Ethiopia, UN prepare an on the ground investigation for alleged war crimes

An Ethiopian woman wearing a red niqab and looking at the camera Credits: An Ethiopian woman wearing a red niqab and looking at the camera Credits: Reuters/ Baz Ratner

22 December 2020

Human rights violations committed during  the conflict in the Tigray Region could amount to war crimes

The United Nations (UN) is seeking permission  to send a team to the Tigray Region in Ethiopia in order to investigate reports of human rights violations, including the recent Mai Kadra mass killings, that could amount to war crimes. The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, described these incidents as “heartbreaking” and “appalling”, and emphasized  the necessity for a “thorough and transparent investigation to establish accountability and ensure justice.”

In the past six weeks, units of the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and those of the opposing Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) have been clashing against each other in the northern Tigray Region, resulting in an outbreak of violence that has displaced more than 950,000 people. Such events have made it impossible for humanitarian workers to access the conflict-affected areas to provide support to civilian victims and gather information. Amongst the artillery strikes on populated areas, extrajudicial killings, widespread looting and many other human rights abuses reportedly committed by both parties, Michelle Bachelet pointed out the killing of at least 600 people having taken place in the northwest town of Mai Kadra on the 9th of November, whose victims mainly belonged to the Amhara ehtnic group, as representing a turning point in the war crimes investigations. Indeed, the brutality and destruction that occurred on that day have been a clear indication of grave human rights violations.

Until now, the UN has mostly been monitoring the situation remotely, and has gathered information from refugees who fled to neighboring Sudan, as well as from NGOs. However, accountability for civilian killings is difficult to verify due to the fact that both the ENDF and rebel forces deny having committed atrocities. Poor telecommunication links and tight government controls on access to the region also represent considerable obstacles. Nevertheless, outlining the UN commitment to seeking justice for the victims, Michelle Bachelet stressed that “if civilians were deliberately killed by a party or parties to the conflict, these killings would amount to war crimes and there needs to be independent, impartial, thorough and transparent investigations”. 


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Author: Sara Mariani; Editor: Maxime Grenier

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