International Investigation Needed into Abuses in Ethiopia

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Ethiopians wait for food distribution in a small town north of Mekele, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia, May 7, 2021. © 2021 AP Photo/Ben Curtis
© 2021 AP Photo/Ben Curtis

On Wednesday, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission released a much-anticipated joint report into abuses committed in the first nine months of the conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region. It finds evidence of serious abuses, some of which may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

These abuses include extrajudicial killings and executions, widespread sexual violence, torture, forced displacement, arbitrary detentions, violations of economic, social, and cultural rights, and denial of access to aid.

As the UN high commissioner and the Ethiopian human rights commissioner pointed out, the report is far from a full rendering of the devastation experienced by civilians in Tigray. The report does not give well-documented trends the attention they deserve. It makes scant mention of the abuses committed by Amhara regional forces and militia against Tigrayans in western Tigray. It documents brutal sexual violence by all warring parties, but fails to acknowledge the scale of abuses, including sexual slavery, by Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces targeting Tigrayan women and girls. And it glosses over the deliberate and extensive destruction and pillaging of health infrastructure, and the intimidation and killing of humanitarian workers.

An international investigation that identifies the pattern and scale of abuses, and those responsible for the worst crimes up to the present, will be key for future reparations and accountability.

Since June, the Ethiopian authorities have blocked access to lifesaving assistance and services for Tigray’s population. Continuing abuses in the region and the expansion of the conflict into Amhara and Afar regions triggered large-scale displacement of people and further strained the humanitarian response. Increasing reports of serious abuses by Tigrayan forces against Amharas in these areas, as well as reported government arrests and enforced disappearances of Tigrayans elsewhere in Ethiopia, further underscore the need for robust international scrutiny to deter further abuses.

The joint report points to the need for further investigations and accountability. Concerned governments should urgently establish and support an independent, international investigative mechanism that can ensure credible scrutiny, preserve evidence for future trials, and facilitate genuine accountability. Victims of abuses and affected communities deserve nothing less.

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