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Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights Urges All Parties to Pull Back from a Posture of War in Ethiopia

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17 December 2021

The Human Right Council this morning opened its special session on “the grave human rights situation in Ethiopia”, hearing the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights warn that increasing hatred, violence and discrimination could escalate into generalised violence, and urge all parties to reassess the damage being done to the nation, and to pull back from a posture of war.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said concerns continued to deepen about the situation in Ethiopia, particularly in regard to the ongoing conflict, its increasingly severe impact on humanitarian needs, and the state of emergency that was adopted last month.  The report of the joint investigation on Tigray, recently issued by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had found that all parties to the conflict had committed human rights violations and abuses, as well as violations of international humanitarian law and refugee law.  Some of the incidents investigated could potentially amount to international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. 

The Deputy High Commissioner said the nationwide state of emergency announced on 2 November was leading to significant human rights concerns.  She deplored hate speech and incitement to violence by federal and regional authorities, targeted against Tigrayans and members of the Oromo community.  Increasing hatred, violence and discrimination could escalate into generalised violence.  All parties to the conflict must take immediate action to protect civilians and put an end to the human rights violations and abuses being committed against the people of Ethiopia.  Ms. Al-Nashif urged all parties to reassess the damage being done to the nation, and to pull back from a posture of war.  For the sake of the lives and human rights of Ethiopia’s people, hostilities must be ended immediately without preconditions.  The Government’s establishment of a domestic mechanism to implement human rights recommendations was a step forward, and it would be important to operationalise and give genuine effect to the stated commitment to meaningful accountability for victims.  Without significant accountability efforts, an international mechanism could be an important complement.

Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, noted that the allegations of violations included the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and summary executions, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, widespread destruction and looting of civilian property, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and sexual and gender-based violence.  Information had been received saying that thousands of ethnic Tigrayans had been arbitrarily detained, and it was consistently alleged that the victims were targeted mainly due to their ethnic identity.  Widespread gender-based and sexual violence committed against women, girls, men and boys in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions was of grave concern, said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz, adding that such crimes had been attributed to all parties to the conflict.  The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures called on State and non-State actors parties to the conflict to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their jurisdiction or effective control. 

Ethiopia, speaking as a country concerned, said that Ethiopia was defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity from internal aggression.  The Government had declared its commitment to implement the recommendations recently issued by the joint investigation, and accordingly had set up a high-level national mechanism, an inter-ministerial task force which had started its work and would have been ready to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on some areas requiring technical expertise.  The initiative of this special session had failed to condemn the pillage, destruction of property, rape and sexual abuse, and use of child soldiers by the rebel forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.  The very underhand manner this special session was initiated showed its ulterior political objectives.  The Council was being used as an instrument of political pressure. 

The Government of Ethiopia expressed its complete rejection of the resolution and would not cooperate with any mechanism that may be imposed upon it because this was not only a deliberate destabilisation effort but a calculated attempt on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. 

In the discussion that followed, some speakers noted that the steps taken by the Ethiopian authorities to follow up on the findings of the joint report were encouraging, while regretting the unwillingness of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Eritrea to take up the report’s recommendations.  Some speakers said the creation of an additional fact-finding mechanism on Ethiopia was superfluous.  Others said it was important to create an independent and impartial human rights mechanism.  Many speakers urged all parties to the conflict to grant access to humanitarian aid, and to international humanitarian personnel.  The importance for all parties to comply with their international obligations and to protect the civilian population was underscored; all must stop shelling and attacks which were indiscriminate.  With the conflict escalating and fighting moving toward the capital, civilians all over Ethiopia were bearing the consequences.  The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in Ethiopia was a fact reported by the United Nations on several occasions, and not a claim yet to be proven; the omission of the issue from the resolution was a significant issue which must be addressed. 

