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UNHRC Must Conduct Independent, Transparent and International, Not a Sham Investigation of the Genocidal War on Tigray

By M. Tesfay
Tigrai Online March. 27, 2021

1. Background and Context - The Genocidal War on Tigray

1.1 It is in its fifth month since Tigray, an Autonomous and Self-governing Region within the Ethiopian Federal Republic, has been under the grip of the invading and occupying forces of the Ethiopian Federal Government, the Eritrean Regime and the Amahra Regional Government Special Forces, Militia and Fano Paramilitary.

1.2 The magnitude and extent of the killings, atrocities and massacres occurring in Tigray defy verbal descriptions; and are unprecedented in the country’s history. The Axum Massacre of 800+ civilians and the Mariam Dengolat Monastery Massacre of 164 citizens as well as the on-going atrocities and massacres in Northern, Western, Eastern and Southern Tigray are of genocidal proportion. The so far restricted and very limited reporting by the international media, largely confined to urban areas, tell horror stories of widespread atrocities and massacres, hunger and starvation, and sexual violence and rape on industrial scale. Indeed, the War on Tigray is utterly barbaric and ‘total war’ in character, design and operation. Virtually every day crime against humanity and war crimes have been committed by the Abiy Ahmed, Isaias Afewerki and Amhara Expansionists. The ethnic cleansing of millions of Tigrayans from Western Tigray is in full swing.  So is the systematic destruction of Tigray’s infrastructure, health and educational institutions as well as its cultural, religious and heritage sites.

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“Every now and then, East Africa breaks into world consciousness. It happened in the mid-1980s, when Ethiopia underwent a terrible famine. Teams of pop stars made two hit “Charity Singles”: “We are the World” and “Do they Know it is Christmas?”. Today, Ethiopia is again in the news, for War in Tigray, a region in the country’s north. What is happening there is worse than war, if such a thing is possible. Tigray is a theatre for war crimes and crime against humanity. To make it more interesting – if that is the word – Ethiopia’s head of state is the 2019 Nobel Peace Laureate, Prime Minister of Ethiopia.” (Jay Nordlinger, National Review; 22 March 2021).

1.3 Strategically planned and executed, in the genocidal War on Tigray, hunger and starvation and sexual violence are being weaponized in order to completely subdue the population, which in itself constitutes a war crime. The strategy of the weaponisation of hunger and starvation by the Abiy Ahmed-Isaias Afewerki regimes is accompanied by the deliberate and persistent refusal to allow humanitarian corridors for emergency relief to reach the victims of the War on Tigray. This is despite the repeated calls by international relief agencies since the start of the war on 4th November 2020. Of late the Abiy-Isaias dictators are appearing to be co-operating in a very limited and controlled manner with the emergency relief efforts of international agencies only in order to thwart the relief process or use it as a tool for the further control and suppression of the population. This is the tactics of giving in a little in order to pursue the strategy of hunger and starvation as a tool of war. If anything, as we write they have escalated the conflict by deploying over 100,000 troops to Southern Tigray in order to intensify the War on Tigray with all its horrendous aftermaths.

1.4 In the War on Tigray sexual violence and rape is instrumentalised, where to date thousands of Tigrayan girls and women have been gang raped by the Ethiopian, Amhara and Eritrean soldiers. According to the British Parliament debate on the war in Tigray held on 25 March 2021, Helen Hayes, Member of Parliament for Dulwich and West Norwood, reported that to date 10,000 Tigrayan girls and women have been raped by Ethiopian, Amhara and Eritrean soldiers, and that sexual violence and rape has been weaponised as instrument of war. The body of evidence on the widespread prevalence of sexual violence and rape in the genocidal War on Tigray by the Amhara, Eritrean and Ethiopian Federal forces is such that, even the Abiy Ahmed regime is forced to admit it, as reported by the BBC News on 12 February 2021:

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Ethiopia confirms rape allegations in Tigray conflict -The authorities in Ethiopia have confirmed incidents of rape took place in the conflict-hit Tigray region in the wake of a military offensive against the local ruling party. It comes after the UN said it had received reports of a high number sexual violence and abuse in the region, including of individuals forced to rape members of their own family. ‘We have received the report back from our Taskforce team on the ground in the Tigray region, they have unfortunately established rape has taken place conclusively and without a doubt,’ Minister of Women, Ethiopia, Filsan Abdullahi tweeted on 11 February 2021.” (BBC News, Africa, 12 February, 2021).

