Originally Published on: Just Security
The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) will soon decide the future of an independent commission investigating alleged war crimes and other human rights violations in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and other areas. The panel of three experts has identified “grave and systematic violations of international law and crimes” since the November 2020 onset of a brutal conflict pitting Ethiopian government forces, backed by Eritrean troops and Amhara armed groups, against Tigrayan forces.
Despite its importance, the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) faces an uphill battle to renew its mandate. The United States and other western governments, which have their own geopolitical and economic reasons for appeasing Ethiopian leaders, argue the Ethiopian government’s draft transitional justice plan renders the commission unnecessary.
But Ethiopia’s path to enduring peace requires real political and legal accountability. Absent that, the risk of recurrence of heinous crimes, including war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide, remains palpable. Even U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a determination in March that the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF), the Amhara forces and Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) fighting with them, and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) all committed war crimes, and that members of the Ethiopian, Eritrean, and Amhara forces also committed crimes against humanity.
The ICHREE noted in its most recent report that “The conflict in Tigray has not ended, with Eritrean troops and Amhara militias engaging in ongoing violations.” It concluded that past and current abuses “demand further investigation,” and that the Ethiopian government “has failed to effectively investigate violations and has initiated a flawed transitional justice consultation process.”
Given the prevailing mistrust in national institutions and their limitations, only a neutral international body like ICHREE can conduct a thorough, independent, and comprehensive investigation into the atrocities in Tigray and other ongoing conflicts in Ethiopia. As the HRC prepares to decide this month whether to extend the commission’s mandate, it has a duty to uphold the core human rights principles on which it is founded. It should enhance ICHREE rather than discontinue it.