To: Dr. Michelle Bachelet,
Commissioner, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR)
52 rue des Pâquis
CH-1201 Geneva, Switzerland.
Re: INVOLVEMENT OF EHRC TO INVESTIGATE THE WAR CRIME IN TIGRAI IS NOT ACCEPTABLE DUE TO APPARENT CONFLICT OF INTEREST.
Dear Commissioner Dr. Bachelet,
Before I turn the page into my message, please allow me to express my heartfelt gratitude and sincere appreciation to you and the OHCHR team of experts. Your positive statements regarding the dire situation in Tigrai are commendable and uplifting. Just to cite a few:
"Deeply distressing reports of sexual and gender-based violence, extrajudicial killings, widespread destruction and looting of public and private property by all parties continue to be shared with us, as well as reports of continued fighting in central Tigray in particular."
"Credible information also continues to emerge about serious violations of international human rights law and humanitarian law by all parties to the conflict in Tigray in November last year."
"Without prompt, impartial, and transparent investigations and holding those responsible accountable, I fear violations will continue to be committed with impunity, and the situation will remain volatile for a long time to come."
These positive statements just popped into my head and piqued my curiosity to explore your bios. I found your political milestones and accomplishments to be remarkable. Your bios have enlightened me not to wonder why you have made such positive statements. I wasn't surprised why you put yourself in others' shoes. After your office has received reports from credible media outlets, you stepped forward to take the bull by the horns and be a voice for the voiceless in Tigrai who are miserably crying for rescue.
Then, if not you, Commissioner Dr. Bachelet, then who do you think would have a better knowledge and understanding of a complex and consequential human rights violation, humanitarian crisis, and war crimes such as the one in Tigrai? Taking your biography into consideration, I have no single doubt about your capacity, integrity, impartiality, moral principles, transparency, and independent judgment.
However, I am writing this to express my concern regarding your office's shift in position, recently reported by various media organizations as, "The United Nations human rights chief Michelle Bachelet has agreed to an Ethiopian request for a joint investigation in the country's northern Tigray region, where Bachelet says possible war crimes may have been committed; and The U.N. Human Rights Office and the EHRC are now developing an investigation plan, which includes resources needed and practical modalities, to launch the missions as soon as possible."
Dear Commissioner Dr. Bachelet,
I am aware that your office has been consistently probing for an independent investigation. For instance, in one of the press releases, you said, "With multiple actors in the conflict, blanket denials, and finger-pointing, there is a clear need for an objective, independent assessment of these reports – victims and survivors of these violations must not be denied their rights to the truth and justice", said the High Commissioner, urging the Government to grant OHCHR and other independent monitors access to the region, to establish the facts and contribute to accountability."
Nonetheless, I found the recent news about OHCHR's agreement to accept the EHRC request for a joint investigation to be dumbfounding. I can't understand it, I can't believe it, and I can't accept it. I am not a lawyer but my common sense is that involving the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) to jointly investigate the claims of a complex, multifront, and serious violations of international human rights and humanitarian laws tantamount to allowing a criminal offender to investigate herself/himself and expect them to admit and declare their guiltiness.
I am highly doubtful that you have firsthand information about what the EHRC, under the leadership of Commissioner Daniel Bekele, has been saying and reporting about the devastating war in Tigrai. Allow me to share a few examples.
First, Commissioner Bekele covertly and overtly, stood in support of the ongoing all-out war in Tigrai which was declared under the pretext of a "law enforcement operation." He failed to demonstrate and play a leadership quality to discharge his responsibility as a human rights commissioner. He got trapped by conflict interests and remained voiceless in the face of crimes against humanity. Rather, he did the opposite. He tried his best to cover up, for example, the atrocious massacre that occurred on November 9 in Mai-Kadra (one of the towns of Tigrai). Commissioner Bekele even rushed to making a hasty and unfounded conclusion and accusation: "A youth group in the rebellious Tigray region carried out an atrocious massacre of hundreds of Amhara civilians, aided by Tigrayan security forces."
Had it not been for the independent media organizations, Commissioner Bekele's motive would have remained concealed and unnoticed. Thanks to the independent media who later proved his conclusions and accusations to be false. They thwarted his effort to hide the facts. They uncovered the fact that the victims of en mass killings were not the Amharas but the Tigraian ethnic group. The killers were the Amhara special forces/militias and youth group also known as Fanos.
Second, Commissioner Bekele recently has been reported for having said, "It is comforting to learn that the operation didn't result in as severe consequences as it was originally feared to be, there was a much hyped about the bloodbath, civilian casualties, breaking up of the country …." Mind you, he made such generalization in few days, without due process of investigation. What was the expectation of commissioner Bekele? Extermination of the whole people of Tigray? I think so.
Otherwise, reports have indicated that close to 50,000 to 60, 000 people have been inhumanly and savagely massacred to date; thousands of women and young girls have been raped and sexually abused. The war has been reported to have utilized starvation to subjugate the people and give up their hope; millions are denied access to health services; premeditated crimes and physical harms, en mass killings, gang rapes, and sexual assaults are causing unseen physical, mental and psychological traumas, and humiliations not only to victims but also to their families and the society as a whole. There are credible reports about looting and pillaging of properties and livestock.