Historically, sexual violence and rape in conflicts show that for each reported case, there are two or many more unreported cases. This is due to fear of victims, trauma, stigmatization and under-reporting, amongst others. Rape as a strategy of war has a horrendous consequences on the victims, the families and the communities:  

“It’s not just the rape – it’s the way this is done. I know of a father who was tied up to a chair with a rope between his lips, forced to watch as five Eritrean soldiers took turns to rape his 12 year old daughter. They are even forcing fathers, brothers and uncles to rape their own children and relatives, and killing them for refusing – what Tigrayan will rape his own family member?! They rape pregnant women. We are also hearing macabre accounts of Eritrean forces killing women and raping their corpses after. It’s difficult to find one-time rape victims; even those who have been raped have been raped again. I know these are unconscionable and horrifying to the human mind; I am telling you as a priest – but this is what they are doing. To them, this is law.” (The Horrors of the Tigray War: Eyewitness Accounts; Eritrean Hub; 30 January, 2021).

Rape in conflicts is both a war crime and a crime against humanity. When it is targeted at a certain ethnic group with the intention of ethnic cleansing, it is genocidal. Genocidal rape is a war crime too. Abiy Ahmed shameful and criminal remark to the illegal House of Representatives, as broadcasted on the EBC TV on 23 March, is heinous: “What is the fuss about the rape of Tigrayan Women when our soldiers are being killed in the war”. This statement by the dictator Abiy Ahmed is extremely abhorrent and is tantamount to justifying the weaponisation of sexual violence in the War on Tigray. Moreover, it is proof of a war crime, and for that matter coming from the horse’s mouth, Abiy Ahmed himself. It is prima facie evidence of a war crime on its own, sufficient for indicting Abiy Ahmed by the ICC.

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2. The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC)

2.1 The United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) has the mission to promote and protect human rights around the world, including the mandate to investigate allegations of crimes against humanity, war crimes and genocide. The UN Secretariat Chiefs on Genocide and Sexual Violence and Rape in Conflicts have called for an independent investigation of the credible allegations of crimes committed in the War on Tigray. The UN Secretary-General and global humanitarian agencies have also called for an independent investigation.

2.2 The US Government and the Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and the European Union have all called for an international, independent and transparent investigation.  Literally nearly all global institutions and governments have demanded for an independent and international investigation due to the complicity of many actors in the crimes committed in Tigray.

2.3 Yet, The UNHRC Chief, Michelle Bachelet, has agreed to a joint UNHRC-EHRC investigation of the credible allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Tigray. This is not only a major reversal of position by the UNHRC but also a total betrayal of the Tigrayan victims of the war. It is a travesty of justice of the highest order to involve a state sponsored institution, the EHRC, as a co-investigator. Given the now well established complicity and conspiracy of the EHRC in the Maikadra Massacre of Tigrayans by the Amhara Militia and Fano Paramilitary and the EHRC’s deliberate cover-up and disinformation regarding the victims and perpetrators, this amounts to allowing the culprits to investigate their own crimes.

“The Maikadra Massacre of over 600 Tigrayans by Amhara Militias and Fano Paramilitary is a “Double Killing” of Tigrayans when the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) conspired with the Amhara Revanchists to twist it as a crime against Amharas by Tigrayan youth. Morally and legally, the EHRC should be a subject of investigation for covering-up, tampering and rigging the evidence of crimes against humanity” (GSTS, 14 March 2021).

