibly implicated with violence against civilians and civilian infrastructures, including sexual violence and use of child soldiers. The Commission remained concerned by the still dire humanitarian situation particularly of internally displaced persons.

RÉMY NGOY LUMBU, Vice-Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into the Human Rights Situation in Tigray Province in Ethiopia, said that there had been violence in the province of Tigray since November 2020. As a consequence, this had led to serious and massive violations of human rights. Several local and foreign actors were said to be involved in this conflict. The African Commission, as the main body for the promotion and protection of human rights, had not remained indifferent to this situation. Among other actions, the African Commission had adopted a resolution in accordance with the Charter creating its own Commission of Inquiry on May 7, 2021. Its mandate, inter alia, was to investigate allegations of violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law and to establish the facts and circumstances which could constitute serious and massive violations of human rights. The work of this Commission had been officially launched on June 17, 2021, almost at the same time as that of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. It would take place in two phases. The first phase of hearing the actors involved was underway and would end in a few weeks. There would be a second phase of going into the field, which would begin in the coming days. The results of the investigations would be available by the end of this year.

GEDION TIMOTHEWOS HESSEBON, Attorney General of Ethiopia, reiterated the position of the Government of Ethiopia that all credible allegations of serious human rights violations that had been reported in relation to the situation in Tigray and other regions in Ethiopia should be thoroughly investigated. In line with this commitment, the appropriate State organs of the Government of Ethiopia had launched investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations and had undertaken measures to ensure accountability and bring perpetrators of violations to justice. The Government had also facilitated the launch of a joint investigation by the Ethiopian and United Nations human rights commissions. He criticised the temporal scope of the investigation, noting that the cut-off was the declaration of the cease-fire of the Government, meaning that many violations would not be covered, and that the investigation would be incomplete and might not give a full picture of the situation.

Federal and military prosecutors had pressed charges and taken other appropriate legal and disciplinary measures against several individuals that had been suspected of committing various types of human rights violations. The joint investigation could complement these judicial and legal proceedings that were underway by highlighting areas and issues that needed more attention. The General Attorney regretted that the African Human and Peoples Rights Commission had opted to conduct a unilateral investigation outside the scope of invitation extended to it by the Government of Ethiopia. Contrary to established practices and procedures, the African Commission chose to engage in a process which was neither independent nor credible and hence not recognised by the Government of Ethiopia. The Government of Ethiopia would continue in its effort to overcome the challenge posed by a well-armed and financed terrorist entity that was trying to reverse the democratic gains of the past three years. The Government of Ethiopia would not recognise any inquiry that gave an opportunity to the perpetrators of a grave crime to pose as victims while denying their victims a fair chance to be heard.

Discussion

Some speakers expressed their concerns about the extension of the conflict into the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar and called on all parties to cease the grave human rights violations and abuses, as well as for the permanent withdrawal of Eritrean forces. Concerns were also expressed about the role of the Ethiopian Government and regional authorities in impeding humanitarian assistance.
Calls for entering a process of political dialogue were made, as “there can be no military solution to this conflict”. Similarly, speakers said that the pursuit of a military solution only came at the expense of Ethiopian citizens.

Other speakers opposed the initiative of the Council as it did not enjoy the consent of the country concerned, therefore rendering it counterproductive, in addition to undermining the spirit of cooperation required in promoting and protecting human rights. Pursuing further, some speakers insisted on the right of a State to defend its territorial integrity as a long-established principle of international law and an essential corollary of Statehood, as well as the importance of a State’s sovereignty and prime responsibility in the protection of its citizens.

Concluding Remarks

DANIEL BEKELE, Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, said that the joint investigation would continue and that it would contribute to the accountability and search for peace in Ethiopia. He also assured that issues of human rights violations not covered by the joint investigation would fall under the mandate of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission as part of their ongoing monitoring. It was the people of Ethiopia that had the highest stake in finding an end to the suffering of Ethiopians. He concluded by insisting on the importance that parties to the conflict demonstrated enough humility to understand that the solution was in Ethiopia and called on all to respect the national framework to address the human right crisis and find a sustainable solution to the current political crisis.

RÉMY NGOY LUMBU, Vice-Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights and Chairman of the Commission of Inquiry into the Human Rights Situation in Tigray Province in Ethiopia, said that neither the joint initiative nor the Commission of Inquiry were meant to be political and were only focused on the situation of human rights. He reiterated his offer to cooperate with all parties to conclude their work in perfect harmony.

GEDION TIMOTHEWOS HESSEBON, Attorney General of Ethiopia, said that the deteriorating human rights situation in Afar and Amhara regions had occurred due to the offensive by the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front), which was carried out in disregard of the unilateral humanitarian ceasefire declared by the Government. The Government of Ethiopia had had no option but to take the necessary measures to neutralise the threats posed by the TPLF (Tigray People’s Liberation Front). Disrespecting the sovereignty of Ethiopia would only derail the peace process.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/09/situation-des-droits-de-lhomme-dans-la-region-du-tigre-en


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