Involving a government appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in the investigations in Tigray destined to be a giant miscarriage of justice

Ethiopia Tigray

(Source: The Globe News Net , By Dr. G. A. Z) – 

On March 17, devastating news came out showing that the United Nations human rights chief. Mrs. Michelle Bachelet agreed to a sinister equest from the state-appointed Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) “to work together”. Tigrayans from all walks of life strongly rejected the proposal. Various International humanitarian organizations also reflected their concerns, and suggested that the proposal be reconsidered. Unfortunately, the March 25 OHCHR-EHRC joint press statement showed that these valid concerns and oppositions were neglected.

The March 25 OHCHR-EHRC joint press statement reads “ with multiple actors involved in the conflict and the gravity of the reported violations, an objective, independent investigation is urgently required.” It then said “The agreement to collaborate in a joint investigation is the result of an ongoing partnership and engagement between the two organizations, founded on shared objectives to advance and strengthen respect and protection of human rights as well as accountability for violations of international human rights law and international humanitarian law committed by all parties in the context of the Tigray conflict. Such investigations are within the existing mandate of both organizations.”

The fact of the matter is, Ethiopia pushed the Ethiopian Human rights Commission, a government appointed body, to join the investigation, to manipulate and corrupt the entire investigation.

In one occasion, Mrs. Michelle Bachelet admitted that she was forced by her boss, the Secretary General Antonio Guterres, to include the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission into the investigation, a source from UN tipped me.

As was rightly predicted, Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission has officially started to discharge its mandate[i.e twisting the truth, discarding evidence, distorting facts, and corrupting the entire process]

Why Ethiopian Human Rights Commission should not be part of the investigation… and the Unheard Truth About Mai-Kadira:

Credible reports from victims, international human rights institutions, the media, and Tigray-based political parties have indicated that serious violations of international humanitarian and human rights law have been committed. International human rights organizations have said that war crimes and crimes against humanity have been committed in Tigray.

Eritrean forces have engaged in large-scale looting, mass massacres, rampant sexual violence, and crimes against humanity. Amhara forces have also perpetrated ethnic cleansing in the Southern and Western and North-Western zones of Tigray.

Some 700,000 people have escaped to Central and Eastern Tigray from the west, which is currently controlled by Amhara militias and special forces. Furthermore, the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) appear to have used collective rape as an instrument of war.

For the entire 10 months of the war, human rights organisations, human rights defenders, and activists from Tigray have called for an independent investigation following the perpetrated crimes. The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has also emphasised the importance of an independent investigation.

The Ethiopian government rejected any form of independent inquiry, on the pretext of sovereignty, for several months. However, following Amnesty International’s report on the Aksum massacre, it had no option but to play “neutral”, producing its own report, and called for a joint investigation.

Consequently, OHCHR accepted and announced that it was prepared to carry out a joint investigation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

However, there are various reasons that make EHRC’s participation in the investigation counter-productive in exposing the truth and bringing about justice and reconciliation.

Lack of Institutional Independence:

The current leadership came to power right after Abiy Ahmed came to the Premiership. The leadership was chosen based on acquaintances and loyalty to the Prime Minister and his party.

Structurally, the commission may seem an “autonomous” federal institution; however, the EHRC is part of the government, appointed by the government, and funded by the government. Its existence depends on state funding and its commissioners are appointed by parliament.

From a legal standpoint, the EHRC 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, who are the primary receivers of the atrocities, are not represented in the parliament. There is zero representation of Tigrayans in the government which appointed the body, in the parliament, and in the commission. 

The commission has never been an independent institution since its inception; the current commission is not any different(if not worse).

Lack of impartiality and the commission itself being a party in the conflict

The government appointed commission has issued three preliminary reports regarding the human right violations in Tigray over the course of 10 months; three of them were not only problematic, but also extremely sinister and with clear motives of distorting the truth to suit the government’s narratives. 

In the first report on the Mai Kadra massacre two weeks after the incident occurred, the commission blamed TPLF and Samri, a youth group allegedly affiliated with the TPLF, for attacking ethnic Amharas.