Moreover, it is the height of treachery for the UNHRC to agree to a joint investigation of the crimes committed in Tigray without any regard to the needs or expectation of the very victims. No consultation of victims, or neutral third parties.  This is a pure bureaucratic decision and an exercise of political expediency. This is injustice of the highest order.

“Investigation by the very agencies that are at the centre of the Genocidal War on Tigray - either as collaborators, supporters, or condoners of perpetrators - is the ultimate measure of inhumanity and injustice as it is  complicity in covering-up crime against humanity and war crimes. It is allowing culprits to investigate their own crimes.” (GSTS; 14 March 2021).

The Tigrayan people have again been betrayed by the UN system, in particular the UNHRC. This is ironic coming from Michelle Bachelet who was as a victim of the atrocities committed by military Junta of Augusto Pinochet. Would she have allowed the crimes of Augusto Pinochet to have been investigated by an institution that he set up, controlled and directed?  By an institution that was filed with his functionaries and confidants?  It appears that Abiy Ahmed not only managed to mislead Antonio Guterres about the non-presence of Eritrean troops in Tigray but has also manged to hoodwink Michelle Bachelet when she accepted the EHRC as a co-investigator of the crimes committed in Tigray. This not only sucks but is an ultimate mockery of justice. This is what Elie Wiesel called “double killing” when referring to Holocaust Deniers. In Tigray context, the crime committed against Tigrayans is to be investigated by the very institutions and functionaries that are complicit in the crime against humanity and war crimes. Moreover, it gives a completely different meaning to the concept of independent and transparent investigation of crimes.

2.4 The irony is that even the UNHRC community in Geneva, including the predecessor of Ms Bachelet thinks that the EHRC is a partisan institution and lacks institutional independence and capacity to undertake credible allegations of crimes against humanity, or war crimes:

“Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is not as yet what is called Paris Principle-compliant and not up to the status. Therefore, it is seen as not independent by the human rights community in Geneva.” (Zied Raad Al Hussien, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, 2018)

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2.5 The EHRC Chief Commissioner, Daniel Bekele, is well known for his notoriously anti-Tigrayan and anti-Oromo, and his Pro-Amhara Revanchist political agenda. He was in the Kinigit Amhara Leadership that attempted to overthrow the EPRDF Government led by the former PM Meles Zenawi after the 2005 General Election in Ethiopia for which he was briefly imprisoned and later released.  As an exile and vehement critic of the EPRDF, in particular the TPLF, he was at the forefront of a movement that struggled to overthrow the EPRDF regime by legal or illegal means, including by creating alliances with Berhanu Nega and Birtukan Mideksa, who are now staunch supporters of the Abiy Cliques in the Ethiopian Prosperity Party and EZEMA. Knowing he has an axe to grind, Abiy brought Daniel Bekele back to Ethiopia and appointed him as a Chief Commissioner of the EHRC. Hence, EHRC’ whitewashing of Abiy’s crimes over the last three years. Similarly, Birtukan Mideksa and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia (NEBE) are facilitating a sham election in June 2021 to ‘Crown’ Abiy Ahmed as the uncontested ‘7th King of Ethiopia’ when the political space is completely closed, all the Regions are under Military Command Posts and all the opposition parties and independent journalists are in prison, including Jawar Mohammed, Bekele Gerba and Doud Ibsa from Oromia and many others who represent the  oppressed nationalities of Ethiopia, the overwhelming majority (85%) constituencies in the country. These are the institutions, confidants and partisan political functionaries of the Ethiopian regime that Michelle Bachelet is telling us will independently and credibly investigate crimes committed in the War on Tigray. This is what Elie Wiesel called ‘Double killing” in the context of Holocaust Deniers. In other words and different context, it is adding insult to injury, except the injury is crime against humanity and war crime committed against an African people and nationality in the 21st Century, worst still with a lacuna of  an insight or experience of genocides in Rwanda or Darfur. This is a nightmare of human degradation scripted by the UNHRC and Ms Michelle Bachelet. Yet, this is what Amnesty International study concluded about the EHRC in 2019:

