Omna Tigray: On the Flawed UN OHCHR and EHRC Joint Investigation into Crimes Committed in Tigray

Omna Tigray resolutely rejects the joint investigation into the atrocities committed in the Tigray conflict by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), which is flawed in both methodology and execution.

It is to be recalled that important stakeholders including various Tigrayan organizations, human rights groups, the regional Government of Tigray, and members of the international community have repeatedly called for an independent and impartial investigation into war crimes, crimes against humanity, and acts of genocide committed throughout the war on Tigray. These stakeholders have also raised serious, legitimate concerns about the credibility and impartiality of the joint investigation. These concerns were vindicated by the spirit and letter of this profoundly flawed preliminary report. Despite these calls to the UN, the EHRC- a state-funded institution led by the state-appointed Chief Commissioner Daniel Bekele- became involved as a partner at the behest of the Ethiopian Government (which had and remains without Tigrayan representation in both chambers of parliament), rendering the investigation inadequate from its inception.

Those close to the investigation asserted that Bekele “underplayed some allegations that fighters from the country’s Amhara region were responsible for abuses in Tigray and pressed instead to highlight abuses by Tigray forces,”. This is reflected in the report, especially as it relates to the issue of sexual and gender-based violence, the Mai Kadra massacre, and numerous other attacks. Though hardly mentioned in the joint report, many Tigrayan women and girls implicate Amhara Regional Police Special Force members and Amhara Fano militia in committing weaponized sexual violence, including rape, gang-rape, sexual slavery, and sexual mutiliation as part of a campiang of ethnic cleansing. Furthermore, the investigation into the Mai Kadra massacre did not include testimonies from Tigrayan victims forced to flee into neighboring Sudan. Under the section ‘Attack on civilians and civilian objects’ of the report, there is no mention of Amhara Special Forces or Fano despite their documented involvement in the destruction of bridges and looting of property, forced eviction, and forced transfer of assets and private property to the extent that an Amhara regional bureau was established to legalize ownership of property looted from Tigray.

The UN component of the joint investigation team was heavily dependent on staff members of UN Ethiopia. A series of leaked documents and audio recordings have revealed that those in charge of many of these agencies have espoused extremely biased views, questioning the experience of survivors of SGBV and describing the weaponized rape against Tigrayans as “Media Hype”. This explicit bias that some top leaders of the UN Ethiopia team have exhibited has led to several suspensions/expulsions from the organization.This institutional context introduces a whole host of concerns about the impartiality and credibility of the investigation and its purported findings. 

Most alarmingly, the influence and participation via the EHRC of the Government of Ethiopia – a belligerent in the conflict and the principal party accused of war crimes, crimes against humanity and acts of genocide – is a violation of not only principles of impartiality and neutrality, but contravenes longstanding UN norms. Despite the unprecedented expulsion of UN human rights officer Sonny Onyegbula (who was working on the report) by the Ethiopian government last month, the UN indicated that the Ethiopian Government was sent the report in advance for comments on “anything it believes to be incorrect.” However, the same courtesy was not extended to the Government of Tigray, a government which has been vocal and consistent in calling for an impartial, independent investigation in the region. While Bekele claims the investigation lacked support from Tigray authorities currently administering the region, the Government of Tigray stated “hardly any effort” was made to reach out to them. Moreover, the UN human rights office has clearly stated, contradicting its co-investigator EHRC, that the Ethiopian government’s siege which has entailed severing communications and transportation into and out of Tigray is what made it difficult for investigators to access key sites of massacres and atrocities in Tigray. It is evident that the EHRC is not even representing the circumstances around the investigation transparently, which should lead all rational observers to question its capacity and willingness to present an accurate account of the atrocities. 

As such, because of the continuing siege enacted by the Ethiopian government, areas heavily impacted by some of the most egregious and violent attacks including Debre Abay, Mahbere Deigo, Edaga Berhe, Togoga, and the holy city of Axum, the site of the alleged massacre of several hundred people, were not investigated. Meanwhile, the report went to great lengths to include the Amhara cities Bahir Dar and Gondar, which have not seen even a fraction of the devastation that Tigray has, to create a false sense of equivalency concerning the level of impact.

The need for a truly impartial, independent investigation into the Tigray conflict to hold perpetrators of atrocities accountable and provide justice for impacted persons cannot be overstated. With many vital human rights agencies and foreign media barred from the region, it is important that the joint report is rejected as at best, an incomplete and at worst, dangerously inaccurate depiction of the atrocious events of the last year of the war on Tigray. 

Omna Tigray continues to call for UN-led, independent investigations into war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide in Tigray. To achieve this, we are requesting for a Commission of Inquiry (COI) to be established by the UN Human Rights Council to investigate crimes in the following areas appropriately:

  • Massacres and extrajudicial killings;
  • Sexual and gender-based violence;
  • Man-made famine and weaponized starvation; 
  • Displacement crisis, including the impact on refugees;
  • The wholesale destruction of religious sites and infrastructure relating to healthcare, the economy, and education;
  • Ethnic cleansing, including attempts to forcibly change identities;
  • Ethnic profiling and discrimination, including mass arrests, enforced disappearances, confiscation of property, and closure of businesses, as well as the conditions faced in the concentration camps;
  • The existential threat level for minorities in Tigray (Irob and Kunama);
  • Torture, inhumane treatment, and executions of Tigrayan POWs and the 17,000+ Tigrayan Ethiopian National Defense Force soldiers; and
  • Hate speech by Ethiopian government officials, state media, and civilians, and the intent to commit genocide.

The list above is not exhaustive, and we ask that the COI includes violations linked to the above. This can consist of the communications blackout, and regional and geopolitical dynamics via sales of drones and weapons then used to kill civilians. 


OMNA Tigray

OMNA TigrayPress Release, November 3, 2021