GICJ Report on 33rd Special Session of the UN Human Rights Council 

17 December 2021.


By Amie Sillito / GICJ

Executive Summary

The 33rd Special Session convened on the 17th of December 2021 to discuss the worsening human rights situation in Ethiopia based on the joint report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The report set out the findings of the Joint Investigation into Alleged Violations of International Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Law Committed by all Parties to the Conflict in the Tigray Region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.

The representative of Ethiopia expressed the country’s dissatisfaction with the convening of the Special Session and labelled the actions of the Council as politicised. Several members of the council expressed their dissatisfaction with the Council’s involvement in Ethiopia and provided alternative suggestions to the international community intervening in the country’s domestic issues. However, the session concluded with the adoption of draft Resolution A/HRC/S-33/L.1.


The joint report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) focused on the Alleged Violations of International Human Rights, Humanitarian and Refugee Law committed by parties involved in the conflict in the Tigray Region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. The report investigated alleged violations committed between the period of 3 November 2020 until the unilateral ceasefire declared by the federal government of Ethiopia on 28 June 2021. The report concluded that parties to the conflict failed to take sufficient precautions to protect civilians and civilian objects. Local militia groups were found to have committed unlawful killings and extra-judicial executions which were declared to be abuses and violations of international human rights and international humanitarian law. Persons who did not partake in the hostilities were wilfully killed by parties to the conflict including ethnic based killings of more the two hundred Amharas in Maikadra by the Samri and Tigrayan police. Armed militia and Tigrayan police were found to have committed acts of torture and ill-treatment against civilians in various locations in Tigray. Arbitrary detentions, abductions and enforced disappearances were found to be commonplace and many individuals were arrested by the federal police and accused of being affiliated with the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front. Acts of sexual and gender-based violence were observed to be a regular occurrence in Ethiopia. The report detailed acts of intentional transmission of HIV and gang rape perpetrated against men and women. The report also detailed the increasing levels of displacement in Ethiopia which has further exacerbated existing tensions between Tigrayans and Amharas in areas were cohabitation was common. Internally displaced persons were not provided with adequate food, nutrition, water, or healthcare and were forced to rely on local communities instead of the government. Delays in humanitarian assistance were attributed to the conflict, inadequate local administrative bodies for coordination and a lack of cooperation by the Ethiopian National Defence Force. Access to basic rights including healthcare, food, water, and sanitation as well as basic services such as electricity and banking services were undermined as a direct result of the conflict. The war has resulted in damage to water, telecommunications, electricity, and banking infrastructure.

The report provided recommendations to the Ethiopian government including initiating a victim-centred and gender- sensitive reparation scheme which includes restitution, compensation, rehabilitation, satisfaction, and a guarantee of non-repetition. It was also suggested that the international community support initiatives to strengthen justice and accountability for crimes and serious violations to achieve justice for victims.

Discussion over the draft resolution with the Council

Ms. Keva Lorraine Bain, Vice-president of Human Rights Council opened the First meeting of the 33rd Special Session of the Human Rights Council concerning the grave Human Rights situation in Ethiopia. It was indicated to the Council that there would be a vote on the draft proposal at the end of the Special Session. Ms Bain opened the floor to the list of speakers and transnational organisations to comment on the draft proposal and the worsening situation in Ethiopia.

The First Speaker, Ms. Nada Al-Nashif, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights commenced the session by highlighting the worsening conflict in Ethiopia which spread from the Tigray region into different parts of the country. Ms Al-Nashif highlighted that a wider range of actors are now involved within the conflict which has had a substantially negative impact on civilians. The report of the joint investigation on Tigray found that all parties to the Conflict including national defence forces, Tigrayan forces and Eritrean defence forces, were responsible for committing, to varying degrees, human rights violations and abuses as well as violations of international humanitarian law and refugee law. The High Commissioner indicated that some of these actions could amount to international crimes including war crimes and crimes against humanity. The preliminary report provided recommendations to the Ethiopian government to end all violence and prevent abuses. Ms Al-Nashif stated that although the Ethiopian government expressed some reservations regarding the joint investigation’s findings, it has committed to undertaking comprehensive and impartial investigations into the alleged serious violations and to implement some of the report’s recommendations. However, the onus is on the state to deliver proper, fair, and independent proceedings which address the full range of violations identified.