Speaking in the debate were Denmark on behalf of the Nordic-Baltic countries; Slovenia on behalf of the European Union; Belgium on behalf of the Benelux countries; Cameroon on behalf of the African Group; Germany; Russian Federation; Indonesia; India; Argentina; Mexico; United Kingdom; Czech Republic;  Republic of Korea; Venezuela; Brazil; China; Ukraine; Uruguay; Somalia; Philippines; Namibia; Japan; France; Austria; Cuba; Pakistan; Eritrea; Bolivia; Paraguay; Costa Rica; Nigeria; New Zealand; Timor-Leste; Australia; Sweden; Switzerland; Liechtenstein; Ireland; Iran; Sri Lanka; Albania; United States; Croatia; South Africa; and Holy See. 

Also taking the floor were the following non-governmental organizations: East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project; Human Rights Watch; Elizka Relief Foundation; Amnesty International; Partners for Transparency; Maat for Peace, Development and Human Rights Association; World Evangelical Alliance; Rencontre Africaine pour la defense des droits de l’homme; International Bar Association; Christian Solidarity Worldwide; International Human Rights Council; CIVICUS World Alliance for Citizen Participation; and the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination. 

In her opening remarks, Keva Lorraine Bain, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, outlined the proposed extraordinary modalities for the session. 

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 thirty-third special session can be found here.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to take action on the draft resolution before closing the special session. 

Opening Remarks by the Vice-President of the Human Rights Council

KEVA LORRAINE BAIN, Vice-President of the Human Rights Council, opened the thirty-third special session of the Human Rights Council, noting that the request for a special session of the Council on “the grave human rights situation in Ethiopia” had been made by Slovenia and the European Union.  She noted that extraordinary modalities for the special session would apply exclusively to the thirty-third special session and should not serve as a precedent. 

Statement by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said concerns continued to deepen about the situation in Ethiopia, particularly in regard to the ongoing conflict, its increasingly severe impact on humanitarian needs, and the state of emergency that was adopted last month.  The report of the joint investigation on Tigray, recently issued by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, had found that all parties to the conflict – including the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Tigrayan Forces and Eritrean Defence forces – had committed human rights violations and abuses, as well as violations of international humanitarian law and refugee law.  Some of the incidents investigated could potentially amount to international crimes, including war crimes and crimes against humanity.  The Government of Ethiopia, expressing some reservation, had committed to undertake investigations into the alleged serious violations, while the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Eritrean Government had entirely rejected the report and its findings.  The conflict continued, however, with ongoing fighting beyond the borders of Tigray, with the Office of the High Commissioner continuing to receive credible reports of severe human rights violations and abuses by all parties. 

Acute food insecurity now affected more than 9.4 million people in northern Ethiopia, according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, and with only limited United Nations-organised humanitarian supplies able to enter Tigray since July, it was estimated that at least 400,000 people in Tigray were living in conditions of famine.  The lack of access had been compounded by harassment of humanitarian workers, including non-governmental organization workers, accompanied by widespread anti-humanitarian rhetoric.  At least 2 million people across Tigray, Amhara and Afar had been forced to leave their homes due to the conflict.  The situation of Eritrean refugees living in Ethiopia was also of concern.  More than 50,000 Ethiopians had fled the Tigray region for east Sudan.  The nationwide state of emergency announced on 2 November was leading to significant human rights concerns, including a provision leading to mass arrests and detentions of thousands of Ethiopians, most of them ethnic Tigrayans, including United Nations staff and journalists.  It was estimated that between 5,000 and 7,000 people remained detained, including 9 United Nations staff members.  Many were detained incommunicado or in unknown locations, which was tantamount to enforced disappearance.  Many had reportedly been subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment.  Ms. Al-Nashif deplored hate speech and incitement to violence by federal and regional authorities, targeted against Tigrayans and members of the Oromo community.  Increasing hatred, violence and discrimination could escalate into generalised violence. 