Evidence showed that the EHRC team didn’t even visit the crime site; it just made Fano operatives send it a few videos and pictures, and cook the data, the “evidence” from its office. Atrocities of that scale require months of extensive study; but, for EHRC, that was not necessary. EHRC came out with a one-sided preliminary report that presents ethnic Amharas as the sole victims, and Tigrayans to be the perpetrators. The report, therefore, completely disregarded alternative accounts of Tigrayans who fled to other parts of Tigray and neighbouring Sudan.

Even more sinister, in a subsequent interview, the Chief Commissioner of EHRC, Daniel Bekele, without any investigation accused refugees in Sudan of being perpetrators of the Mai Kadra massacre, and said “there is a need to be cautious about their testimonies”. His accusatory statement is consistent with what the Prime Minister said to the parliament.

Beneath, I will write few lines on the most misinformed Mai-Kadira tragedy to clear some confusion

It came to the attention of most Ethiopians and the international community that a heinous massacre was committed in a small town in Western Tigray, named Mai-kadra, on November 9-10.

The state owned and party affiliated media in Ethiopia in unison already started the reporting on November 10 while the massacre was ongoing in the most sensational, graphic way, and with evident jubilation. The entire state and party owned media, in one word, claimed that the massacre was “conducted by Tigrians”, and “the victims were entirely Ethnic Amhara”. The perpetrators of the crime were said to have a group name called “Samri”. This was done on the same day the massacre was being conducted, and graphic pictures started to come on that very same day. The entire Ethiopian media blew the news up in unseen manner, blaming Ethnic Tigray with all kinds of crimes; cursing Ethnic Tigrians with sorts of derogatory insults and dehumanizing terms, and portraying the entire ethnic Tigrians as “inhuman aliens”, “killers”, at times “cannibals”, and “devil-him-self”s.

Within the first three days after the massacre, the entire Tigrian population in Mai-kadra has been either killed, put in concentration camps, or driven away into Sudan and other parts of Tigray.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in less than 2 weeks came up with a 5-paged “preliminary report”. The Ethiopian Humans Rights Commission said that “they dispatched a team to investigate the massacre 5 Days after the incident”, and came up with a “report” which simply consolidates the narrative that has been set by the state media starting from day-1. The commission blamed Ethnic Tigrayan youth called “Samri” and TPLF to be the perpetrators, and the victims being “Ethnic Amhara”.

The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission succeeded in misleading the world. Ethiopian government and the commission were successful in creating confusion and deceiving the people of Ethiopia too; that helped the government of Ethiopia, Government of Regional state of Amhara and their Eritrean and UAE allies rally public support to conduct the most brutal atrocities (Including Ethnic cleansing and Genocide) in Tigray at a greater ferocity.

However, the evidence on the ground is quite different. According to a non-comprehensive preliminary study Seb-Hidri Civil Society Tigray conducted through interviewing people who are displaced from May-Kadra (now in Sudan, Shire, and Mekelle), the massacre was conducted by Amhara Special Forces, Amhara Militia and An Amhara youth armed squad called “Fano”. A minor conflict erupted on November 9 after Tigray’s forces left the town, first; three Amhara and 7 Tigrayans were injured and the conflict quelled. On the next three days (November 10, 11, 12), Amhara government sent its militia and special forces in to the town; 600-800 young men(known as “Fano”), mostly from Gonder, armed with guns, machetes, and axes came in to the town, and mobilized the Amhara youth in Mai-Kadira to rise up and “finish” the Tigrayans in the town.  Amhara militia and Amhara special forces gave  back up to the Amhara aggressors. The Ethiopian National Defence army was around. The Tigrayans in the town were defenceless. According to an unpublished preliminary study by Seb-Hidri which the author of this article had access to, and according to evidence collected by the author from the victims and families, 1320 Tigrayans and 3 Amhara were killed in the massacre between November 9 and 12.  

