31 August 2023
Risk Level: Imminent Risk

Despite a peace agreement, populations in the Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions of Ethiopia remain at risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity. Populations across Ethiopia are also at risk due to sporadic inter-communal violence and clashes with government forces.


On 2 November 2022 the federal government of Ethiopia and the regional governing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) agreed to a cessation of hostilities, brokered by the African Union, aimed at ending a two-year conflict in northern Ethiopia. Since November 2020 the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and its allies, including the Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF), fought in an armed conflict with the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) which was characterized by widespread violations of International Humanitarian Law (IHL) and International Human Rights Law (IHRL). The fighting initially began in the Tigray region and subsequently spread to neighboring Afar and Amhara regions in July 2021. The conflict has caused a humanitarian catastrophe to unfold across northern Ethiopia, with over 1 million people internally displaced.

Possible war crimes and crimes against humanity were committed by all parties throughout the conflict. Reports by several UN bodies, including the Human Rights Council (HRC)-mandated International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), and investigations by international human rights groups documented indiscriminate bombings, ethnic-based killings, sexual violence, forced displacement, use of child soldiers, destruction of cultural heritage and the systematic destruction of food, water and health infrastructure. Humanitarian convoys were routinely blocked, attacked and looted by parties to the conflict. Aid workers have reported ongoing abuses by the EDF and regional Amhara forces in Tigray despite the peace deal, including looting of civilian property, as well as kidnappings and mass detentions.

Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch found that Amhara regional forces and militias and the EDF, with ENDF complicity, are responsible for the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans from Western Tigray. Amhara authorities have subjected the Tigrayan population to abuses and restrictions on the basis of their ethnicity and removed them from the area under duress while simultaneously calling for the settlement of Amhara residents into the area.

Inter-communal and inter-religious violence, as well as regional border disputes in other parts of Ethiopia have continued to escalate, particularly between the Amhara and Oromo communities. Oromia regional security forces, the ENDF and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) armed group have allegedly committed enforced disappearances and attacks on civilians, including ethnic Amharas. In its 2022 annual report, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) detailed widespread abuses against civilians in 13 zones of the Oromia region. The report found that hundreds of civilians were killed and at least 100,000 displaced between July and November 2022 amidst fighting between different configurations of armed groups, including the OLA and Amhara ‘fano’ militias, with federal and Oromia regional security forces. In attempts to mitigate the OLA’s insurgency, the ENDF have launched repeated airstrikes in Oromia. The EHRC has determined that government forces were responsible for airstrikes on civilian areas and extrajudicial killings of civilians perceived to be supportive of armed groups. On 26 April the first ever peace negotiations between the Ethiopian government and the OLA started in Tanzania but concluded with no resolution.


During June the United States Agency for International Development and the UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced the temporary suspension of all food aid to the 20 million people in need in Ethiopia after discovering that supplies were being diverted and stolen in a widespread and coordinated manner. At least 700 starvation-related deaths have been reported since the aid pause. Both organizations had previously halted food aid to Tigray due to similar suspicions. On 31 July WFP resumed small scale deliveries in Tigray, testing new control measures.

In April the government announced plans to integrate regional militia forces into the federal army and police. The announcement prompted fears amongst populations in several regional, particular the Amhara community, regarding loss of regional autonomy and vulnerability to attacks by other ethnic groups. Protests against the measure in the Amhara region escalated into intense clashes between fano militia and the ENDF, prompting the federal government to declare a state of emergency on 4 August. The EHRC has reported that civilians and civilian property have been targeted throughout the clashes.


Despite the cessation of hostilities, risks to populations will continue until the terms of the agreement are fully implemented. Civilians in Tigray, Afar and Amhara remain at risk of further war crimes and crimes against humanity due to repeated violations of IHL and IHRL. Civilians in Tigray also remain at risk due to the continued presence of the EDF, which have repeatedly been accused of atrocity crimes while Eritrean authorities have allegedly sought to settle decades-old grievances with the TPLF through the collective punishment of Tigrayans.

The conflict in northern Ethiopia also sparked an increase in hate speech between ethnic groups across the country and caused other pre-existing ethnic tensions to flare. Inflammatory statements by political leaders may fuel further ethnic conflict.

Myriad conflicts across the country have shown a repeated pattern of abuse by the ENDF and others. Civilians in Oromia remain at heightened risk of atrocities due to ongoing fighting between OLA militants and the ENDF. Amharas in Oromia are also particularly vulnerable to attacks by the OLA. The targeting of civilians based on their identity may amount to crimes against humanity.

Ethiopia’s ethnic-based federalist system has resulted in widespread allegations of ethnic favoritism, deepening distrust between ethnic groups. Under the former TPLF-dominated ruling coalition, which controlled the government for 27 years prior to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed coming to power in 2018, many groups felt marginalized. A history of impunity and lack of effective transitional justice for human rights abuses perpetrated under successive ruling parties has exacerbated these grievances.


    • Residual tensions following the conflict and fragile peace process requiring ongoing negotiations and credible commitment to its implementation by all parties.
    • Policy or practice of impunity for or tolerance of serious violations of IHL and IHRL, of atrocity crimes or of their incitement.
    • Unresolved inter-communal tensions and the federal government’s fight against associated ethnic-based militias – many of whom are fighting for autonomy of their group.
    • Inflammatory rhetoric, propaganda campaigns or hate speech by political figures to capitalize on the politicization of ethnic identity.
    • Limited cooperation by the government with internationally mandated human rights mechanisms.


While meaningful steps to implement the cessation of hostilities agreement and the unfettered delivery of aid have been taken, the process must continue in good faith. The EDF should immediately withdraw from Ethiopia. The UN Security Council should impose an arms embargo and sanctions on spoilers to the peace process.

The government must take steps to hold a truly inclusive national dialogue to holistically address the root causes of recurrent inter-communal and ethnic-based conflicts. The government should also proceed with transparent accountability efforts for perpetrators of atrocities across the country, including those inciting violence. The government must refrain from violations of international law while conducting military operations and spare no effort to protect civilians. Armed groups must also end the targeting civilians.

Federal and regional authorities should cooperate with the ICHREE and allow it to carry out its mandate, including by allowing the mechanism unfettered access to all conflict areas. The HRC must renew the mandate of the ICHREE during its upcoming 54th session and ensure the full funding and staffing of the mechanism.


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