Mr. Victor Madrigal-Borloz, Chair of the Coordination Committee of the Special Procedures addressed the Council and revealed that Ethnic Tigrayans have for a long time, been subjected to widespread discrimination and violence. He went on to state that hundreds of arrest warrants were issued by federal authorities which accused ethnic Tigrayans of being involved with the Tigrayan People’s liberation Front (TPLF). The Chair divulged that the Committee had received numerous reports of Tigrayans being arbitrarily detained, tortured and killed by soldiers and other state agents. Numerous detention centres in the Western region of Ethiopia were reported to exist which are run by armed guards who continually fail to provide detainees with food and water. In Addis Ababa, forced disappearances are common for Tigrayan persons who are accused of supporting the TPLF. Concern was raised over the high levels of sexual violence girls and women experience, especially in the Tigrayan region where girls and women are raped and tortured in acts of revenge by militia intent on cleansing Ethiopia of Tigrayan persons. The Chair concluded his statement by calling on all parties to the conflict to uphold and respect human rights and cease all abuses and terror inflicted in regions under their control. He urged the government to end sexual and gender-based violence and to issue clear instructions to all forces that sexual and other based violence is prohibited and punishable. He called on Ethiopia to protect women and girls, provide redress to victims and facilitate access to healthcare as well a psycho-social support.

The permanent representative for Ethiopia, Mr. Zenebe Kebede Korcho voiced his discontent that Ethiopia was being unfairly targeted and singled out at the Human Rights Council. Mr Zenebe emphasised that Ethiopia has implemented numerous recommendations submitted by the joint investigation and set up a national mechanism task force to investigate abuses of human rights. The representative stated that armed militia were responsible for coordinating humanitarian aid into the country and using it for military purposes as well as being responsible for looting and the destruction of property. It was emphasised that the initiators of the Special Session were not interested in addressing this issue but were determined to impose their will upon the government. The representative went on to state that the initiative was not helpful and political agendas were the driving force behind the session. Mr Zenebe affirmed that such actions would embolden armed militia and undermine the government’s legitimacy and position on the ground. He encouraged the international community to support the government’s efforts and for the Council to abstain from adopting the draft resolution to be voted on at the end of the session. The representative concluded his statement and emphasised that the Ethiopian government would not comply with the Council or its mandate due to the nature of the Session and its political agenda.

Ms. Anita Pipan, the representative for Slovenia addressed the Council on behalf of the European Union and called the situation in Ethiopia disastrous. Ms Pipan affirmed that the EU believed that there was no military solution to the crisis and reaffirmed the EU’s support for the African Union and regional mediation efforts. She stated that the widespread targeting of ethnic groups, hate speech and violence should be of the utmost concern and that the EU called for transparency on the situation of persons arrested under the declaration of the state of emergency including by permitting visits to detention facilities. The representative highlighted that the EU was encouraged by the steps adopted by the Ethiopian authorities in following up on the joint report’s findings. She underscored that the EU regretted that Eritrea and the TPLF had not shown willingness to adopt the report’s recommendations. The representative concluded her statement by stating that an independent investigative mechanism would enable, inter alia, to build upon the findings of the joint report and bring stability to the country.

The representative for the Russian Federation, Mr. Artur Chernyakov voiced the country’s support for Ethiopia’s independence and stated that the situation was complex. Mr Chernyakov averred that a political settlement without a ceasefire was impossible. However, Russia consistently opposed the politicisation of the Ethiopian situation in the Human Rights Council. He emphasised that the ongoing discussion was counterproductive and that it did not facilitate a resolution considering the political military crisis in the country. He emphasised that the creation of an additional fact-finding mechanism on Ethiopia was superfluous. The representative underscored that the government of Ethiopia was complying with the investigative mechanisms and that the country required an African based policy to tackle the issue and uncover a solution. The representative went on to affirm that the Russian Federation supported the mediation efforts made by the African Union but would continue to reject any imposition of unilateral approaches to the issue.

