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UN Experts call for ongoing international scrutiny and support for victims in Ethiopia

26 October 2023

NEW YORK (26 October 2023) – The international community must ensure ongoing scrutiny of the human rights situation in Ethiopia and increase support for survivors of the conflict, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia said today after delivering its final report to the 78th session of the UN General Assembly.

In their address Wednesday in New York, the Commissioner highlighted wide-ranging atrocities committed in Ethiopia – some of which are ongoing despite the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in November 2022 – and serious flaws in the Ethiopian Governments transitional justice policy. It also warned of the potential for future atrocities in the country.

“Recent years have seen some of the darkest chapters in Ethiopia’s history. We cannot overstate the scale and gravity of atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict,” said Mohamed Chande Othman, Chairperson of the Commission. “We found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed on a staggering scale. In the region of Tigray, we believe that further investigation is needed to determine the possible commission of the crime against humanity of extermination and the crime of genocide.”

The Commission’s mandate was not renewed at the 54th session of the UN Human Rights Council earlier this month. 

“The decision to discontinue the work of the Commission takes place against a backdrop of serious violations against civilians in the country, as our recent reports have shown,” said Commissioner Steven Ratner. “Our reports not only detail serious crimes committed in Ethiopia, they highlight ongoing, serious human rights concerns and warn of the very real risk of future atrocities.”

The Commissioners reiterated their concern that the Ethiopian Government has adopted a strategy of “quasi-compliance” – establishing domestic mechanisms and processes which purport to ensure accountability, but which in practice are used to deflect international attention and circumvent international scrutiny.

“The use of ‘quasi compliance’ as a strategy to shut down international scrutiny is deeply concerning, and often comes at the expense of victims’ rights to truth, justice, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence. It also poses a threat to the entire international human rights system, and we urge all Member States to be vigilant against its future use,” Ratner said.

The Experts noted that the termination of the Commission’s mandate meant that many victims of Ethiopia’s conflict felt they had nowhere to turn to have their voices heard and grievances addressed.

“The atrocities committed in Ethiopia have devastated communities and destroyed the fabric of society,” said Commissioner Radhika Coomaraswamy. “Victims, survivors, and their families will continue to suffer the consequences for years, if not decades to come. This is especially true of survivors of rape and other forms of sexual violence, who were subjected to some of the most appalling acts of violence, brutality, and dehumanization.”

“It is unconscionable that, months, even years later, many have yet to receive adequate medical, psychosocial, and other support,” Coomaraswamy said. “In recent weeks, we have heard from victims who are devastated by the decision to end the mandate of the Commission. Many feel they have been abandoned by the international community. It is essential that, moving forward, the Ethiopian Government as well as the international community commit to putting survivors at the heart of efforts towards justice, truth, reconciliation, and healing in the country.”

The Experts underscored the importance of accountability, and encouraged members of the international community, whether as individual states or as members of multilateral organizations or institutions, to ensure all those responsible for atrocities in Ethiopia are held to account, including through recourse to universal jurisdiction.

The Commission called for continued scrutiny of the situation in Ethiopia, especially given the potential for future atrocity crimes.

“We urge the international community, in particular all UN bodies dealing with human rights and conflict prevention, as well as Member States, not to allow the situation in Ethiopia to fall off the international agenda. Instead, they should ensure continued robust monitoring, reporting, evaluation, and advocacy on human rights in the country,” Othman said. “The millions of victims of conflict in Ethiopia deserve nothing less.”

The Commission’s latest detailed report can be found here.

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.

More information on the work of Commission can be found here.

For media requests, please contact
Todd Pitman, Media Adviser for the Human Rights Council’s Investigative Missions (in New York), at [email protected], Cell: +41 76 691 1761, or Pascal Sim, Human Rights Council Media Officer (in Geneva), at [email protected].