The 49th Regular Session of the Human Rights Council
28th February to 1st April 2022
Item 3: Interactive Dialogue on HC oral update on Tigray, Ethiopia (resolution 47/13)
7th – 8th March 2022
By Jamel Nampijja / GICJ
The joint update of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) focused on the human rights situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia and the progress made in the context of the joint investigation that was undertaken. The High Commissioner’s update covered the period between the 22nd November 2021 and the 20th February 2022; and focused on Ethiopia’s human rights and security situation which has deteriorated significantly due to the extension of the conflict in Tigray to other parts of northern Ethiopia.
The Human Rights Council office continues to receive reports of widespread human rights violations in the regions of Afar and Amhara regions as well as in Tigray, including rape and airstrikes allegdely carried out by the Ethiopian air force. Such violations resulted in civilian deaths, and destruction and damages to properties, schools and health facilities, with about two million people affected by this conflict.
The international commission of human rights experts was established on the 17th of December 2021 after a special session by the Human Rights Council regarding the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia. The International Commission of human rights experts is responsible for fact-finding, collecting, preserving evidence, and making information accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts. The commission of experts provides guidance on accountability, transitional justice, and reconciliation.
The commission is made up of three human rights experts who are appointed by the President of the Human Rights Commission to conduct systematic and objective investigations into human rights violations and abuses committed since the 3rd November 2020, when conflict broke out in the Tigray region of Northern Ethiopia. At the command of the government, the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) launched a military attack in the region following regional elections. The conflict escalated rapidly into an ethnic cleansing against the people of Tigray and conflict around the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara.
In a statement during the special session of the Human Rights Council on the grave human rights situation in Ethiopia on 17th December 2021, the United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Nada Al-Nashif stated the conflict in the Tigray region had expanded to other regions of the country, involving more actors and leading to serious consequences for civilians.
The Council in a joint investigation on Tigray on 3 November 2021 found that all parties to the conflict; the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Tigrayan Forces, and Eritrean Defence forces had violated human rights, international humanitarian law, and refugee law to varying degrees with some incidents potentially amounting to international crimes, war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Eritrean Government completely disregarded the report and the findings of the joint investigation.
Subsequently, the Ethiopian government established an Inter-Ministerial Task Force with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) that invited the Human Rights Commission (HRC) to discuss the Government’s plans for implementation of the joint report's recommendations. The Task Force specified the areas for which fundamental support was anticipated from the United Nations and relevant actors.
The High Commissioner’s oral update
The High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Michelle Bachelet provided the Council with a video update of the current conflict in the Tigay region. In Afar, Tigrayan forces reportedly attacked civilian areas in Erebti, Abala, Berhale, and Megale during a military offensive on 24 January 2022 using heavy artillery. Although insecurity delayed the confirmation of exact numbers of casualties, hospital records indicated that some 844 people had received treatment for wounds, mostly resulting from explosives, however, the total number of deaths were not determined. Separate attacks in the region were reported in December 2021 when a market and hotel in Alamata town were hit by the ETAF in an airstrike that left 120 civilians dead and 145 injured. In January 2022 airstrikes reportedly carried out by the ETAF, hit the Mai-Aini refugee camp and Dedebit camp for internally displaced persons which left 60 people dead and 169 injured.
The OHCHR obtained credible reports of severe damage to schools and health facilities in the Amhara and Afar regions following government action instituted against Tigrayan forces. According to assessments by the regional authorities, almost 2 million pupils were affected by the total or partial destruction of schools. Health facilities in Amhara and Afar were also damaged and looted. The Ministry of Health in Ethiopia reported that at least 36 hospitals and over 2,100 other health facilities were partially destroyed or entirely destroyed by the Tigrayan forces and subjected to looting.
Over 306 incidents of rape, perpetuated by Tigrayan forces in the Amhara region between 1 November and 5 December 2021 were documented during the reporting period. The OHCHR reported that the majority of the victims were women, with a small percentage of men documenting incidents of rape. However, most survivors did not receive any form of support following these incidents. The High Commissioner acknowledged that due to the ongoing hostilities, the provisioning of humanitarian resources in the Tigray region had been restricted. Access to the region had stalled since the Semera-Abala-Mekelle road was blocked off on 15 December 2021. The High Commissioner urged all parties to the conflict including regional security forces to facilitate humanitarian access to the affected areas.
The High Commissioner emphasised that priority should be given to the Task Force Committee on investigations and prosecutions in the government’s pursuit to safeguard the rights of victims and hold perpetrators for human rights violations accountable. Ms Bachelet strongly urged the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the Council's International Commission of Human Rights Experts on the issues at hand to advance the implementation of the recommendations of the Joint Report. She also urged the Ethiopian government to make information on the investigation team’s progress and findings available and in a transparent manner.
