In a special Friday session, the UN Human Rights Council (UNHCR) voted to open an investigation of alleged human rights abuses in Ethiopia’s Tigray state. However, the issue wasn’t brought up by a single African nation and no African member of the council voted for the probe.
The UNHCR will establish an international commission of three experts on Ethiopia to probe alleged human rights abuses by all parties in the conflict, the council announced on Friday. The panel will have a one-year, renewable mandate and build upon a report submitted last month by the Office of the High Commissioner and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which covered the period from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) attack on Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) units in Tigray on November 3, 2020, until June 28, 2021.
The 47-member council narrowly voted for the proposed investigation, with 21 nations voting for it and 15 voting against it, while 11 nations abstained. Notably, all 13 African nations on the council either voted “no” or abstained. The meeting was requested earlier this week by the European Union and cosigned by more than 50 UN member states – although on that list as well, not a single African nation appeared.
The decision represents a rare decision to immediately invoke Special Procedures instead of addressing the issue through Universal Periodic Review, a state-driven process that allows governments to hold themselves accountable to their human rights obligations.
Speaking ahead of the meeting, Zenebe Kebede, Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the United Nations, denounced the “very underhand manner this special session was initiated,” saying it revealed the meeting’s “ulterior political objectives.”
Kebede added that the council was “being used as an instrument of political pressure” and had been “hijacked by a neo-colonialist mentality.”
“Ethiopia is being targeted and singled out at the Human Rights Council for defending a democratically elected government, the peace and the future of its people,” he said.
After the council’s decision was announced, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs said it was “extremely disappointed to have witnessed once again the use of the Human Rights Council by some to advance their politically motivated agenda.”
Noting the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed had asked the UNHCR not to hold the emergency meeting, but to instead “engage in a constructive manner and work in a collaborative spirit” with them, the ministry said the decision was made “against the recommendations by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission which were submitted to the President of the Human Rights Council on 14 December 2021 and to all members of the Council requesting it to unequivocally support the implementation of the Joint Investigation Team’s recommendations, the work of the Inter-Ministerial Task Force and for the OHCHR and the EHRC to continue with further joint investigations.”
“Ethiopia would like to reiterate that it will not cooperate with the established mechanism imposed upon it against its consent,” the statement continues. “No More to double standards; No More to unilateral coercive measures; and No More to meddling in internal affairs under the pretext of human rights.”
US Selectively Ignores TPLF Crimes
The US, an observer state to the UNHCR that called for the meeting, gave its own statement about alleged human rights violations in Ethiopia, but only mentioned those allegedly targeting ethnic Tigrayans, making no call for accountability for alleged crimes committed by the TPLF.
“The United States is gravely concerned by unconfirmed new reports alleging mass detentions, killings, and forced expulsions of ethnic Tigrayans in western Tigray by Amhara security forces,” US State Department spokesperson Ned Price said on Friday.
“We call on Amhara leaders to renounce violence against civilians. We also reiterate our call on Eritrea to remove its forces from Ethiopia. We urge the Ethiopian authorities to investigate these reports to determine their veracity and to commit to inclusive, transparent processes to hold responsible those accountable,” Price said. “We call on all armed actors in Ethiopia to renounce and end violence against civilians. We also reiterate our call for a cessation of hostilities, an immediate end to human rights abuses and violations, negotiations without preconditions, unhindered humanitarian access, and the start to an inclusive national dialogue.”
The US statement comes a day after Human Rights Watch (HRW) and Amnesty International each published reports on the topic. However, a week prior, HRW also published a report about executions of dozens of civilians by the TPLF in northern Amhara in August and September and called for an inquiry, about which the US made no similar statement, even as it made general declarations about Human Rights Day.
Indeed, neither NGO or the US has said anything about the more recent evidence of TPLF crimes to emerge as the ENDF recaptured dozens of towns in Amhara and Afar over the past month, revealing not only the looting of UN World Food Program warehouses but also hospitals, airports, and other locations, as well as executions of civilians.
Kebede noted Friday that the TPLF is designated by the Ethiopian parliament as a terrorist organization and that the group had commandeered “more than 1,000 trucks delivering humanitarian supplies to the people in Tigray region and used them for military purposes.”
“The initiators of this Special Session would not care less,” he added.
The war has, without a doubt, created a massive humanitarian crisis. More than 70,000 people had fled across the border into neighboring Sudan and an estimated 4 million more internally displaced, according to United Nations data. In addition, some 9.4 million people also require food aid. There is no reliable death toll for the conflict.
Simon Tesfamariam, executive director of the New Africa Institute, wrote on Telegram that it was “no accident that ‘Ethiopia’ (and the #TigrayGenocide) hashtag was trending in the US yesterday in the lead up to the UN HRC vote.”
“To help get these hashtags trending and to vilify Ethiopia before the vote, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International spiked the media and internet yesterday with joint publications about a ‘new wave’ of atrocities against Tigrayans. This was also primed and synced with an article on supposed atrocities against Tigrayans published on Katie Couric’s KCM platform, which ironically misused a Jemal Countess photo of an Amhara girl to misleadingly suggest atrocities on Tigrayan children. All of these publications came at a time that retreating TPLF forces are on a murderous rampage in the Amhara region and destroying hospitals in a cruel scorched earth strategy before their own imminent death and/or surrender. Ethiopian forces haven’t even been in Tigray since late June.”
US Neutrality Camouflages TPLF Support
The US has publicly maintained a position of neutrality in the conflict like that reflected in Price’s Friday statement, but evidence has mounted that Washington is actually deeply entwined in the war.
Last month, a video of a secretive meeting was leaked to the press, at which US and European diplomats, including US Ambassador to Somalia Donald Yamamoto, praised the TPLF’s advance on Addis Ababa and discussed the group’s potential formation of a “transition government” with a senior TPLF figure, Berhane Ghebre-Christos, who served as Ethiopia’s foreign minister under a past TPLF-led government.
Then, earlier this month, TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda plainly said in two interviews on Tigrayan television that the US had advised them to enter Addis Ababa, although he confessed the Americans seemed divided about their expectations from the group.
The US has sanctioned Abiy’s government and its ally, Eritrea, for actions it says have prolonged the conflict and threatened Ethiopia’s integrity, and withheld $272 million in aid over alleged human rights abuses. However, it has never issued sanctions against the TPLF, despite occasional rhetorical castigations.
During the 27 years prior to 2018 that the TPLF was in power, it cooperated closely with the US’ War on Terror and the newly formed US Africa Command (USAFRICOM), including invading Somalia in 2006 and overthrowing the Islamic Courts Union government, of which Washington disapproved. It also fought a disastrous war with Eritrea that killed more than 120,000 people.
When Abiy was selected for the prime ministry over a TPLF candidate in 2018, he quickly moved to end the war, being given a Nobel Peace Prize for the effort. However, even that has been weaponized against Abiy, as a New York Times article published on Wednesday demonstrated. Regional experts told Sputnik the article made clear that Washington intends to punish Abiy for making peace with Eritrea, which has long been an international pariah subject to sanctions and which has uniquely refused to cooperate with AFRICOM.