All parties to the conflict must take immediate action to protect civilians and put an end to the human rights violations and abuses being committed against the people of Ethiopia.  Humanitarian workers must be permitted passage to assist all civilians in need in Tigray and other conflict-affected areas; discussions of humanitarian needs and assistance should be de-politicised.  Ms. Al-Nashif urged all parties to reassess the damage being done to the nation, and to pull back from a posture of war.  For the sake of the lives and human rights of Ethiopia’s people, hostilities must be ended immediately without preconditions.  She urged all parties to participate in a meaningful and inclusive dialogue at the national level.  The Government should ensure that measures under the state of emergency fully complied with Ethiopia’s commitments under international human rights law.  The Office of the High Commissioner was ready to assist with specific guidance in those areas.  The Government’s establishment of a domestic mechanism to implement human rights recommendations was a step forward, and it would be important to operationalise and give genuine effect to the stated commitment to meaningful accountability for victims. 

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights would continue to work with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and support genuine efforts by the authorities to advance accountability for violations committed in the context of the conflict.  The onus was on the State to discharge its primary responsibility to deliver fair and independent proceedings that addressed the violations identified and take into consideration applicable command responsibility.  Without significant accountability efforts, an international mechanism could be an important complement.  

Statement by the Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures

VICTOR MADRIGAL-BORLOZ, Chair of the Coordination Committee of Special Procedures, said the Coordination Committee was deeply concerned at the ongoing crisis in which, as reported by the joint investigation, all parties to the conflict had perpetrated violations of international human rights and humanitarian law.  The Committee particularly concurred with the Office of the High Commissioner that some of these acts may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity, as allegations submitted to the Special Procedures pointed to patterns of such violations committed by the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Amhara Regional/Special Forces, Amhara militia, Eritrean Defence Forces, Tigrayan militia, and the Tigray Special Forces.  Expressing deep concern at the ongoing crisis, he noted that the allegations of violations included the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and summary executions, arbitrary detentions, enforced disappearances, forced displacement, widespread destruction and looting of civilian property, torture and other forms of ill-treatment, and sexual and gender-based violence. 

Since the outbreak of the conflict, ethnic Tigrayans, particularly civilians, had been subject to widespread discrimination, with hundreds of arrest warrants issued by federal authorities against them under claims of involvement with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.  They had suffered from harassment, arbitrary arrests, house searches without warrants, suspensions from their jobs and seizure and destruction of their property.  Information had been received saying that thousands of ethnic Tigrayans had been arbitrarily detained, and it was consistently alleged that the victims were targeted mainly due to their ethnic identity.  In Addis Ababa, there were also reports that ethnic Tigrayans had been forcibly disappeared.  The police were allegedly arresting those victims on the streets and in cafes, workplaces, and other public spaces, claiming that those arrested were connected to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Widespread gender-based and sexual violence committed against women, girls, men and boys in the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions was of grave concern, said Mr. Madrigal-Borloz.  Such crimes had been attributed to all parties to the conflict: agents of the Ethiopian National Defence Force, the Eritrean Defence Force, Tigrayan Forces, Tigrayan militias, the Amhara Regional Special Force, and the Amhara Fano militia.  Those acts appeared to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorise, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belonged to with acquiescence of State and non-State actors.  The Coordination Committee of Special Procedures was concerned by the scale and seriousness of the violations and abuses committed by all parties, and reaffirmed the urgency of holding perpetrators on all sides to account.  The Committee called on State and non-State actors parties to the conflict to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their jurisdiction or effective control.  In particular, the Committee reiterated the recommendations made by the joint investigation’s report to all parties to the conflict to immediately end all forms of sexual and gender-based violence, and to issue clear, public and unequivocal instructions to all armed forces and groups that sexual and other gender-based violence was prohibited and punishable on the basis of direct and command responsibility.

