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Open call to Commissioner Bachelet

Open call to Commissioner Bachelet


Seven Reasons why the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission must not be Involved in Investigating the Tigray mass Atrocities.


Michael Fithanegest



It is a shame that various UN organs, including the powerful Security Council, have not yet established an independent commission of inquiry for the mass crimes being committed in Tigray and outside Tigray by the Eritrean, federal and Amhara forces.


Despite a series of credible reports of civilian massacres, widespread rape, evictions, total destruction of villages, the shelling of cities, towns and villages and the total pillaging and wanton destruction of private and public property, your office has oddly committed itself to undertake jointed inquiry into the alleged crimes with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).


I would urge you that the EHRC or any other Ethiopian (or Eritrean) institution must not be involved in investigating the mass crimes perpetrated in Tigray and against Tigrayans elsewhere in Ethiopia, for the following seven reasons that need to be considered cumulatively.


First, the alleged grave breaches to the Geneva Conventions and the serious violations of the laws of war, crimes against humanity and genocide committed and continue to be committed in Tigray necessitate an impartial, well-coordinated and resourced international inquiry.  Credible and neutral bodies such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others have been calling for such an investigation. In other words, it is wrong to involve a state organ when tens of thousands of civilians have been massacred, thousands have been violently raped, 4.5 million people are at the brink of famine, hundreds of thousands of civilians have been forcefully evicted from their homes and private and public property have been deliberately looted, vandalised and destroyed. Preventing and responding to universal crims of such a magnitude is the responsibility of the international community.


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Secondly, the crimes against Tigrayans are also committed, and continue to be committed, outside the warzone by the state and its allies. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans were harassed and detained--and still are languishing in concentration camps in various parts of Ethiopia. This includes members of the defence and police forces, civil servants, businesspeople and activists. Some journalists and civilians have been brutally killed by the state. Tens of thousands of Tigrayans have been purged from their jobs, including Ethiopian airlines staff, their only crime being a Tigrayan. All Tigrayans have been subjected to ethnic profiling when traveling and are still abused in the form of indiscriminate searches verbal and physical abuses. All these are well documented; the EHRC has, if not fully, endorsed them at the start of the armed conflict.


Thirdly, the Ethiopian regime along the Eritrean and Amhara authorities and their forces are fully implicated in the crimes; they cannot investigate the crimes in which they are implicated. The leader of the Ethiopian regime, Abiy Ahmed Ali, his military commanders, security officials and the Amhara forces are leading and executing what they call ‘law and order operations’ in a coordinated manner. The EHRC is a state organ established and financed by the State; and its officials and its commissioner are appointed and paid by the same State. It is an ABC of justice that a state or officials of a state who are implicated in committing gross war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide cannot investigate their own crimes. This has not happened in Sudan, the former Yugoslavia or in the aftermath of World War II. Ethiopia tried war crimes and genocide using.

domestic courts but was not in the middle of a conflict, ethnic cleansing involving foreign forces committing massacres.



 Fourthly, a foreign state, Eritrea is fully implicated in the international crimes committed in Tigray; such crimes cannot be investigating by a domestic institution of another country. An investigation into Eritrea’s behaviour by an Ethiopian national institution cannot be credible for two compelling main reasons: (i) the Ethiopian and Eritrean leaders are allies and partners in crime with respect to the Tigray war; using an Ethiopian institution to prob the behaviour of Eritrea would therefore fail the test of neutrality and credibility.  And (ii) even if we give the benefit of the doubt to those who wrongly trust the EHRC, it was not set to investigate the crimes committed by a foreign power; this raises questions of mandate, resource, expertise and experience. Put simply, the alleged crimes have been perpetrated by two states and domestic actors. They must be investigated by an international impartial body.


Fifthly, the Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces not only deny the existence of an armed conflict in Tigray, but also the mass atrocities, evictions, rapes, property destruction and looting, which strongly signals that they will do everything they can to destroy evidence. These forces, including the EHRC, do not recognise the existence of armed conflict while they have deployed the entire army, the air force, mechanised divisions and foreign forces and drones to the conflict in Tigray. It has to be stressed that the Eritrean army occupies several cities and rural areas of Ethiopia, while the Amhara forces set up their own administration in western and southern Tigray, in contravention of Ethiopia’s sovereignty and constitution, respectively. These are strong reasons to exclude any Ethiopian state institution from carrying out inquiries into the crimes. If not, the risk of obstruction of justice is extremely high.


Sixthly, tens of thousands of victims of grave violence, their families, the millions who have been displaced, evicted, starved and terrorised would not have trust and confidence in any inquiry where the Ethiopian state is involved; such an endeavour would be doomed to fail from the start let alone to deliver justice and calm. The interest and dictates of justice require that victims and survivors of such heinous crimes, their families and the Tigray people must be heard by a neutral body, not by those who might have contributed to the crimes either directly or indirectly or through silence. The EHRC, although made some noise in relation to ethnic profiling and the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Amhara forces at the beginning of the conflict, it was mostly silent while mothers, girls and fathers cry, civilians are deliberately targeted by the three forces, hundreds of thousands of Tigrayans are evicted from their homes and deliberately exposed to famine. The Commission was also silent regarding the concentration camps established in various parts of Ethiopia in which horrible crimes continue to be committed, including torture and inhumane treatment against military and police officers. If it was fast enough to make a verdict on the Mi-Kadra massacre, why not on the Axum, Mariam-denglat and many other atrocities? Sadly, and thanks to Abiy Ahmed Ali, the Ethiopian public is now more fragmented along ethnic lines than before. In order to ensure trust and confidence of the Tigray people, therefore, it is imperative to not involve the EHRC and other state institutions in the criminal investigations. 


Last but not least, ending the on-going crimes committed with impunity and holding those responsible to account necessitate a UN-led intervention to investigate the crimes and restore peace and stability through serving justice to those who have been massacred, raped, evicted and starved en mass. The Tigray case is similar to, or worse than, the Darfur, former Yugoslavia and Rwanda atrocities, in many respects. The Eritrean, Ethiopian and Amhara forces backed by the UAE, the ousted Trump Administration have encircled a population of six million with the intention of exterminating and subduing them to submission.


In brief, ignoring these pleas would seriously damage the credibility and trustworthiness of any UN body, let alone a human rights commission, and tantamount to complicity in denial and the obstruction of justice. The so-called joint investigation with the Ethiopian regime must therefore be abandoned immediately. This does not entail that a UN investigation could not use state institutions, such as the EHRC, as sources of information, but not as partners of criminal inquiry. Stick to the right action-- undertaking impartial international investigation as strongly proposed by the US, Amnesty and Human Rights Watch.



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