“The EHRC failed to ensure that human rights are protected, respected and enforced and to take necessary measures when they were violated. Instead, the EHRC whitewashed human rights violations through compromised methodologies, dismissing credible allegations and eschewing a clear stand on human rights violations”. (Skirting Human Rights Violations – Amnesty International Report on EHRC, 2019)

3. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)

3.1 The EHRC lacks political credibility, trackrecord, institutional and human resource capacity to undertake an independent, transparent and impartial investigation of credible allegations of crimes against humanity and war crimes:

“Our analysis shows that the EHRC is not fit for purpose as the country tries to break with the repressive past. The EHRC’s brazen bias against victims and a dismissive stance towards their complaints means that the EHRC’s reports on protester killings and prison conditions squandered opportunities to make things right for the victims.” (Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes; June 2019).

In an academic 2019 paper entitled: “The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission: Critical Analysis in its Roles of Promoting Human Rights”, Lamessa Gudeta  analysed the EHRC’s independence against the criteria of financial autonomy, the mechanism and processes of EHRC’ Commissioners appointments; the EHRC problems of accessibility; and   the legal and operational autonomy of the  institution, thereby concluding: “In conclusion, EHRC has little or no role in promoting and protection of human rights as it stands now. The Global Alliance of National Human Rights Institution has ranked the EHRC as failing the Paris Principle.”

3.2 In an in-depth review of the work of the EHRC during the period 2013-2020, Amnesty International findings catalogue fundamental, structural and institutional weaknesses and biases that undermine the EHRC:

“The ECHR has built an unenviable track record of dismissing credible allegations of human rights violations, producing questionable investigation reports, and many times, failing to act in clear cases of human rights violations. When it has had the occasion to investigate and report allegations of torture and other ill-treatment in its submissions to the UNHRC and Ethiopia’s Federal High Court, it missed the opportunity to alert the Ethiopian public about human rights violations occurring in Ethiopian prisons and to hold the authorities to account. These briefing shows in detail how the Commission has often attempted to dismiss allegations of human rights violations by the authorities” (Skirting Human Rights Violations -Amnesty International Report on EHRC, 2019).

Similarly, Amnesty International Director for the Eastern and Horn of Africa, Joan Nyanyuki, study of EHRC’s work and trackrecord concluded as:

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“Our analysis shows that the EHRC is not fit for purpose as the country tries to break with the repressive past. The EHRC’s brazen bias against victims and a dismissive stance towards their complaints means that the EHRC’s reports on protester killings and prison conditions squandered opportunities to make things right for the victims.” (Joan Nyanyuki, Amnesty International Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes; June 2019).

4. African Union Commission on Peace and Security (AUPCD)

4.1 The African Union Commission’s Peace and Security Department (AUPCD) provides support to efforts aimed at promoting peace, security and stability on the continent. Whilst the AU Commission is chaired by Chairperson Moussa Faki, the PCD is chaired by Solomon A. Dersso.

4.2 The AUPCD is mandated to support efforts to prevent, manage and resolve conflicts in Africa. However, it is not geared for investigating, or has developed the trackrecord or the institutional capacity to investigate major allegations of crimes against humanity or war crimes.

4.3 Furthermore, it cannot be entrusted to investigate the credible allegations of crime against humanity and war crimes in Tigray. This is because the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Moussa Faki Mahmat, is on public record for defending Abiy Ahmed’s War on Tigray by justifying it as a law and order operation.  At the 38th Extraordinary Session of IGAD in Djibouti on 21st December 2020, he said:

“In Ethiopia the Federal Government took bold law and order operation in Tigray to preserve the unity, stability and the respect for the constitutional order of the country, which is legitimate.” (Moussa Faki, Chairperson AU Commission, 38th Extraordinary Session of IGA, Djibouti, 21.12.2021).

