Ethiopia: Human Rights - Civilian Suffering in Tigray

(file photo).
3 December 2021

Albab Tesfaye and Chaan Tutlam outline report findings

Since the conflict between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray Special Forces began 12 months ago, more than 50,000 people have sought refuge in Sudan. By August 2021, more than 1.7 million people were internally displaced in Tigray, while Afar and Amhara regional states have also been affected, with fighting continuing to expand in these regions.

The ongoing conflict is making the humanitarian situation much worse and making access difficult. Millions of people in northern Ethiopia are in need.

In March 2021, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) agreed to conduct a joint investigation into alleged human rights and humanitarian law violations committed by all parties during the conflict in Tigray.

The objective was to provide a faithful account of the situation in Tigray, facilitate the process of accountability and ensure redress for victims. The investigation covered the period from the start of the war on November 3, 2020, until the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the federal government on June 28, 2021.

The Joint Investigation Team visited several locations in the Tigray region and some affected locations in the Amhara region. It conducted 269 confidential interviews with victims and witnesses of alleged violations and abuses, and held 64 meetings with federal and regional authorities, representatives of UN agencies and non-governmental organizations, community groups, medical personnel and other sources.

The standard of proof adopted by the joint investigation was 'reasonable grounds to believe'. This is consistent with other investigations of this nature.

The joint investigation team found serious violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict

The joint investigation team found serious violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict: namely, the Ethiopian National Defence Force, Eritrean Defence Force, African Standby Force and its allied militia and group, and the Tigrayan Special Forces and its allied militia and group. Some of these abuses and violations may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

Specifically, the joint investigation found instances of attack on civilians and civilian objects; unlawful and extra-judicial killings; torture and ill-treatment; arbitrary detention and enforced disappearances; pillaging, looting and destruction of property; sexual and gender-based violence; forced displacement; unlawful restrictions on freedom of expression and freedom of movement; and violations of economic, social and cultural rights. It also found violations of the rights of refugees, children, older people, people with disabilities, and internally displaced people.

Its report, published on November 3, 2021, presents an opportunity for all parties: to take responsibility for the grave violations; to commit to taking concrete measures on accountability and redress for victims; and to search for a sustainable solution to find long-lasting peace.

Both the EHRC and OHCHR urged the international community to support Ethiopia in its efforts to end the conflict and the abuses. The two bodies will jointly monitor implementation of the recommendations in the report by liaising with relevant governmental and non-governmental actors.

EHRC continues to monitor the human rights situation in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions, despite difficulties in accessing these areas. On November 13, 2021, the commission published a short report on violations and abuses of human rights and humanitarian law in the Amhara region.

Alleviating the humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia is intrinsically linked with putting an end to the hostilities. It is therefore vital that all parties to the conflict prioritize dialogue for a peaceful resolution to the conflict to end the suffering of the civilian population.

Albab Tesfaye - Director, Office of the Chief Commissioner, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

Chaan Tutlam - Human Rights Officer for Regional and International Engagement, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

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