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Editorial: No peace without justice and accountability; and neither justice, nor accountability without truth first

The Ethiopian government has been hindering both ICHREE and ACHPR from conducting independent investigations into alleged crimes in Northern Ethiopia, Illustration: Addis Standard

Addis Abeba – The direction of the long and arduous journey to heal millions of Ethiopians who are subjected to unimaginable cruelty and bloodshed during the two years of war, which started in the Tigray region and spread to Amhara and Afar regions, will be decided on whether or not the November 2022 permanent cessation of hostilities signed between the federal government and the TPLF will be accompanied by justice.

If there is one thing Ethiopia’s two years war is markedly recognized globally for, it is the unimaginable atrocities committed against civilians, ranging from several types of cruelties that constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity – such as mass murder, mass sexual violence and sexual slavery – to, by some indicators, a potential genocide upon proper designation. The global collective sigh of relief upon the news of the signing of the agreement to cease hostilities and the steps taken thereof is therefore much deserved.

But concerns linger and one of these concerns have to do with the afterthought status accorded to the issues of justice and accountability in the Pretoria agreement to cease hostilities and the subsequent implementation executive document signed in Nairobi.

It is true that under Article 2 – “Principles Underpinning the Permanent Cessation of Hostilities”, the two warring parties of the war agreed to be guided by “Respect for fundamental human rights and democratic norms and principles; Protection of civilians; Respect for the African Charter on Democracy, Elections, and Governance; Accountability and justice in accordance with the FDRE Constitution and the AU Transitional Justice Policy Framework.”

Therein lies the problem.

During the peak of the devastating war, there were three demands the international community, most notably Ethiopia’s transatlantic development partners, outlined. Immediate cessation of hostilities, unimpeded access to humanitarian supplies especially into the Tigray region, which had been subjected to a de facto blockade, and accountability for atrocities committed through an independent investigation. The Ethiopian government had resisted all the three until it relented on the first two through the Pretoria Permanent Cessation of Hostilities.

On the issue of accountability, it grudgingly agreed to a joint investigation between the government’s Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). But for all the works put together, the outcome of this joint investigation suffers from lack of two fundamental components: legitimacy and comprehensiveness.

Owing to these deficits and their potential implications in complicating the delivery of accountability and justice  to the victims, the international community had moved to establish the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) in December 2021.

But the Ethiopian government has left no stone unturned to block this body, from the debate on its need, to its actual establishment. Whether through diplomatic bullying or diplomatic lobbying – from threatening to deny the commissioners from setting foot in Ethiopia, to lobbying to end the Commission’s mandate, the Ethiopian government has mobilized its state resources all with the intention to cripple the commission’s works.

As an extension of that effort, Foreign Minister and Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonon made a last ditch effort to rally African countries to support Ethiopia’s attempts to block the Commission with a loaded accusation that “the group hinders the agreement reached in Pretoria and prevents its implementation.” Demeke made it very clear that Ethiopia will “not allow the independent investigative team to enter and work in the country.”

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There should be no room for doubts left that there will be no peace without justice and accountability, just as there will be neither justice, nor accountability without the truth coming to light first

Ethiopia continues charging the Commission with accusations, albeit short of evidence, that its establishment is “politically motivated” and is intended to hurt the incumbent.

The Ethiopian government’s visible hostility towards ensuring independent and comprehensive investigations of the crimes committed during the war is not limited to the UN’s Commission. On 15 June 2021 the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) announced that “in accordance with its mandate of promotion and protection of human rights in Africa under Article 45 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter),” a Commission of Inquiry on Tigray was formed and “will officially commence its work on 17 June 2021.”

It took the Ethiopian government two days to denounce the decision and called it: “regrettable to note that the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights made a unilateral announcement on the establishment of a “Commission of Inquiry” and said it was “completely outside the scope of the invitation by the government and lacks legal basis.”

Regardless of Ethiopia’s countless attempts at hindering the works of both ICHREE and ACHPR, the UN has recently renewed the former’s mandate and Commissioner Rémy Ngoy Lumbu, Chairperson ACHPR, said during the last AU Summit in Addis Abeba that its works continued independently through the Inquiry Commission it established.

As the UN Human Rights Council 52nd Session kicked off today in the presence of UN’s Secretary General, the UN General Assembly President, and UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, among other high level dignitaries, the world should unequivocally show support for the works of both ICHREE and ACHPR in conducting independent and comprehensive investigations into the grisly crimes committed against civilians during this tragic war. Ethiopia should not be let to get away with blocking the truth from coming to light. 

There should be no room for doubts left that there will be no peace without justice and accountability, just as there will be neither justice, nor accountability without the truth coming to light first. AS

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