The Ethiopian delegate delivered a statement highlighting the efforts established by the government of Ethiopia to resolve the conflict. She emphasised that the government was committed to setting up credible investigatory bodies to investigate alleged human rights violations by establishing an intermediary task force dedicated to implementing the recommendations of the joint investigation report. The taskforce was organised in four working groups, with each committee led by the relevant portfolio minister to ensure full accountability. The delegate underscored that the government of Ethiopia endeavoured to return to complete normalcy in the region and to continue its engagement with the international community as well as guaranteeing the country a solid path to democracy. The delegate for Ethiopia highlighted that despite progress made in the country, the country was concerned over the mixed reaction by the international community regarding the atrocities committed by TPF in the Afar and Amhara regions who continue with their campaign of destruction and make it impossible to deliver humanitarian assistance to the people of Tigray. The delegate concluded her statement by calling on the international community to support its national mechanisms.
Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s Oral Statement
The European Union expressed concern over the widespread violations of human rights and violations of international humanitarian law committed by all parties to the conflict amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity. The atrocities include arbitrary detention, torture, forced disappearances, sexual and gender-based violence, and denial of humanitarian aid.
The EU recognised the positive steps taken by the Ethiopian government to resolve the conflict including the installation of an inter-ministerial task force, establishing the national dialogue commission and the release of political prisoners. The EU pledged its support to work with the government of Ethiopia and other parties in the conflict such as the African Union and the UN in the ongoing attempts to mediate the situation. The delegate prompted parties to commit all efforts towards achieving a political resolution and an effective ceasefire, and ensure immediate unrestricted humanitarian access for the delivery of humanitarian supplies. Ambassador Lotte Knudsen, who delivered the statement, concluded her speech with a question on how accountability for perpetrators may be achieved and how redress of victims will be ensured.
The African Group was represented by the ambassador of Côte d’Ivoire who welcomed the outcome of the joint investigation of the office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. The group commended the measures that the Ethiopian government has taken to facilitate the investigation, implementation of the recommendations included in the joint report thereby establishing the inter-ministerial task force and ensuring accountability. The group emphasised its concern over the mass killing of civilians and other atrocities in the Afar and Amhara regions. The African group underscored the need to carry out comprehensive investigations into the serious allegations of abuses of international human rights law, international humanitarian and refugee law by all parties to the conflict after June 28 2021. The ambassador further stressed the need for the newly appointed international commission’s experts to consider the concerns of the country involved in the development of its working methods and scope of work. The African Group encouraged the newly appointed expert to explore the possibilities of cooperation with the relevant national and regional human rights institutions in accordance with the United Nations general assembly and council resolutions.
Representing the Baltic countries, the representative for Iceland commended the government of Ethiopia for its ongoing national efforts and positive steps taken in resolving the conflict. The representative highlighted concerns over the human rights violations and abuses occurring in Tigray, Afar, and Amhara regional states.
The representative urged all parties to the conflict to cease hostilities and seek negotiations to ensure that human rights are fully respected and that safety and security is accorded to all civilians and humanitarian workers. The representative called for all parties involved in the conflict to abide by the international humanitarian law and offer absolute safety and unconstrained humanitarian access to all people in need. The representative called for a thorough investigation into the crimes committed throughout the conflict and to ensure that perpetrators including non-Ethiopian actors are held accountable for all crimes committed. He urged the Ethiopian government to strengthen its engagement with the Council’s mechanisms by granting the International Human Rights Commission’s experts full and safe unlimited access to the country. In his closing remarks, the representative posed a question regarding the best approach to ensure that the work of the International Human Rights Commission’s experts in Ethiopia will complement the findings considering the findings of the joint investigation team.
The representative from China acknowledged that the country was following the developments of the situation in Ethiopia, and hoped that the Ethiopian people will achieve and enjoy peace, stability, and prosperity. China pledged its support to all relevant parties in Ethiopia to resolve their differences through dialogue and negotiation to achieve lasting peace and reconciliation at an early date. China criticised the working procedures of the Human Rights Council, which it claimed was interfering with the internal affairs of the concerned country. The representative for China stated that the HRC should have followed the principles of impartiality, objectivity, non-politicization, and selectivity. China believed that the people of Ethiopia have the wisdom and ability to handle their internal affairs well and vowed to continue playing a constructive role in Ethiopia’s peace and stability efforts together with the international community. In his concluding remarks, the representative drew attention to China’s concept of peaceful development in the horn of Africa which has apparently received positive responses in Ethiopia and countries in North East Africa.
