There is need for a truly independent probe into Ethiopia abuses

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The joint OHCHR/EHRC investigation into alleged atrocities in Tigre failed to establish a path towards accountability and justice for the victims.

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A Pig and a Chicken open a breakfast restaurant together, and their specialties are bacon and eggs. What is the difference between a chicken and a pig? The chicken is involved, but the pig is committed. For a chicken, laying a few eggs is an easy day’s job. But for Pig, providing bacon is a lifetime commitment.

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This well-known commercial narrative is perhaps the best example of the dynamics behind the Joint Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) on “alleged violations of international human rights, humanitarian and conflict in the Tigre region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia”. Committed by all parties to refugee law”.

Like Poultry, the UN Human Rights Office was only “involved” in this investigation. It had much to gain – in the form of appearing to do something to deliver some justice to the victims of the bloody conflict – but little to lose. On the other hand, the EHRC was really committed. After all, although legally an “autonomous” federal entity, the EHRC is part of the Ethiopian government – ​​its existence depends on federal funding and its commissioners share the vision of the Ethiopian government. In other words, for the EHRC, it was undoubtedly a lifetime commitment to protect the Ethiopian government in this investigation.

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Because of this belief, many in Ethiopia and abroad – especially those not buying into the Ethiopian government’s narratives about the war – have followed the United Nations’ decision to include the EHRC in its investigation into the Ethiopian war from the very beginning. opposed. Responding to a question as to why it opted to cooperate with the EHRC in Tigre, the OHCHR said it agreed to the arrangement as it was the only way for its investigators to gain access to Ethiopia and assess the situation on the ground. Was.

However, this argument did not quell the concerns. People rightly questioned whether the purpose could be served if atrocities were investigated by the alleged perpetrators under prescribed conditions and with their help. Some argued that an investigation involving the EHRC would be little more than a whitewashing exercise for the Ethiopian government. Pointing to credible reports of systemic sexual violence, starvation, widespread looting and infrastructure destruction coming from Tigre, critics said an investigation involving the EHRC failed to obtain uncensored testimony from victims for fear of government retribution. Wouldn’t be able to and thus wouldn’t even come close. Let alone naming the criminals to establish the truth.

joint investigation report Published on November 3, Sadly proved its critics right.

The report found, essentially, evidence of serious abuses, some of which may be war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, it did not even come close to uncovering the full extent of the devastation experienced by Tigreyan at the hands of Ethiopian government forces and their allies since last November.

The report spoke of “irrelevant killings and executions, widespread sexual violence, torture, forced displacement, arbitrary detention, violations of economic, social and cultural rights and denial of access to aid”, but did not give specifics. largely failed to establish, and the vast scope of these crimes.

There was one obvious reason behind the report’s inability to speak in detail and certainty about the atrocities allegedly committed at Tigre: the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), despite the EHRC’s involvement, did not have access to the geographic area it was assigned to. was alleged. To cover and where most offenses are presumed to have been committed.

Indeed, the JIT was unable to reach most of the torture areas due to what the report called “challenges and obstacles”. As a result, it failed to consider all credible reports of atrocities coming from regions such as Axum, Abi Adi, Hagere Selam, Togoga, Irob, Adwa, Adigrett, Hozen, Gidget and Maryam Denglat.

And even in areas where the JIT had access, the victims were reluctant to speak up – they did not believe in the impartiality of the investigative team and feared that they would be punished by the government if they mentioned the crimes committed against them. may face retaliation. of EHRC personnel.

In fact, the report itself noted that one of the challenges the JIT faced in collecting evidence was the “presumption of bias against the EHRC in parts of Tigre.” The report further states that “some potential interviewees declined to be interviewed by the JIT due to the presence of EHRC personnel”.

In addition, the comprehensive interviews conducted by UN officials with Tigrayan refugees in Sudanese refugee camps in November–December 2020 have not been included in the final UN/EHRC report. The United Nations mentions these interviews in its regular regional updates, but has not yet provided an explanation as to why it decided to exclude these important evidence from the UN/EHRC report.

By not visiting all torture areas, not interviewing a large number of victims from different localities, and not including the testimony of Tigreyan refugees in Sudanese camps in its final report, the United Nations limited its investigation into abuse and atrocities around victims. Violated the main principle of focusing.

The primary ambition of an independent investigation of atrocities should be to establish the truth of what happened, to give a voice to the victims, to create conditions for holding the perpetrators accountable, and to end impunity.

However, the UN/EHRC investigation into human rights violations in the Tigre achieved none of these goals. Not only did it fail to give voice to the majority of the victims of this conflict, but it also laid the groundwork for the Ethiopian government to avoid accountability for the atrocities committed by its forces and allies in the Tigre.

In fact, more articles in the final UN/EHRC report called for an cessation of hostility, reconciliation, and capacity-building, impunity, and impunity than demanded accountability.

Furthermore, the report takes the word of the Ethiopian government that its “independent” institutions will hold all criminals – including the government – accountable for the atrocities committed in Tigre. “International mechanisms complement and do not replace national systems,” the report said. “In this regard, the JIT was told that national institutions such as the Office of the Federal Attorney General and military justice organs have initiated procedures to hold criminals accountable, with some offenders already convicted and sentenced. Is.”

It is strange that the United Nations appears to believe that the Ethiopian National Defense Force and the Attorney General of the Ethiopian government can ensure accountability. The Ethiopian National Defense Force is a major party in the war, and like the Attorney General, the EHRC, does not have the freedom of prosecution to hold Ethiopian government officials accountable.

The United Nations has no shortage of experience in conducting independent, balanced investigations of brutal, complex and multifaceted conflicts. It has established countless independent commissions of inquiry and international fact-finding missions around the world and tasked them with investigating atrocities and recommending corrective action based on their findings. From Burundi, South Sudan and Gaza to Syria, Libya and Lebanon, such investigations gave victims a chance to voice their truth, and ensured legal and political accountability for perpetrators. Furthermore, the comprehensive reports that these investigations produced serve as historical records of serious crimes, withstood the test of time, and deter revisionist tendencies.

In Ethiopia’s conflict, however, UN efforts to find the truth and call for accountability fall short of all of its established standards. The UN/EHRC report not only failed to establish the truth of Ethiopia’s bloody and ongoing conflict, but it also caused many affected by these atrocities to lose any faith in the United Nations.

But it is not too late for the United Nations to compensate for its many failures in Ethiopia.

The joint report itself points to the need for further investigation and accountability. Now the United Nations must begin working towards establishing and supporting a fully independent, international investigative mechanism that can conduct a meaningful investigation, listening to all – none of the victims – for future trials. Preserve evidence and facilitate genuine accountability.

The Tigrayans, and Ethiopians at large, deserve nothing less.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial stance of Al Jazeera.

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