The 48th Session of the Human Rights Council
13 September to 8 October 2021
ITEM 2 - Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
Interactive Dialogue on HC oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia
By: Beatrice Serra/GICJ
At the 48th session of the Huma Rights Council, the High Commissioner presented an oral update about human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia during the Interactive Dialogue.
Ms. Michelle Bachelet opened the session by expressing her concerns about the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region, which is exacerbating and expanding to the surrounding regions threatening to spill over to the whole Horn of Africa. Mass detention, killings, systematic looting and sexual violence have continued to create an atmosphere of fear, and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian populations; civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive. Following, Mr. Bekele pointed out how the escalation of hostilities is affecting communication, public services and humanitarian assistance with military clashes targeting transportation routes, civilian populations, and infrastructures; deep concerns also remain for the dire humanitarian situation. The federal government, local authorities, and humanitarian agencies are urged to increase their efforts to ensure uninterrupted and improved provision of humanitarian aid to civilians in the Tigray region and neighboring regions. Moreover, Mr. Rémy Ngoy Lumbu reiterated the commitment of the African Commission to cooperate with all stakeholders interested in the conflict by respecting the human rights of people and sovereignty of Ethiopia. To conclude, Mr. Hessebon reiterated the commitment of the Government of Ethiopia to overcome the challenge posed in the Tigray region by constructively engaging with all stakeholders for the improvement of the human rights situation.
In the ensuing debate, delegations took the floor to express their concern on the grave human rights violations and abuses perpetuated by all parties involved in the Tigray region and surrounding areas. States urged Ethiopia to end impunity by holding perpetrators accountable and requested the immediate withdrawal of the Eritrean troops. Such statements have been reiterated by civil society organization for which the priority remains the cessation of hostilities and de-escalation of tensions to achieve a long-lasting ceasefire.
In resolution A/HRC/RES/47/13, the Human Rights Council expressed grave concern about the human rights violations and abuses perpetuated by all parties in the Tigray region of Ethiopia since the start of the conflict on 4 November 2020. The main causes of concern involve violations of international humanitarian law and international refugee law. Such violations include indiscriminate shelling, extrajudicial killings, mass killings of civilians, widespread use of sexual and gender-based violence, arbitrary arrests and detention, ethnic profiling, and discrimination, forced displacement, abductions and forcible returns of refugees, widespread looting, and the destruction of humanitarian aid. Further to this, the HRC expressed concern about the involvement of Eritrean troops in the Tigray region which is exacerbating the conflict by carrying out serious human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian and refugee law.
The HRC calls on all parties of the conflict to comply with international humanitarian and human rights obligations as well as protect all civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel and civil objects. It also highlights the need to hold accountable those responsible for human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law committed in the Tigray conflict. In this regard, the HRC requested the High Commissioner to present an oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia during an interactive dialogue at the 48th and 49th Sessions of the Council.
ID on HC oral update on the situation of human rights in the Tigray region of Ethiopia
Ms. Michelle Bachelet (High Commissioner for Human Rights) opened the session by stressing that the fighting in the Tigray region has continued unabated and expanded to the surrounding area threatening to spill over to the whole Horn of Africa. In the last months, mass detention, killings, systematic looting and sexual violence have continued to create an atmosphere of fear, and an erosion of living conditions that resulted in the forced displacement of the Tigrayan civilian populations; civilian suffering is widespread, and impunity is pervasive. Ms. Bachelet pointed out that even with the changing dynamics in the conflict, multiple and severe reports of alleged violation of human rights, humanitarian and refugee law have been perpetuated by all parties involved.
Ms. Bachelet expressed concerns about the allegations of human rights violations that continue to implicate Government forces and allies. Reports revealed large-scale arbitrary detention of ethnic Tigrayan civilian in unofficial sites in Western Tigray and evidence suggests that before the killing, victims might have been detained and tortured. Tigrayan forces have caused the displacement of more than 200,000 people while an estimated 200 individuals have been killed in the most recent clashes in the region, and 88 have been injured, including children. On 5th August, Tigray forces allegedly attacked and killed displaced people, including women, children and people sheltering in camps in the Afar region. Additionally, the recruitment of children has been carried out in breach of international law.