The representative for Eritrea, Mr. Adem Osman Idris underscored that the Human Rights Council was called upon several times to within the last six months to discuss the human rights situation in the Tigray region however, the Special Session was comparable to the multiple human rights violations occurring in Ethiopia due to its lack of haste in focusing its attention on the matter.

The representative for Costa Rica, Ms. Shara Duncan Villalobos, emphasised that all groups party to the conflict have committed grave human rights violations which may constitute crimes against humanity. The representative stated that all parties must cease all acts of violence and respect international humanitarian law and hold accountable those who abuse human rights to ensure justice is achieved for all victims of such crimes.

The representative for South Africa, Mr. Mxolisi Nkosi, called upon all parties to cease hostilities and conduct themselves in a manner in line with their obligations under international human rights law and humanitarian law. South Africa reiterated its support for mediation efforts undertaken by Ethiopia and the African Union, and he urged all parties to cooperate and make an effort to find a solution to the conflict. The representative emphasised that South Africa believed there was ample scope for dialogue for all parties and implored them to work towards creating conditions including the cessation of hostilities that would pave the way towards and inclusive dialogue. He went on to emphasise that Ethiopia requires a political and not military solution that will engender lasting peace and development in the country. The representative concluded his statement by indicating that South Africa welcomed the government of Ethiopia and their efforts to implement the recommendations outlined in the joint report and called on all parties to provide sufficient humanitarian support to Ethiopia.

Following the list of speakers, local and international organisations expressed their concern over the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia and the worsening human rights situation in the Tigray region. It was stated that the establishment of an international mechanism in Ethiopia was paramount to the safeguarding of human rights and to ensure accountability for abuses of human rights. NGOs emphasised that the scale and use of sexual and gender-based violence as a weapon of war was extremely disturbing. Ethiopian government forces have subjected girls and women to rape, gang rape, sexual slavery, sexual mutilation, and other forms of torture. Tigrayan forces indicated that they weaponised rape in retaliation for the rape of Tigrayan women by government forces. All states were urged to support the resolution to be voted on at the end of the session as well as the creation of a robust investigative mechanism.

Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice

Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) delivered a joint oral statement alongside the International Organisation for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD). In the statement, concerns were raised over the reports of grave human rights abuses in Ethiopia. GICJ and EAFORD remain especially concerned over the high levels of gender-based violence and rape which has been used as a political weapon against the female population. The Ethiopian government must cease all violence and increase mediation talks to find a solution and protect its population. Ethiopia risks becoming a failed state due to the current levels of instability. The Ethiopian government must find an African based solution without international intervention in order to reaffirm the government’s position and legitimacy. Therefore, we urge the government to hold perpetrators of human rights violations accountable for their actions and in doing so, preserve the rule of law for generations to come.

Draft Resolution at the Special Session

The Vice-President concluded the first meeting of the 33rd Special Session and informed the Council that the session would reconvene to consider draft resolution A/HRC/S-33/L.1. Following the intermission, the Vice-President reopened the session and opened the floor to the first speaker, the representative of Ethiopia. The representative, Mr. Zenebe Kebede Korcho, criticised the Council and its members stating that they did not understand the gravity of the draft resolution and that the Council had misled the international community. Mr Zenebe stated that the accusations levied against Ethiopia were unfounded and that the joint report disregarded the true situation on the ground. He went on to state that no evidence was found to support the claims laid out in the report. The representative concluded that the Ethiopian government did not find any merits to the draft resolution and that the country was firmly committed to peace and the safeguarding of human rights. Following the list of speakers draft Resolution, A/HRC/S-33/L.1 was adopted with 21 members of the Council voting yes, 15 members voting no and 11 abstentions. Countries who opposed the adoption of the draft resolution included Bolivia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Cote d’Ivoire, Cuba, Eritrea, Gabon, India, Namibia, Pakistan, Philippines, Russian Federation, Somalia, and Venezuela. Countries who supported the draft resolution included Argentina, Armenia, Austria, Bahamas, Brazil, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Fiji, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Marshall Islands, Mexico, Netherlands, Poland, Republic of Korea, Ukraine, United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and Uruguay.

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