Third, even after sufficient information have been made available depicting horrifying realities and hard to imagine and explain, Commissioner Bekele and his office have opted to either remain silent or downplay the report by making discordant statements. While the massacre of close to 800 people in Axum sent shock waves to the international community, it was a business as usual for him. He even tried to criticize the preliminary reports documented by international media organizations, as well as Amnesty International to be of exaggerated accounts and unfounded allegations. Commissioner Bekele deliberately remained unresponsive and negligent due to apparent conflict of interest.
Otherwise, there exist evidence that reflect inhuman, savagery, and extrajudicial killings and crimes of mass starvations and ethnic cleansing. The target of the war is not discrete to the action of armed conflict and is not limited to combatant militaries. Massive civilians and non-combatant members have been targeted and massacred. Houses, churches, mosques, historical heritages, and infrastructures have been bombed and destroyed, factories dismantled and looted, crops torched, and livestock killed.
As a result, the people of Tigrai are crying for desperate and urgent help. However, commissioner Bekele has remained silent and ignored the pains of millions. He failed to discharge his responsibility as a human rights commissioner while the international community has been untiredly asking for an unfettered access and independent investigation.
The aforementioned three scenarios reflect the fact that EHRC is not an entity that qualify and must not take part in such a potentially serious war crime in Tigrai which demands an investigation by an independent and impartial entity like OHCHR.
I would have been surprised if EHRC had recused itself. I am not astonished by EHRC’s requested for a joint investigation as this opens a door of opportunity to manipulate, misguide, misinform, misjudge and distort the outcome of the investigation. What is astonishing to me is OHCHR’s agreement to jointly investigate the case with the EHRC.
Dear Commissioner Dr. Bachelet,
It is imperative to note that the government of Tigrai has been consistently calling for an independent investigation while EHRC, under the leadership of Commissioner Bekele, as you are aware, remained unwilling to accept such repeated requests. This can be explained by nothing but a conflict of interest. EHRC has a clear competing interest or loyalty to the Ethiopian PM and Amhara chauvinist groups.
Without question, you are the most qualified and knowledgeable person to educate the world about the importance and relevance of a conflict of interest. I am a government employee, required to have a clear understanding of rules and policies dealing with conflict of interests. My employer now and then educated and reminded every employee that two relationships or competing interests can't do justice. A person or entity might have a loyalty to either one as each one of them expects the person to first meet or have its best interest. EHRC is accountable to the PM and understandably, is expected to remain loyal to the PM.
Dear Commissioner Dr. Bachelet,
Your educational background and professional qualification places you in a unique position to understand and appreciate the misery and suffering of the Tigrai people. As a Medical doctor, with a specialization in surgery, paediatrics, and public health, who gained unparalleled experiences by serving your country, República de Chile, as a minister of health, it is easy for you to perceive the risks and feel the pains of the people who are suffering from lack of basic health needs and lifesaving drugs. Your study in military strategy and experience as a first female Defense Minister are very relevant to realizing and explaining how destructive and consequential the all-out war such as the one in Tigrai.
I have become aware of the fact that your walk of life wasn't straightforward. Rather, it was a journey full of ups and downs. An undemocratic political environment made your life bumpy. Your biography indicated the fact that your father was arrested and tortured for his political position. Honestly, I couldn't control my emotion when I learned about the death of your father after suffering a heart attack while in prison. As if this wasn't enough, you too, along with your mother, were arrested and sent to prison. As a result, your medical education halted. You had experienced life in exile before returning to Chile. Again, for a political reason, you found it difficult to find employment in Pinochet's Chile, before you joined a medical clinic that treated victims of torture.
Now, you are serving the world, assuming one of the most respectful and responsible offices, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which plays challenging and critical roles in preventing human rights violations and securing respect for human rights. This work environment furnishes a unique opportunity to devote your accumulated wisdom to fighting and serving as an independent voice for the voiceless and advocating equalities and empowerment of women, girls, marginalized societies, and vulnerable groups, irrespective of their culture, religion, colour, ethnicity, socio-economic status, and political positions and affiliations.
I strongly believe that your personal educational background, experience and service as a first popularly elected president of República de Chile, unquestionably rank as one of the most qualified individuals worldwide who can easily understand politicians’ conspiracies, intrigues and deceptions. The Ethiopian PM waged a senseless and purposeless war against the people of Tigrai. The war drove many to become fatherless or motherless. It deprived thousands of social services including education and health. The people of Tigrai are living in total darkness. Thousands are languishing in prison without due legal process and for no wrongdoings. A lot have become the subject of torture, sexual abuse and raping. Several thousands have lost their lives and many their extremities and visions. Millions are displaced from their home and many thousands forced to live in exile. These people deserve to receive transparent, impartial, genuine and serious investigation.
Dear Dr. Commissioner Bachelet,
So, if not you then who do you think would have a better knowledge and understanding of a complex and consequential human rights violation, humanitarian crisis, and war crimes such as the one in Tigrai? Who would be in a better position than you to understand the critical importance and relevance of a transparent, impartial, genuine and serious investigation? Taking your biography into account, I have no single doubt about your capacity, integrity, impartiality, moral principles, transparency, and independent judgment.
I, therefore, respectfully request your office to reconsider the agreement made to investigate the all-out war in Tigrai jointly with EHRC. There exists a substantial and apparent conflict of interests that should prohibit EHRC from being involved as an investigator. The war is intricate. Its impacts are immeasurable and of heavy implications. The matter requires strict scrutiny of any potential conflict of interests, professional integrity, honesty, transparency, moral compass, and impartial judgment.
March 22, 2021
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