Mr. Mohamed Othman, Chairperson of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia
Distinguished Delegates and Observers,
Thank you for this opportunity to brief the Council on the work of the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, pursuant to Human Rights Council Resolution 51/27 of 7 October 2022. I serve as the new Chair of the Commission. I wish to take this opportunity to also introduce my co-commissioners, Mr. Steven Ratner of the United States of America, and Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy of Sri Lanka. As Member States are aware, the Commission has a two-fold mandate: to investigate and report on alleged violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law since November 2020 and to provide advice regarding transitional justice. In carrying out our mandate, we have consistently sought to work with, and reached out to engage with, the Government of Ethiopia, partners in the African Union, and civil society actors.
Since the Commission presented its first report to the Council in September last year, the situation in Ethiopia has evolved significantly. On 2 November, the Federal Government and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, aimed at ending more than two years of armed conflict that has affected millions of women, men, and children in the Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regions of northern Ethiopia. Since then, the region has witnessed a significant and so far, sustained reduction in conflict.
The Commission greatly welcomes the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement and subsequent agreements relating to its implementation. We especially welcome commitments to human rights, protection of civilians, unhindered humanitarian access, and accountability. The Commission looks forward to such efforts being sustained countrywide.
Since the conclusion of the agreement, the Federal Government has embarked on a series of initiatives that offer a first step towards a locally-owned transitional justice process. This includes the current consultations on its green paper Policy Options for Transitional Justice. While it is too early to assess progress, we are hopeful that this and other national processes contribute towards inclusive, gender-responsive, victim and survivor-centered approaches to accountability, truth- telling and reconciliation, reparations as well as the establishment of necessary policies for non-recurrence of violations.
Despite these positive developments and relatively improved security, we must not forget the gravity and scale of the violations committed in Ethiopia since November 2020. Our September 2022 report found reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict had committed war crimes and violations and abuses of human rights since fighting erupted in November 2020.
The Commission continues to investigate these violations, in addition to allegations of serious violations and abuses committed since the signing of the peace agreement. The Commission stresses that independent investigation and accountability for such acts is essential, not just to ensure justice for survivors, victims, and their families, but deter the commission of future violations and abuses.
Under international law, the Federal Government has the primary responsibility to ensure accountability for crimes committed during the conflict. In that regard, we note initiatives to investigate and prosecute alleged perpetrators of serious crimes, including through the Ministry of Justice and the Inter-Ministerial Task Force (IMTF). We urge the Federal Government to ensure greater transparency around these efforts and stand ready to offer advice in this regard. We remain concerned about a lack of pathways for accountability for serious violations committed by Eritrean forces.
Allow me to provide a brief update on the status of our work. Since we last briefed the Council, we have continued our consultations with a wide range of stakeholders to inform our investigation priorities and strategy. Regarding the geographic scope, our investigations address alleged violations in Tigray, Afar, Amhara, and Oromia Regions. Regarding the material scope, in addition to the serious offenses discussed in our first report – notably attacks on civilians, sexual and gender-based violence, and denial of humanitarian assistance – we are also addressing other violations, such as arbitrary detention, violation of children’s rights, and hate speech. As required by our mandate, we are investigating alleged violations by all parties, including Eritrean forces operating on Ethiopian territory.
To date, the Commission has held in-depth interviews with victims, survivors, and witnesses. This approach is complemented by open-source investigation and geospatial and satellite imagery analysis. We continue to place a strong emphasis on integrating a gender perspective, in addition to the unique and inter-generational impact of conflict on children.
The General Assembly approved the proposed budget for the Commission, and we are currently onboarding new staff members.
However, we regret that to date, and despite repeated requests, the Ethiopian Government has not yet allowed our investigation team access to the country. As a result, much of our work is being carried out remotely. We strongly urge the Government to reconsider its decision not to cooperate with the Commission. Similarly, we encourage Member States to assist in facilitating access for the Commission to Ethiopia, as well as to countries hosting Ethiopian refugees.
The Commission, pursuant to its mandate from this Council, continues to establish the facts and circumstances surrounding alleged violations and abuses – both in the past and ongoing – and to collect and preserve evidence accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts.
Regarding our transitional justice mandate, we are closely reviewing the Policy Options document in detail, as well as the consultation process, in particular with respect to international and regional standards. We encourage wide-ranging and inclusive consultation
to ensure the wishes of survivors, victims, and other affected communities are reflected. We reiterate our commitment to provide expert and technical advice to the Government of Ethiopia, the National Dialogue Commission, and other domestic stakeholders.
We continue to engage with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the East Africa Region Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to discuss areas of potential cooperation and information sharing and hope to see further progress in the near future. We have also engaged with states in the African Union and others following the situation in Ethiopia.
The conclusion of the peace agreement between the government and the TPLF is an important step. The need to investigate alleged violations both before and since the peace agreement remains as important as ever to creating a durable peace with full respect for human rights. An overwhelming message from our engagement with survivors, victims, and witnesses is their desire for greater awareness of the harms they have suffered, and a resounding call for sustainable peace and justice. Many express a strong conviction that peace and justice are two mutually reinforcing objectives – one cannot exist without the other – a position shared by both the Commission and this Council.
One man displaced from his village, detained for more than a year, and unable to return to his home told us recently:
“I want to go back to my old life, but first I need to see peace – it needs to be safe to return home, but right now, it’s not. After peace, we need support – humanitarian and other assistance so we can rebuild our lives. And then we need justice. Those who committed crimes should not be able to do it again. Finally, we need awareness. We need the world to know what happened to us. It cannot be forgotten. We should not be forgotten.”