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).
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. The independent mandate and work of ICHREE is crucial to preserve the opportunity for victims of grave international crimes to have access to justice, particularly because of the eroding environment for independent media and human rights monitoring of conflict-affected areas of Ethiopia. We are deeply concerned about the government’s ongoing harassment of human rights defenders, including at the judicial level.
In November 2022, the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan authorities signed a cessation of hostilities agreement. While the agreement restored some long overdue aspects of civilian life, including easing some restrictions on basic services and humanitarian assistance, independent, effective investigations with a view to prosecution of grave international crimes will be key. The work and mandate of ICHREE would complement the cessation of hostilities agreement which recognizes the need for accountability and justice.
Victims of violations and their families in northern Ethiopia, as well as in other parts of the country, have expressed a lack of trust in state institutions and continue to seek greater international attention to their suffering and for action to end impunity. Ethiopia’s efforts to terminate ICHREE’s work would silence the hope and trust that victims have placed in it, including those who have already engaged with the ICHREE in the hope that their stories would be told.
With ongoing human rights abuses, and credible investigations and accountability at the domestic level still elusive, the Human Rights Council and its members should support those seeking justice and enable ICHREE to continue to fulfill the mandate it was given in 2021: to collect and preserve evidence of serious crimes committed, and to identify those responsible, with a view—where possible—to make such information accessible and usable in support of ongoing and future accountability efforts.
The United Nations Human Rights Council established the ICHREE on 17 December 2021 through resolution S-33/1 and tasked it with investigating and documenting violations of international law committed by all parties to the armed conflict since November 2020, with a view to making such information available to support future accountability efforts. In September 2022, the council renewed ICHREE’s mandate for one year. ICHREE is scheduled to provide an oral update to the Council at its 52nd session on 21 March 2023 and present its comprehensive report in September 2023.
During the two-year armed conflict in northern Ethiopia, all parties to the conflict committed gross human rights violations that amount to crimes under international law such as war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions. As one of the parties to the armed conflict, the Ethiopia military and its allied forces, including the Eritrean military, have been implicated in serious international law violations, including war crimes and crimes against humanity. These abuses include targeted attacks on civilians and civilian objects, indiscriminate attacks, mass extrajudicial executions, rape and other forms of sexual violence, denial of humanitarian assistance, arbitrary detention, and pillage.
Governments are obligated to provide victims of abuses and their families with a meaningful remedy. Such a right includes access to justice, the right to truth, and reparations for the harm suffered. The absence of genuinely independent, impartial, and competent domestic investigations and prosecution, necessitates the ICHREE to continue to fulfill the mandate it was given in 2021.
The Ethiopian government rejected early calls for independent regional and international investigations, claiming that it was capable of carrying out such investigations itself. Meanwhile, government investigations and accountability steps taken so far to hold its forces and that of its allies accountable, including Eritrean forces, have fallen far short from being credible and effective. Where warring states parties fail to pursue credible and meaningful investigations that can hold those responsible for grave violations to account, the international community should intervene to ensure justice and accountability for international crimes.
At the regional level, Ethiopian authorities urged the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) Commission of Inquiry on Tigray to “cease” its operations in June 2021, and refused to cooperate with the commission after the ACHPR refused to conduct their inquiry jointly with the national Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a federal body.
Similarly, Ethiopia has rejected ICHREE’s mandate since its inception, refused to cooperate with it, denied ICHREE access to conflict-affected areas inside Ethiopia, and repeatedly taken measures to undermine its work. It introduced resolutions twice at the UN General Assembly for its funding to be denied, most recently in December 2022. Since January, Ethiopia has called on the European Union, which are the penholders on the resolution, as well as ambassadors from the United Kingdom, the United States, and EU member states to terminate the mandate. In his speech during the Executive Council meeting of the African Union on 15 February 2023, the Deputy Prime Minister of Ethiopia announced that Ethiopia would submit a resolution to terminate the mandate of ICHREE during the 52nd session of the Council.