BY TESFA-ALEM TEKLE
Some 63 civil society and human rights groups on Thursday called on the UN to block efforts by the Ethiopian government to end an independent probe into serious crimes committed during a two-year bloody conflict in the country’s northern Tigray region.
In a letter written to the UN Human Rights Council member states, the organizations which include Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch said they were alarmed by plans by Addis Ababa to present a resolution that seeks to cut short a UN-mandated inquiry.
“We, the undersigned civil society and human rights organizations, are alarmed by the 15 February announcement by the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia to the Executive Council of the African Union that the Ethiopian government is planning to present a resolution at the upcoming session of the UN Human Rights Council to terminate the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE)” they said.
“We write to urge your delegations to reject any resolution to prematurely terminate the mandate of ICHREE, and to express your support for the mandate and work of the Commission”
Ethiopia has resisted the UN’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) since its inception in 2021 calling it “highly politically motivated” intended to cut its funding.
Last month, during the Africa Union summit held in Addis Ababa, the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen urged the continental bloc to support Ethiopia’s bid to terminate what he called the commission’s “unwarranted mandate”.
The civil society and rights organizations called this push by Addis Ababa “unprecedented” and one that could set “a dangerous precedent” about avoiding international scrutiny.
The ICHREE work is needed to ensure justice and accountability particularly as trust in domestic institutions is eroded and authorities continue to harass human rights defenders, the organizations stressed.
Ethiopia’s civil war was marked by accusations of grave rights violations including the killing of unarmed civilians and the use of rape as a weapon, some of which according to the UN could amount to war crimes.
All warring parties to the conflict including the Eritrean troops have been accused of heinous crimes.
However, there is still no signs of holding perpetrators accountable for the alleged abuses.
Two weeks ago, authorities of Tigray region said that they are fully aware of the latest moves by the Ethiopian government intended to stop the mandate of The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) which is probing gross human rights violations committed during the two- year conflict in Tigray.
In an Exclusive interview with The East African Daily, a senior Tigray government/TPLF official said that there is a renewed move by Addis Ababa for the ICHREE to terminate its mandate.
The official who sought anonymity however downplayed Ethiopia’s latest attempts saying that the country does not have the authority to terminate a probe commission mandated by a UN body.
“It is not up to Addis Ababa to terminate the mandate of the UN-backed right Experts Commission” the official said.
When asked what Tigray authorities were doing to reverse Ethiopia’s intent, the official said “We are in touch with many actors at the international level”
“As they say we will cross the bridge when we reach there” He added.
Earlier last month, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government asked President Joe Biden’s US administration to support its “bid in terminating the mandate” of the Commission.
Earlier, on December 9, 2022, during a meeting with Ambassadors of the EU and Member States based in Addis Ababa, Demeke Mekonnen, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, called on the European Union to ‘take measures to terminate the mandate of the International Commission of Experts at the earliest session of the UN Human Rights Commission.’
Ethiopia is still insisting that investigations into the atrocities committed by all parties to the Tigray conflict are dealt with by domestic means rather than by an external independent investigation team.
The federal government of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) signed a landmark peace agreement in Pretoria last November and since Addis Ababa has renewed its protest against ICHREE seeking an end to its mandate.
Despite the peace deal, TPLF and the Tigray government authorities on their side have however confirmed to The East African Daily about their firm position with regard to ICHREE’s mandate.
“Our strong position is that the mandate should continue and it can even be an input to the transitional justice” the Tigrayan official stated.
“An independent investigation helps to ensure accountability of all sides” he said adding “There are crimes to be seen at the international level”
The UN Human Rights Council formed the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) in December 2021 and its mandate was extended by an additional one year last October.
(The East African Daily)