The High Commissioner thanked the Government of Ethiopia for its cooperation with the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council for its joint investigations, urging them to continue their efforts. She also appreciated the Government commitment to accountability for human rights violations, including prosecuting gender-based and sexual violence, looking forward to hearing further Government’s progress in this regard. Ms. Bachelet then urged Ethiopia to accept the recommendations of the joint investigations report as part of its effort to bring about accountability. International regional and national human rights and humanitarian actors must be given unhindered access. Further to this, intercommunal violence must come to an end through meaningful peacebuilding and reconciliation efforts to avoid the risk Ethiopia will be turned apart: the solution to the conflict can only be found through a political process and dialogue to achieve a long-lasting ceasefire.
Following, Mr. Daniel Bekele (Chief Commissioner of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council) recalled that the Ethiopian Human Rights Council and UN Human Rights office have concluded their joint investigations into alleged violations committed by all parties in the Tigray at the field level. Although sharing the information collected and conclusions is still not possible since the team is analyzing them, the alleged human rights violations include: attacks against civilians, civilian objects and other protected persons; extrajudicial killings, forced displacement, sexual and gender-based violence, torture and other ill-treatments; arbitrary detention, abduction, enforced disappearances and violations against refugees. In this regard, Mr. Bekele urged the members of the Council to wait for the final report of the joint investigations which will be published on November 1st with the team’s findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
The Chief Commissioner noted that the ceasefire announced by the Ethiopian Government on 28 June gave hope for an improvement of the humanitarian situation as well as a pathway to peace. However, three weeks later significant challenges emerged: PTLF put forward a set of preconditions for the ceasefire, it launched a military offensive in neighboring regions, movement of air convoys were hampered followed by a regrouping of military forces in surrounding regions, national mobilization for war and counteroffensive military operations. The escalation of hostilities is affecting communication, public services and humanitarian assistance with military clashes targeting transportation routes, civilian populations and infrastructures. Deep concerns remain for the dire humanitarian situation, particularly of IDPs; therefore, the federal government, local authorities, and humanitarian agencies should redouble their efforts to ensure uninterrupted and improved provision of humanitarian aid to civilians in the Tigray region and neighboring regions. Nevertheless, parties trying to address the human rights crisis should work with a full understanding of the history and context of such complex political crisis.
Mr. Rémy Ngoy Lumbu (Vice-Chairperson of the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights) recalled the numerous initiatives pursued by the Commission, including resolutions to create commission and authorities able to investigate into alleged violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law in an impartial, rapid, and effective manner. The Vice-Chairperson also reiterated the commitment of the African Commission to cooperate with all stakeholders interested in the conflict by respecting the human rights of people and sovereignty of Ethiopia.
To conclude, Mr. Gedion Timothewos Hessebon (Attorney General of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia) highlighted that the appropriate state organs of the Government of Ethiopia have launched investigations into allegations of serious human rights violations and have undertaken measures to ensure accountability and hold perpetrators accountable. Additionally, he recalled that Ethiopia have facilitated the launch of the joint investigation by the Ethiopian and UN Human Rights Commission, and it is committed to carefully consider the findings and recommendations of the joint investigation. The joint investigation could complement the work of the federal and military prosecutors which have already pressed charge and taken other legal and disciplinary measures against individuals suspected of committing various human rights violations. However, the temporal scope of the joint investigation is such that the findings would be incomplete and might not give a full picture. Mr. Hessebon reiterated the commitment of the Government of Ethiopia in its effort to overcome the challenge posed in the Tigray region by constructively engaging with all stakeholders for the improvement of the human rights situation.
Participating Delegations’ Statement
In the ensuing debate, delegations took the floor to express their concern on the grave human rights violations and abuses perpetuated by all parties involved in the Tigray region and surrounding areas.
The European Union and its Member States expressed deep concerns about the conflict in the Tigray region and its extension in the neighboring regions. The EU called on all parties to abide by their obligations to ensure full, safe, and unfettered humanitarian access as well as full respect of international humanitarian and refugee law. The call to cease grave human rights violations and abused, including sexual and gender-based violence, ethnically targeted violence, discriminations, and hate speech is reiterated. The EU and Member States also urged the permanent withdrawal of Eritrean forces, inviting all parties involved to enter into a process of political dialogue to reach a ceasefire with no preconditions. Additionally, all allegations of human rights violations and abuses must be investigated, perpetrated, and brought to justice through transparent, independent, and credible processes and the rule of law must be restored.
Cameroon on behalf of the group of African States appreciated the will of the Government of Ethiopia to participate in the ID and its commitment to facilitate the ongoing joint investigation and implement accountability measures to end impunity. The African Group underlined the need for constructive engagement with the High Commissioner, the Representative of the African Union for the Horn African region, all political stakeholders, as well as the international community to put an end to civilian suffering. Expressing support for the unilateral ceasefire declared by Ethiopia, the African Group call on the Government to pursue political and institutional reforms.