Statement by Country Concerned

Ethiopia, speaking as the country concerned, said that Ethiopia was defending its sovereignty and territorial integrity from internal aggression.  Multilateralism was being hijacked by a neo-colonialist mentality, and Ethiopia was being singled out for defending a democratically elected Government.  Ethiopia had a Government with unreserved commitment to human rights.  It had declared its commitment to implement the recommendations recently issued by the joint investigation, and accordingly had set up a high-level national mechanism, an inter-ministerial task force which had started its work and would have been ready to cooperate with the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on some areas requiring technical expertise.  The initiative of this special session had failed to condemn the pillage, destruction of property, rape and sexual abuse, and use of child soldiers by the rebel forces of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.  This terrorist group had commandeered more than 1,000 trucks delivering humanitarian supplies to the people in Tigray region and used them for military purposes.  It had destroyed food warehouses, schools, health facilities, industrial parks.  The initiators of this special session would not care less and were determined to impose their will on the Government.  The very underhand manner this special session was initiated showed its ulterior political objectives.  The Council was being used as an instrument of political pressure.  This was a counterproductive effort to embolden the terrorist rebels and exacerbate the situation on the ground. 

The Government of Ethiopia expressed its complete rejection of resolution A/HRC/S-33/L.1 and called upon Council members to a firm principled stand against short-sighted interest and refuse politicisation of human rights by rejecting this resolution.  The Government of Ethiopia would not cooperate with any mechanism that may be imposed upon it because this was not only a deliberate destabilisation effort but a calculated attempt on the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. 

Discussion

In the discussion, some speakers expressed concerns that investigations being conducted might not match the scope and breadth of the violations identified by the joint investigation team, which might not sufficiently comply with international standards; additional independent international investigations were necessary.  Some speakers urged the Human Rights Council to establish an independent international investigative mechanism.  Some speakers noted that the steps taken by the Ethiopian authorities to follow up on the findings of the joint report were encouraging, while regretting the unwillingness of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Eritrea to take up the report’s recommendations.  The joint investigation team report had made it clear that all parties to the conflict had committed human rights violations and abuses; urgent action was needed to ensure those responsible for vicious circles of atrocities were held to account. 

Some speakers said the initiative for the special session had ignored the efforts of Ethiopia, which had carried out a joint investigation into the human rights situation; there had also been regional initiatives to mediation on the ground.  They said that the process in the Council must be guided by constructive commitment, without politicisation. 

Many speakers called for an immediate ceasefire and for unimpeded humanitarian access, noting that a political settlement without a ceasefire was in principle impossible.  Some speakers said the creation of an additional fact-finding mechanism on Ethiopia was superfluous, as the Government of Ethiopia was successfully cooperating with international human rights mechanisms.  African problems needed African solutions, speakers said, and for that reason the mediation efforts of the African Union were supported.  Some speakers underscored that sustainable peace required respect for human rights, yet all parties to the conflict had reportedly committed violations or abuses—that was why it was important to create an independent and impartial human rights mechanism.  The international community should provide constructive help to Ethiopia.  Some speakers urged all parties to the conflict to grant access to humanitarian aid, and to international humanitarian personnel.  Other speakers said the Council’s action should be based on factual conclusions, rather than assumptions that the State concerned might not be able to hold perpetrators accountable; the creation of the proposed international investigative mechanism could undermine the efforts of national institutions. 

The importance for all parties to comply with their international obligations and protect the civilian population was underscored; all must stop shelling and attacks which were indiscriminate.  There was ample scope for dialogue, some speakers said, and it was a political solution, not a military one, which would bring about lasting peace, stability and development for all people of Ethiopia.  With the conflict escalating and fighting moving toward the capital, civilians all over Ethiopia were bearing the consequences, one speaker observed.  The use of sexual violence as a weapon of war in Ethiopia was a fact reported by the United Nations on several occasions, and not a claim yet to be proven; the omission of the issue from the resolution was a significant issue which must be addressed. 

Lien: https://www.ungeneva.org/fr/news-media/meeting-summary/2021/12/deputy-high-commissioner-human-rights-urges-all-parties-pull

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Produced by the United Nations Information Service in Geneva for use of the information media; not an official record.

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