4.4 Commenting on Faki’s patently biased and partisan position on the War on Tigray, a Pakistani Conflicts and Geo-politics Analyst on Eastern Africa, the Middle East and Asia noted that:

“Moussa Faki unequivocally backed the position of the Ethiopian Government regarding the military operations in Tigray Region. He did not say a single word about human rights violations in Tigray Region, when the international media has been highlighting human rights violation in Tigray Region, and the Presidents attending the Summit yesterday gave a joint communique at the end of the meeting, but there was no mention of human rights violations in Tigray Region. Given the partisan stance, how could Commissioner Faki, or the AUPCD credibly investigate crimes against humanity or war crimes?”. (MyViewsonnews - A Pakistani Analysist of Asian, Mid-Eastern African Conflicts and Geo-Politics; 21 December 2020)

4.5 Faki is directly implicated in the ethnic profiling, targeting and cleansing of Tigrayans.  Not only has he not raised an eyebrow to date  when Tigrayans  have been ethnically targeted in the Addis Ababa, he has been directly implicated in ethnic cleaning of Tigrayans when he fired the security  head of the African Union  HQ in Addis Ababa, who happens to be a Tigrayan, on the behest of Abiy Ahmed.

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4.6 The Chairperson of the AUPCD, Solomon Dersso, is a well-known supporter and confidant of Abiy Ahmed. His links include serving Abiy Ahmed as a legal counsel and for publically defending Abiy’ Ahmed’s illegal and unconstitutional extension of power by postponing the Ethiopian General Election, which has been the principal cause of the political crisis in Ethiopia and the controversies on Tigray’s Regional Election that prompted the War on Tigray. In other words, Solomon Dersso is part and parcel of the political elites in Ethiopia who are responsible for the country’s ills and political instability. Despite his pretence of advocating human rights issues in Africa, Solomon Dersso has hardly uttered a word about the credible allegation of human rights violation in Tigray, which has been widely covered by the global media. Yet, the one movement he spoke was to amplify the EHRC’s twisted and falsified report on the Maikadra Massacre in Western Tigray that blamed the Tigrayan victims rather than the Amhara Militia and Fano Paramilitary perpetrators. It would be a great travesty of justice to involve Faki or Dersso in the investigation of the alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray.

5. The Way Forward - An International, Independent and Transparent Investigation

5.1 The people of Tigray have been subjected to a barbaric and total genocidal war where hunger and starvation and sexual violence have been weaponised by Abiy Ahmed, Isaias Afewerki and Amhara Expansionists. The aftermaths of the war have been horrendous including massacres and the deaths of tens of thousands civilians; millions on the verge of famine; the rape of thousands of girls and women; the destruction of property and infrastructure; the wanton of destruction of religious, cultural and heritage sites. There have been credible as well as verified evidence that crime against humanity and war crimes have been committed in the genocidal war on Tigray.

5.2 Numerous global agencies and many governments have called for an international, independent and transparent investigation of the allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity in Tigray.

5.3 The UNHRC’s agreement with the Abiy Ahmed regime to conduct a joint UNHRC and EHRC investigation of the crimes on the war on Tigray is the ultimate insult to the victims of war as it is a travesty of justice of the highest order. It is just and right for world organisations and government as well as peace loving people to oppose the injustice, and instead must call for and insist on an international and independent investigation of the crimes against humanity and war crimes being committed in Tigray. This must not include institutions, including the EHRC, that are tied to parties to the conflict or to the alleged perpetrators of those crimes.

5.4 The people of Tigray are only asking justice to be done. This can only happen when an independent, transparent and international investigation is conducted, and when the perpetrators are brought to face justice. 

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