Ethiopia on behalf of a group of countries thanked the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission for the joint investigation, pointing out that finalizing it will be of great importance in ensuring justice and accountability for the grave human rights violations committed during the conflict. It is noted with concern that the recent development such as the mass killing of civilians, the recruitment of child soldiers and other atrocities in the Afar and Amhara regions will be not covered by the investigation. In this regard, the group of states encouraged national relevant institutions in Ethiopia to undertake the relevant measures to hold the perpetrators of grave human rights violations accountable for their crimes. To conclude, the Human Rights Council is encouraged to reinforce its support to the joint investigation by avoiding any actions that will be of utmost importance for a successful cooperation.
UN Women expressed deep concern over the widespread and systematic commission of rape and sexual violence which disproportionately impacts women and girls causing grave and long-lasting harm to survivors as well as their families and communities. The fragmented and limited service related to prevention, risk mitigation and response is a main cause of concern. Therefore, humanitarian organization must be guaranteed with safe and unimpeded access to provide the needed lifesaving assistance to women and girls. To conclude, UN Women expects that the forthcoming joint investigation will provide further clarity on the magnitude of the situation to adopt its response accordingly.
Sudan reiterated its strong interest for the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region because of several reasons, including the close historical and cultural links. In this regard, Sudan have opened its border to host more than 90,000 Ethiopian refugees from Tigray and Amhara who flee the regions starting from November 2020. Despite the economic situation, the country declared its will continue cooperating with the international community to provide humanitarian assistance to Ethiopia.
Civil society organizations thanked the High Commissioner and other speakers for providing the overview of the situation in the Tigray region. They recognized that the complex conflict involving multiple actors is expanding over neighboring areas and risk to spread across the whole country. Therefore, the priority remains the cessation of hostilities and de-escalation of tensions. One NGO expressed concern by reports of mass rape and starvation being used as weapons of war to exacerbate the dire humanitarian situation with millions on the brink of famine while siege and death is already occurring. Moreover, critical internet and communication shutdowns and blocking of websites are conducted to control information in the region. In this regard, NGOs urged the Government of Ethiopia to continue to engage with any findings of the joint investigation as well as implement other experts’ recommendations.
Panelists’ Final Remark
Ms. Bachelet reiterated her appreciation to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission for the partnership in the joint investigation, which should pave the way for a stronger collaboration with the Commission. The High Commissioner also pointed out that the report will be released, at the latest, November 1st, hoping the Government of Ethiopia will be willing to implement the recommendations regardless of the perpetrators. With regard to the involvement of Eritrea troops, Ms. Bachelet noticed with regret that the Government did not send any feedback on the alleged human rights violations by Eritrean forces in Tigray. To conclude, Ms. Bachelet deemed necessary to keep investigating and documenting violations committed by all parties, regardless of their affiliation, in order to establish accountability and end impunity. Addressing the root causes of the conflict remains is crucial, as well as the call for a peaceful long-lasting resolution of the conflict.
Mr. Daniel Bekele expressed his appreciation for the global support from the international community and the cooperation of the Ethiopian Government to the joint investigation, which will continue to be guided by the highest standards objectivity, independence, and impartiality. Moreover, human rights situations that are not covered under the joint investigation will fall under the mandate of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which continues in helping to monitor the situation in the country. Although the great commitment of the international community, will still be the people of Ethiopia who have the highest stake in putting an end to the suffering of their fellow Ethiopians.
Position of the Geneva International Center for Justice
Geneva International Center for Justice (GICJ) welcomes the oral update and the attention given by the HRC to the human rights situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. The government of Ethiopia should take any necessary steps to held perpetrators of human rights violations accountable to end impunity, while Eritrean troops urge to immediately withdraw from the region. In this regard, we strongly encourage Ethiopia in increasing its commitment in considering and accepting the report and recommendations delivered by the join investigations.
The military hostilities carried out by the parties involved in the conflict is exacerbating, thus putting at risk the lives of civilians, including humanitarian and medical personnel. Therefore, GICJ calls on all parties of the conflict to comply with international humanitarian and human rights obligations as well as ensure that civil society organizations and humanitarian personnel can carry on their work. Moreover, being aware of the complex ongoing conflict, we deem necessary the end of military hostilities between the parties involved and the negotiation of a long-lasting ceasefire without any conditions.
Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice
Previous Reports from the 48th Session of the UN Human Rights Council