THE level of mass killings and human rights abuses in Ethiopia over the last several years of conflict is staggering, and the international community must step up efforts to protect civilians and hold perpetrators of gross human rights abuses accountable for their crimes, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia said after issuing its final report on 13 October.

The report gives the most detailed picture yet of human rights violations and abuses against civilians in Ethiopia during the two-year conflict in Tigray, Amhara, Afar and Oromia between 2020 and 2022. A central finding is the staggering scale of violations and abuses perpetrated by all parties to the conflict.

It found that the Ethiopian National Defence Forces, Eritrean Defence Forces, and allied regional Special Forces and militias are all responsible for mass killings, widespread and systematic rape and sexual violence, including sexualised slavery against women and girls, deliberate starvation, forced displacement, and large-scale arbitrary detentions which amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Tigray Forces are responsible for killings, widespread rape and sexual violence, destruction of property and looting amounting to war crimes.

“The scale and continuity of violence in Ethiopia since 3 November 2020 is such that the present report cannot be considered to be fully reflective of the harms experienced by civilians in the regions under investigation”, said Mohamed Chande Othman, the chairperson of the Commission.

The Commission noted that due to time and resource limitations, the Commission was not able to make a determination on the possible crime against humanity of extermination or genocide, and that further investigation is required to determine the full facts and legal implications.

The continued presence and violations by the Eritrean Defence Forces in Tigray before and after the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement in November 2022 and the spread of violence to near-national scale are stark reminders that without credible accountability for violations and crimes, nothing will stop impunity. There is no deterrence for future atrocity crimes.

“The prospects of meaningful domestic accountability are extremely remote”, said Radhika Coomaraswamy, an expert of the Commission. “The demands of victims and survivors for justice and accountability are clear and unwavering, and their voices must be heard.”

The termination of the Commission’s mandate, which comes at the end of the Human Right’s Council’s 54th Session on 13 October, leaves victims in limbo.

“It comes as a great blow to the many Ethiopian victims of these violations and abuses that the Commission will not be able to continue and conclude the investigations which we feel are a necessary condition for sustainable peace and justice in the country”, said Steven Rather, an expert of the Commission. “It is essential that this work continues, and this legacy report offers a detailed resource to support the fight against impunity in Ethiopia.”

“The closure of the Commission cannot mean the end to the road – not when the risks for future atrocity crimes are glaringly visible as the Commission assessed in its recent report,” Othman said. “States must continue to place the situation of human rights in Ethiopia high on the international agenda, and actively investigate and prosecute crimes committed in Ethiopia before their respective domestic courts, under the principle of universal jurisdiction.”

“The regional and international community, including the UN system, Special Procedures Mandate holders, and OHCHR, should not forget the victims of the brutal conflict and should strengthen its monitoring of the situation against set regional and international benchmarks”, Othman said.

* Read the report here.

* Source: Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights