Excellency President of the Human Rights Council
Distinguished members of the Council
Ladies and Gentlemen, all protocols duly observed
The joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Human Rights Office into alleged violations committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray has concluded its field work and, the team is currently analysing the full range of information collected. Therefore, given that we are still at the stage of analysing the information and evidences we have gathered; and in accordance with the terms of reference and other agreed documents between the two institutions, we are not yet in a position to share any findings and conclusions at this stage.
But the types of human rights issues we investigate against all parties to the conflict include: attack against civilians and civilian objects and other protected persons and objects; unlawful or extra-judicial killings; forced displacement of people; sexual and gender-based violence; torture and other ill-treatment; arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearances; and violations against refugees.
I wish to urge members of the Council and others to wait for the final report of the joint investigation expected to be published on 1st of November 2021, which will include our findings, conclusions, and recommendations.
While we wait for the final report, I wish to share the following observations on the recent developments and overall environment affecting the human rights and humanitarian situation on the basis of my Commission’s ongoing monitoring activities to help inform this dialogue of the Council.
1. The last Resolution of this Council on Tigray (47/13) coincided with the first full week, since the announcement of a ceasefire by the Ethiopian government on June 28th. At the time, the ceasefire and the military developments seemed to indicate, and indeed gave hope, for an improvement of the humanitarian situation as well as a pathway to peace. The humanitarian report of that first week of July stated, “Humanitarian access had been significantly improving” and “75% of the population were [at the time] living in [areas] where relief operations can take place”.
2. However, less than three weeks into July, significant challenges emerged: TPLF put forward a set of preconditions to accept the ceasefire, it launched military offensive on neighbouring regions, movement of aid convoys were hampered, and it was followed by regrouping of military forces in neighbouring regions, national mobilization for war and counter offensive military operations. It soon became clear that communication, other public services, and humanitarian assistance will continue to be affected with the escalation of hostilities.
3. Therefore, the Tigray conflict itself has now become a misnomer- between July and August, more than 10 semi-urban or rural areas, in neighbouring Afar and Amhara regions, have changed hands at least once. Tens of thousands of people have been displaced in these two regions, adding to the massive toll of displacement in Tigray and other parts of the country.
Military clashes and movements have alternated between targeting transportation routes, civilian population, and infrastructure. In a far cry from the expected respite during the Ethiopian rainy season for agriculture and recovery, entire productive economies have been disrupted.
4. Despite the misinformation campaign and social media frenzy, Council members should also be cognizant that the human rights story of all these conflicts including in Tigray is not merely a black and white narrative. It has nuanced complexities and soldiers or fighters of all parties to the conflict and their affiliated groups are credibly implicated with violence against civilians and civilian infrastructures including sexual violence and use of child soldiers.
5. While we understand that the security problems created by the spread of the conflict to neighbouring regions has slowed humanitarian assistance, we remain concerned by the still dire humanitarian situation particularly of IDPs. The federal government, the local authorities in the region as well as the humanitarian agencies should redouble their efforts to ensure uninterrupted and improved provision of humanitarian assistance to civilians in Tigray and neighbouring regions.
6. The slow but gradual overtures to negotiations from both sides and some initiatives proposed by the international community are encouraging. However, if Ethiopia’s international partners trying to address the human rights crisis are to have a meaningful and constructive role, they should always work with full understanding of history and context of this complex political crisis.
7. But the Council members should also be cognizant that, it is still the people of Ethiopia who have the highest stake in putting an end to the suffering of their fellow Ethiopians. It is a principle that defines national sovereignty, but it is also a humane standard to live up to. This requires the humility to understand that no political righteousness or just cause is worth the level of human suffering we have lived through as a people and as a country during this war. It also requires the humility to understand that the available national, legal, and institutional parameters are far from being perfect, but that they are in every sense the most relevant and the most cost-effective tools for addressing the human rights crisis and finding a sustainable solution out of this war. Therefore, we urge all parties to the conflict as well as the international partners, to reach into this humility.