Ethiopia: Nearly one year after ceasefire, UN experts warn of ongoing atrocities, including war crimes and crimes against humanity
GENEVA (18 September 2023) – Nearly one year since the signing of an agreement to cease hostilities in Ethiopia, atrocities, war crimes and crimes against humanity are still being committed in the country and peace remains elusive, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia warned in its latest report released today.
In its 21-page report, the Commission documented wide-ranging atrocities perpetrated by all parties to the conflict since 3 November 2020. These include mass killings, rape, starvation, destruction of schools and medical facilities, forced displacement and arbitrary detention.
”While the signing of the agreement may have mostly silenced the guns, it has not resolved the conflict in the north of the country, in particular in Tigray, nor has it brought about any comprehensive peace,” Commission Chair Mohamed Chande Othman said. “The situation in Ethiopia remains extremely grave.”
“Violent confrontations are now at a near-national scale, with alarming reports of violations against civilians in the Amhara region and on-going atrocities in Tigray,” Othman said. “The situation in Oromia, Amhara and other parts of the country - including ongoing patterns of violations, entrenched impunity, and increasing securitization of the state - bear hallmarked risks of further atrocities and crimes."
The Commission’s latest report to the UN Human Rights Council confirmed that Eritrean troops and Amhara militia members continue to commit grave violations in Tigray, including the systematic rape and sexual violence of women and girls, in violation of the Federal Government’s own commitments on human rights and territorial integrity.
The Commission also uncovered on-going patterns by Government forces of arrest, detention, and torture of civilians in Oromia, and is already receiving numerous credible reports of violations against Amhara civilians since the announcement of a state of emergency in August 2023.
“We cannot overstate the gravity of violations perpetrated in Ethiopia by all parties during the recent conflict. Especially concerning is that some of these crimes are ongoing, in particular rape and sexual violence against women and girls by Eritrean forces in Tigray,” said Commissioner Radhika Coomaraswamy. "The ongoing presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is a clear sign not only of an entrenched policy of impunity, but also continued support for and tolerance of such violations by the Federal Government.”
“Atrocities have devastated communities and have seriously eroded the fabric of society,” Coomaraswamy said. “Entire families have been killed, relatives forced to watch horrific crimes against their loved ones, while whole communities have been displaced or expelled from their homes; many too fearful to return, others unable to. Trauma, both individual and collective, is likely to persist for generations.”
“The need for a credible, inclusive, and meaningful process of truth, justice, reconciliation and healing has never been more urgent,” Coomaraswamy added.
The report notes the Government of Ethiopia has failed to effectively prevent or investigate violations and has instead initiated a flawed transitional justice consultation process where victims remain overlooked. Earlier this year, the Federal Government released its draft “Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice,” launching a series of consultations on a potential domestic transitional justice process. The Commission, however, found that the process has been rushed to meet an arbitrary deadline set by the Government, and has not sufficiently engaged victims in many areas, including Ethiopian refugees living in neighbouring countries.
“Transitional justice is aimed at helping countries come to terms with past atrocities, yet our engagement with hundreds of victims, their families, and representatives indicates a complete lack of trust in the ability or willingness of Ethiopian State institutions to carry out a credible process – in particular because State officials and entities are polarized and lack independence,” said Commissioner Steven Ratner.
“When we observe current transitional justice initiatives in Ethiopia, it is hard not to be struck by evidence of ‘quasi-compliance’ – deliberate Government attempts to evade international scrutiny through the creation of domestic mechanisms and instrumentalization of others,” Ratner said. “This has served primarily to alleviate international pressure and prevent stronger international engagement or investigation. For the hundreds of thousands of victims of atrocities across Ethiopia, this cannot be allowed to continue.”
The Commission’s report warned about the continued presence of most of the indicators and triggers contained in the UN Framework of Analysis for Atrocity Crimes. It highlighted the risk of further large-scale atrocity crimes, expressing deep concern that many of the hallmarked risk factors of future atrocity crimes remain present in Ethiopia.
The Commission also noted an alarming pattern of increased securitization of the State through the imposition of states of emergencies and the establishment of militarized “Command Posts” without civilian oversight. Such structures are often accompanied by serious violations.
Just last month, Ethiopia announced a six-month state of emergency, which established a Command Post system across the Amhara region, with multiple urban centers in the region now under curfew. The Commission is already receiving reports of mass arbitrary detention of Amhara civilians and at least one drone strike carried out by the State.
“We are deeply alarmed by the deteriorating security situation in Amhara and the continued presence of risk factors for atrocity crimes. This evolving situation has huge implications for stability in Ethiopia and the wider region, and in particular the tens of millions of women, men, and children who call it home,” Othman said. “The importance of ongoing and robust independent monitoring and investigations cannot be overstated.”
Background: The Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia was established by the Human Rights Council on 17 December 2021, through resolution S-33/1,to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into allegations of violations and abuses of international human rights law and violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law in Ethiopia committed since 3 November 2020 by all parties to the conflict, including the possible gender dimensions of such violations and abuses.