The Need for an Independent Investigation in Tigray
- Since the unelected Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, waged a genocidal war on Tigray on November 4, 2020, Tigrayans have endured population displacement, weaponized starvation, weaponized rape, healthcare emergencies, lack of access to essential services and needs, and other war crimes.
- Reportedly more than 70,000 civilians have died, over 70,000 Tigrayans have fled to Sudan seeking refuge, over 2.2 million Tigrayans are internally displaced, and 4.5 million Tigrayans are at imminent risk of starvation.
- There is an urgent need for an independent investigation of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide in Tigray.
- The Ethiopian government has agreed to a joint investigation with the United Nations (UN) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC). There are many reasons why this investigation will not be impartial or credible.
- This calls for a UN-led and UN-only investigation into the atrocities being committed in Tigray.
The EHRC is Not Independent
- The EHRC’s lack of independence, impartiality, credibility, and promptness has been evident since the start of the conflict in November 2020.
- The EHRC is a state-appointed and state funded institution. It relies on state funding to run its operation and its commissioners are appointed by parliament.
- The EHRC also reports to the House of Peoples’ Representatives. The parliament is meant to represent all the people of the federation. However, currently, the people of Tigray are not represented in the parliament.
- It is concerning that the EHRC is reporting to parliament about crimes committed in Tigray without Tigrayans having any political representation in the parliament.
The EHRC Lacks Credibility
- Since Abiy came to power in 2018, there has been a lack of reporting on human rights violations against Oromos by the EHRC–an oversight now occurring in other parts of Ethiopia.
- An Amnesty International report from 2019 about the Oromia region stated that the “EHRC is lacking independence and serving government interests rather than providing accountability for abuses.”
- In 2020, the Danish Institute for Human Rights launched a program to assist the EHRC in becoming fully independent. This initiative is still in the initial stages of implementation, demonstrating the EHRC’s ongoing lack of independence according to outside human rights organizations.
- In recent EHRC reports regarding Tigray, the focus has largely been on atrocities committed by Eritrean soldiers, with little mention of the atrocities committed by Ethiopian soldiers. However, according to refugees, the UN, and credible international media outlets, Ethiopian soldiers have taken part in the atrocities being committed in Tigray, alongside Eritrean soldiers and Amhara militia, particularly in sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) and extrajudicial killings.
The EHRC’s Lack of Impartiality, Credibility and Promptness
- The EHRC has failed to investigate and/or issue statements on several of the atrocities being committed during the genocidal war in Tigray.
- Civilians are being massacred all over Tigray. There are credible concerns of ethnic cleansing in Western and Southern Tigray.
- Hunger is being used as a weapon in Tigray and civilians have been cut off from basic life-sustaining services, such as water.
- There have also been countless reports of Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces, as well as Amhara militia.
- Destruction and looting of essential infrastructures, like schools, religious sites, and hospitals that provide life-saving treatments and medications have also been reported.
- The EHRC has not called for evidence preservation or monitoring in Tigray. It has simply stated that it has been “unable to access certain areas.”
The EHRC’s Lack of Impartiality, Credibility and Promptness Continued
- Since the war started in Tigray, the EHRC has issued three preliminary reports (Mai Kadra massacre, Axum massacre, and SGBV). There has been a lack of transparency in the investigations carried out by the EHRC.
- The Mai Kadra massacre: Two weeks after the incident, the EHRC came out with a one-sided preliminary report that presents ethnic Amharas as the sole victims and blamed TPLF and Samri, a youth group allegedly affiliated with the TPLF, for attacking ethnic Amharas. The EHRC failed to conduct an in-depth investigation to uncover the truth. Amnesty was quick to publish EHRC’s findings, though later amended its conclusions, stating “It’s possible that civilians from both ethnicities were targeted in Mai Kadra.”
- The Axum massacre: The EHRC did not report on this incident until 4 months after it happened. The EHRC waited until it was widely talked about following the report by Amnesty International. The EHRC released their report a day after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed admitted that Eritrean troops were present in Tigray during his address on March 23, 2021.
- SGBV reporting: The EHRC published findings of 108 rape cases in Ayder and Adigrat hospitals in Mekelle. However, it did not assign responsibility despite SGBV survivors, the media, independent human rights institutions implicating Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces.
The EHRC’s Lack of Impartiality, Credibility and PromptnessContinued
- This pattern of concealing human right violations is perpetuated and encouraged by the Ethiopian government in trying to use the EHRC as an institutional tool to downplay or cover up war crimes and crimes against humanity.
- Given the ethnic nature of the war, EHRC employees cannot impartially investigate the gross human rights violations and ethnic cleansing committed by Amhara militia in Southern and Western Tigray.
- For example, in a report released by EHRC regarding Dansha, Western Tigray, an administrator installed by Amhara regional claimed that “Tigrayans live peacefully in the area, but those residents who felt at risk were provided with transportation to their chosen destinations.”
- This is an example of how the EHRC tactically avoids naming the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans that has been taking place in Western Tigray.
- The EHRC has also used language that encourages land grabbing, ethnic cleansing, and genocide against Tigrayans in its reports.
- “Residents of Tigray,” instead of “the people of Tigray” or “Tigrayans.” This is a deliberate attempt to undermine the Tigrayan suffering and identity.
Lack of Trust in the EHRC
- The EHRC is not a trusted entity amongst Tigrayans in Ethiopia or outside of Ethiopia. It is not seen as being independent of the Ethiopian government.
- Polls, sentiment analysis, community letters, campaigns, and social media can attest to this. Thus, any outcome of an EHRC investigation will never be seen as credible by the victims’ communities.
- Based on a random sample of 16,908 tweets mentioning ‘EthioHRC, ’ a basic sentiment analysis shows negative reactions to the announcement of the joint UN Human Rights Council and EHRC investigation of human rights violations in Tigray. Based on these tweets, 68% of reactions were negative, 19% mixed, 12% neutral, and 1% positive.
- The Global Society of Tigray Scholars and Professionals also conducted a survey on Twitter which resulted in the results to the left.
The Need for an Independent Investigation in Tigray
- The EHRC is not an independent organization, therefore, a joint investigation will not be impartial nor credible. It cannot be trusted to do further investigations in these complex, ethnically sensitive, and large-scale genocidal acts against Tigrayans.
- A UN-mandated investigation – without the EHRC – is an essential first step towards the path of peacemaking in
- The inclusion of the EHRC, an organization that lacks credibility, impartiality, and independence, is only going to result in a biased investigation that is unjust for the victims of these atrocities.