Law & JusticeNews

Viewpoint: Victims ‘left in limbo’ as Ethiopia rights probe mandate ends

In January 2023, women in Tigray rally to demand justice among other things (Photo: Tigrai Television)

Addis Abeba – The UN-mandated Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia on Friday released a harrowing report on the “staggering” level of human rights violations and mass killings that have plagued the east African nation since the Tigray conflict erupted in 2020.

The independent rights investigators’ final report comes as their mandate ended on Friday, coinciding with the end of the UN Human Rights Council’s 54th session, leaving victims in limbo.

Established by the Council in December 2021, their brief from the Council was to conduct thorough and impartial investigations into alleged human rights violations in Ethiopia, perpetrated by all parties to the conflict since 3 November 2020.

Steven Rather, an expert on the Commission, described the termination of the mandate as a “great blow” to victims seeking justice.

“It is essential that this work [the investigation] continues, and this legacy report offers a detailed resource to support the fight against impunity in Ethiopia,” he said.

Horrific findings

The Commission’s final report presents a detailed account of the atrocities – which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity – committed in Tigray, Amhara, Afar and Oromia, pointing a finger at all parties involved.

Due to time and resource limitations, the Commission was not able to determine the possible crime against humanity of extermination or genocide.

Experts called for investigations to continue to establish the full facts and legal implications.

The Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence Forces, and allied regional Special Forces and militias are collectively responsible for a litany of horrors, the report said.

This includes mass killings, widespread and systematic rape, sexual violence – including sexual slavery, deliberate starvation, forced displacement, and large-scale arbitrary detentions, all of which constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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Some Tigray forces are also culpable for war crimes, including killings, widespread rape and sexual violence, destruction of property, and looting.

Lack of accountability

The Commission noted that continued violations committed by the Eritrean Defence Forces in Tigray before and after the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in November 2022 – and the spread of violence across much of the country, highlight the scale of impunity.

“The prospects of meaningful domestic accountability are extremely remote,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, an expert serving on the Commission.

“The demands of victims and survivors for justice and accountability are clear and unwavering, and their voices must be heard,” she stressed.

International call

The shutting down of the Commission cannot signal the end of the road, especially when the risks of future atrocity crimes remain glaringly visible, chairperson Mohamed Chande Othman said.

He called on the international community, including regional actors, to not forget the victims of the brutal conflict.

“States must continue to place the situation of human rights in Ethiopia high on the international agenda, and actively investigate and prosecute crimes committed in Ethiopia before their respective domestic courts, under the principle of universal jurisdiction,” he said. AS

Editor’s Note: This article was first published on the UN News website.

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