The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC/the Commission) released today 40 pages human rights monitoring report on a monitoring mission it conducted into the human rights and humanitarian situation in Tigray from July 7 to July 30, 2023, in five zonal administrations in the region: Central, North-Western, Southern, South-Eastern zones and Mekelle special zone.

EHRC coordinated its human rights monitoring work on the post Pretoria Peace Agreement situation in the Tigray region with the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights East Africa Regional Office (OHCHR-EARO), in line with the respective mandates of the two institutions.

Interviews and focus group discussions were conducted with the Tigray Interim Regional Administration (TIRA) officials and public servants, residents, IDPs and representatives of humanitarian agencies to collect information on the current human rights and humanitarian situation. Documentary and photographic information were also collected in addition to information collected through in-person observations. Separate consultations with relevant regional administration officials were also conducted on specific thematic issues. In addition, between November 9 and 20, 2023, the Commission carried out a follow-up monitoring on the situation of IDPs, the findings of which will be published separately.

The mission focused on selected thematic human rights issues in the region but does not purport to be an exhaustive account of all issues. The thematic issues identified for monitoring include the humanitarian situation, the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs), the right to health, the right to education, conflict related sexual and gender-based violence (SGBV), law enforcement and rights of detainees, arrested persons and prisoners, extra-judicial killings, torture and ill-treatment, abductions and enforced disappearances, as well as forced displacement.

The humanitarian situation, including the provision of basic food and other assistance to IDPs, were inadequate. Moreover, the suspension of food assistance by major contributors, which was in effect across Ethiopia between March and November 2023, had further exacerbated the situation. Food and non-food items, including shelter and health services, were found to be severely lacking or non-existent in many of the IDP sites monitored at the time.

The Peace Agreement has enabled the resumption of formal relationship between sectoral federal and regional administrations and ongoing efforts aimed at restoring social services, including health and education. Several health care professionals returned to work, and most health centres were operational albeit with very limited capacity and significant shortage of professionals, medical equipment, pharmaceuticals, and other necessities. Rehabilitation of health centres which suffered damage and looting during the war had also started in some areas, such as Hintalo Woreda in the South-Eastern Zone, with the support of humanitarian agencies. Enhanced security also allowed patients to access medical services. The Regional Education Bureau applied an accelerated teaching method to compensate for classes missed during the conflict through an approach known as 2-4-4 strategy by dividing one year into four periods to teach two years of education in one year. Such strategies are common in post-conflict communities and promote access to education in an accelerated timeframe for students who missed their studies due to conflict and crisis.

However, full recovery and resumption of health and education services continue to be a challenge due to damaged infrastructure caused by conflict, or as in the case of a number of schools visited, some of the infrastructure is used to host IDPs. Additionally, lack of adequate educational supplies and dropout rates have challenged the full and effective resumption of education. EHRC monitored schools in Abi Addi town and Guya Kebele of Kolla Tembien Woreda, where looted or destroyed ICT equipment, libraries, laboratories, and office material await repairs and replacement. Regional authorities report, for example, that there was a significant shortage of teachers and students reporting back to schools in comparison to pre-conflict numbers. Of a total of more than 230,000 students before the conflict in Southern Tigray Zone alone, only 70,000 students returned to schools at the time of monitoring, while only 3,152 of 7,351 teachers reported back to work.

Some cases of SGBV were reported by victims arriving from areas which remain under the control of Eritrean Defense Forces and Amhara Forces since the Peace Agreement. Many of the survivors faced critical shortages of medical, psychosocial, legal and rehabilitative services also due to the overall situation of the region’s health sector. Survivors also faced stigma from the community, which led many to refrain from reporting violations and from seeking medical care. Medical and psychosocial care provided to survivors through hospitals and one-stop centres was overstretched. Key challenges include lack of trained medical and psycho-social professionals and acute shortage of medical and pharmaceutical supplies. Budget constraints also prevent medical centres from providing food, water, shelter, clothing, and sanitary kits to survivors.

Although encouraging results have been achieved in the re-operationalization of both prisons and police services, damage and looting of police stations and prisons in the region, as well as shortage of human resources, continue to be a challenge to ensure full functionality. Rebuilding law enforcement institutions has been a priority for the TIRA; however, regional courts, justice bureaus, police and prison administrations still face serious challenges in protecting human rights and upholding the rule of law. The integration of former Tigray Forces members into the regular police and prison services with inadequate training poses a threat to the protection of arrested persons, detainees, and prisoners. Basic services and supplies such as food, water, and medical treatment were also inadequate.

The monitoring mission to Tigray has highlighted that the protection of human rights and the alleviation of the humanitarian crisis in the region require continued and coordinated intervention by all stakeholders, including the TIRA, the Federal Government, and international partners. In addition to scaling up and revamping of humanitarian assistance to IDPs and other vulnerable groups, EHRC calls for enhanced support to the regional health, education, judicial and law enforcement sectors to expedite their full functionality and improve human rights protection.

Welcoming some notable progress in the human rights situation in the region following the Peace Agreement, EHRC Chief Commissioner Dr. Daniel Bekele emphasized that “while efforts to alleviate the humanitarian concern and to provide durable solutions to IDPs is important, coordinated support for survivors of SGBV and the full operationalization of health and educational services, as well as law enforcement mechanisms will greatly contribute to the improvement of the human rights situation in the region.”