Cuba called on the Council and other human rights mechanisms to put an end to politicisation, selectivity, and double standards while addressing human rights. The representative emphasised Cuba’s rejection of the exercises carried out within the Council, imposed by developed nations without the support of the countries concerned. The speaker emphasised that the Council must promote dialogue, cooperation, and exchange among nations based on the principles of the United Nations Charter. The speaker further emphasised that the HRC must respect and support national efforts, technical cooperation, and initiatives including those at the regional level with the agreement of the concerned country which seeks to address the situation at hand.
The Russian representative asserted that the situation in Ethiopia is very complicated although it is moving toward improvement, he acknowledged the need for political dialogue to improve the situation in the country. The representative asserted Russia’s belief that including political actors in the situation will bring an end to military confrontation and this would allow movement toward a political settlement. He further noted the constructive position taken to put an end to the conflict and find justice for the victims through the continued work of the Ethiopian authorities alongside the UNHCR. He also noted the role of the Ethiopian Commission for Human Rights, which has shown impartiality. The representative reminded the Council of Russia’s consistent objection to unilateral solutions being imposed on Ethiopia and attempts to politicise the situation. He further emphasised Russia’s support for all efforts taken by the African Union to redress the situation in Ethiopia including the High Representative and the President of the Commission of the African Union.
The representative for UNICEF welcomed the oral update and stated that UNICEF commends the progress that the Ethiopian government has achieved in terms of child rights in the last decade in terms of immunisation, health, and nutrition. She highlighted that despite such progress, the conflict has led to a lack of humanitarian access, constrained access to critical health, and nutrition with over 290 reported child violations including sexual and gender-based violence committed by all parties in 2021. The systemic and widespread acts of sexual violence are raising deep concerns for long-term effects on survivors’ mental health. The representative stated that schools and medical facilities in densely populated areas had been under attack in the regions of Amhara, Afar, and Tigray which recorded increases in separated and unaccompanied children with statistics stating that 1 in 6 children in these regions is unable to attend school.
The representative called on all parties to the conflict to respect the rules of international humanitarian law, to agree to the de-escalation of hostilities and to facilitate a sustained humanitarian corridor. She further called for all parties to the conflict to cease all grave violations against children and bring perpetrators to justice. The speaker suggested including children and women’s voices in the recovery, rehabilitation, and reconciliation efforts. She concluded her statement by declaring that UNICEF stands ready to support all efforts to find peace and justice.
Several delegations, international organisations, and NGOs presented statements. The speakers welcomed the developments of the joint update for the positive steps taken by the Human Rights Council and the Ethiopian Human Rights Council. The representatives voiced their concerns regarding the violation of human rights and further called upon all parties involved to abide by international human rights law.
In her concluding remarks, the Deputy High Commissioner, Ms Nada Al-Nashif, responded to questions posed by the delegates and speakers during the interactive dialogue. On the issue of accountability and redress for victims, Ms Al-Nashif stated that concrete actions must be taken to send a strong message to both the alleged perpetrators, and simultaneously provide support for the victims and survivors. She urged the Ethiopian government to prioritise the investigations against perpetrators and ensure victims receive justice for the crimes perpetrated against them. In an unfortunate development, the high commissioner informed that the advisory committee on budgetary issues had advised a cut of one-third of the budget, a condition that will limit capacity and capabilities, suggesting that there is still a need to reinforce the capacity of civil society organisations on the ground, both technically and financially. Funding is required and necessary to fulfil and sustain long-term work.
Position of Geneva International Centre for Justice
Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) is extremely concerned over the human rights situation in Tigray and neighbouring regions. GICJ commends the government of Ethiopia for the progress made regarding accountability and transparency as important steps to find redress for the victims and for the human rights violations in the Tigray region. GICJ urges the Government of Ethiopia to make provision for unhindered access to the international, regional, and national humanitarian actors to carry out their duties effectively in addition to acknowledging the recommendations of the joint investigation report as part of its efforts to bring about accountability.
GICJ calls on all parties involved in this conflict to end all forms of hostilities and make way for dialogue and peaceful negotiations to bring everlasting sustainable peace in Ethiopia. GICJ additionally calls for further investigations into the crimes committed during the conflict period in order to hold perpetrators accountable for war crimes and crimes against humanity.
During the Interactive Dialogue on the High Commissioner’s oral update on Tigray, Geneva International Centre for Justice (GICJ) and the International Organization for the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (EAFORD) delivered an oral statement at the United Nations Human Rights Council regarding the Human Rights situation in Ethiopia.
Ethiopia, Tigray, Human Rights Violations, Conflict in Tigray, Africa Union, Horn Of Africa, Law, International, UN, International Relations, Interactive Dialogue, Human Rights Council, 49th HRC, Justice, Human rights, Geneva, geneva4justice, GICJ, Geneva International Centre For Justice