Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am honoured to present this oral update in my capacity as Chairperson of the UN Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, established by the Human Rights Council Resolution S-33/1 of 17 December 2021. I am joined today by my fellow commissioner, Mr. Steven Ratner. Ms. Radhika Coomaraswamy, the third commissioner was appointed by the president just days ago. As many of you are aware, Ms. Fatou Bensouda tendered her resignation as chair of the Commission on 8th June 2022 after her appointment by the government of The Republic of The Gambia as its High Commissioner to the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth.
The Commission is an independent and impartial entity mandated to conduct investigations to establish the facts and the circumstances surrounding alleged violations and abuses of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law, committed by all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia since 3 November 2020. The Commission is also mandated to provide guidance and technical support on transitional justice including accountability, national reconciliation, healing and make recommendations to the Government of Ethiopia on these measures.
The Commission is alarmed that violations and abuses of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law – the subject matter of our inquiry – appear to be perpetrated with impunity even now by various parties to the conflict in Ethiopia. This spread of violence and the dire humanitarian crisis made worse by lack of access in some areas by the civilian population to humanitarian assistance including medical and food aid, obstruction of aid workers and persistent drought, exacerbates the suffering of millions of people in Ethiopia and the region. The commission emphasizes the responsibility of the Government of Ethiopia to bring to an end such violations on its territory and, bring those responsible to justice. In this context, the Commission’s work is absolutely central to the Council’s response to the violence.
Since our appointment in March 2022, we have made progress on a number of fronts:
First, we have assembled our staff. We acknowledge and welcome the technical support provided to the Commission by the OHCHR. However, the Commission was not allocated sufficient resources to fill the number of staff position it needs and still requires additional resources. I will say more on this later in my update.
Second, several weeks ago, we adopted clear terms of reference, which are published on the OHCHR webpage. The TOR offer our initial interpretation of our mandate, including the territorial and temporal scope, standard of proof, parties to be investigated, emphasize a victim and survivor-centered approach, and the centrality of gender perspectives. Because of the time constraints involved before our September report to the Council, we have adopted an approach to investigate only certain emblematic incidents based on various criteria.
Third, because the Commission can most effectively carry out its mandate with the cooperation of the Government of Ethiopia, we have initiated a process of dialogue and engagement with the Government. In May 2022, the Commission met with the Minister of Justice and senior officials of the Government of Ethiopia in Geneva. During the meeting and in a subsequent formal note to the Ethiopian Permanent Mission to the United Nations in Geneva, we requested access to Ethiopia. We are seeking to meet and engage with victims and witnesses in conflict-affected areas, as well as with the Government, and other stakeholders. We also wish to meet with regional institutions based in Ethiopia. Finally, we hope to hold initial discussions regarding transitional justice, national reconciliation and healing, as required under our mandate. The Ethiopian government has responded to our request to visit Addis Ababa positively, to continue the May dialogue “with a view to agree on modalities for cooperation with the commission”. We are hopeful that the consultations in Addis Ababa will result in access for our investigators to sites of violations to be identified, and to survivors, victims and witnesses.
Fourth, following our meeting with the Government of Ethiopia in May 2022, the Commission received a document summarizing the work of the Ethiopian Inter-Ministerial Taskforce on Accountability and Redress. We are currently reviewing this document and look forward to discussing it with our interlocutors.
Fifth, pursuant to the Council’s directive to the Commission to build upon the work of the Joint Investigation Team (JIT), we have requested both the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission for access to related materials in their custody. We are hopeful that we will receive that access as soon as possible. We will build upon the JIT report in a manner that adds value and avoids unnecessary duplication of effort, without limiting the temporal or geographic scope of the Commission’s mandate.
Sixth, we have begun significant engagement with other stakeholders, including other governments in the region and elsewhere, non-governmental actors, and various academic experts. We are also seeking access to survivors, victims, witnesses, and stakeholders in countries neighbouring Ethiopia, including those hosting refugees from the conflict. Such access is central to our work.
Seventh, we have made progress on the investigations front. The Commission has been engaging with a wide range of interlocutors, including with victims and first-hand witnesses, following international best practices used by other UN commissions of inquiry. We have also called for submissions from those who have information and data relevant to the Commission’s mandate, through an announcement on the OHCHR Webpage. We urge all interested parties to respond to our call.
Despite this progress, and as noted earlier, we still lack the staff needed to carry out our mandate. That mandate includes the collection and preservation of evidence to support accountability efforts, and for this, we require adequate resources. For example, the most recent events in Western Oromia, clearly fall within the mandate of the Commission and require immediate, urgent and thorough investigations, yet we lack the capacity to do so. I will be frank and say that if this Council expects us to achieve what it requested last December, we need more resources. We appeal to member states for technical (including individuals with relevant expertise), logistical and financial support.
Despite other crises that the council must deal with, Member States must not look away from the situation in Ethiopia. As stated earlier, we are extremely alarmed by ongoing atrocities against civilians, including events reported in the Oromia Region. Any spread of violence against civilians, fuelled by hate speech and incitement to ethnic-based and gender-based violence, are early warning indicators and a precursor for further atrocity crimes. These and the protracted humanitarian crisis including blockades to food and medical aid, supplies and services poses grave risk to the Ethiopian civilian population and the region.
We firmly believe that this Commission can contribute to furthering accountability for violations of International Human Rights Law, International Humanitarian Law and International Refugee Law committed since 03 November 2020 and which are still ongoing.
In conclusion, the Commission has begun its work, though subject to some significant constraints. We welcome the co-operation of the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia.
We also look forward to the continued support of Member States, including those to whose territory we seek access; national State Governments; international and nongovernmental organizations, and the donor community. We need your support as members of the Council, both political and otherwise, to assist us with our work and to achieve the Council’s goals of fostering peace, justice, and national reconciliation within Ethiopia.