The fact of the matter is, the unimaginably brutal massacre in Mai-Kadra was orchestrated by Ethiopia’s and Amhara governments, and conducted by Amhara forces and Amhara youth while ENDF was on the watch. It shall also be known that there was no Tigrian youth group named “Samri” in Mai-Kadira; that’s a fabrication.

Only truly independent investigation could tell the world what really happened in Mai-Kadira. It is true that, with the help of the Ethiopia Human Rights commission, the Amhara government has been working to eliminate all possible traces of evidence, but, with conviction and honesty, nothing is impossible.

The Mai-Kadira massacre was planned and conducted to serve four basic purposes:

1. To eliminate, cleanse Mai-Kadra of its majority Tigrayan population and replace it with Amhara population

2. To kill and drive away the entire more than 1 million Tigrayan population in Western Tigray;

3. To fuel anti-Tigray sentiments throughout Ethiopia; to incite violence and aggression against Tigrayans; to rally the public in the campaign of genocide on Tigrayans;

4. To give Ethiopian army a strong reason to willfully conduct the war crimes, crimes on humanity including Genocide on Tigrayans; and a driving impulse to act in the way it is acting now.

Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which claimed to have “dispatched a group to investigate the Mai-Kadira massacre in just five days” had to wait for 4 months, and had to wait until the PM makes partial admission about the presence of Eritrean army and the atrocities committed, to come up with such an incomplete, non-comprehensive, dishonest report, a month after Amnesty’s report, and 20 days after Human Rights Watch’s.

Whatever Ethiopian Human Rights Commission says about the Axum Massacre shall not be taken as a “proof of the Commission’s independence, credibility or impartiality”; absolutely not!

The fact that Ethiopia Human Rights Commission had to release its “report” just after the PM’s admission about Eritrea’s presence and human Rights violations alone clearly shows the Commission’s lack of independence, and the aim of the report to be just to corroborate the PMs admission.

One can assume that, had Ethiopian Human Rights Commission been the first to investigate the massacre in Axum, it would have certainly come up with a completely different report, probably denying it all, or projecting the blame to somebody else, like what it did in Mai-Kadra. After investigations by Amnesty and Human Rights Watch, that was not possible, and had to play “impartial”. After the reports by Amnesty international, HRW, the government and its appointed body- the commission understood that there was no way to conceal it and that the best option was for the  commission to save itself, and avoid being left out in future investigations in Tigray.

It is to be remembered that Amnesty International made its findings public on February 26. According to a statement by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, “it dispatched a group to Axum to investigate” on February 27, a day after Amnesty’s report, adding that “previous attempts were impeded”. One should ask What “miraculous” thing could have happened overnight? After sitting idle for 4 months, what changed overnight?

EHRC’s Axum report was never about Axum, but about saving yourself and putting a deposit to be included in other investigations in Tigray in the future.   

A review of the content of the preliminary reports conducted by EHRC on the Tigray war also reveals serious inconsistencies and prejudices with regard to indicating accountability. In its controversial Mai Kadra report, the commission concluded authoritatively that Tigrayan elements were solely responsible for the massacre. However, it did not unequivocally place responsibility on the Ethiopian government for atrocities committed by members of ENDF in other reports.

In a press conference organized by the Geneva Press Club and the Network of Ethiopians in Geneva for Action Taskforce (NEGAT) in collaboration with the Ethiopian permanent mission in Geneva early January 2021, the commission’s Chief, Mr. Daniel Bekelle said “as the military operation unfolded, It is comforting to learn that the operation didn’t result in as severe consequences as it was originally feared to be; there was a much-hyped about bloodbath; there was much talked about civilian casualties didn’t happen at least to the extent it was anticipated to be”. He further says that “the campaign of misinformation will be tarnished as the operation concludes and roads are opened”. Dr Daniel, without doing any investigation on human rights violations, proves that not only is he a partisan, but also a morally degraded, inhumane, and a dangerous person. It is to be remembered that by December, Ethnic cleansing had been committed in Western and Southern Tigray, with 2.3 million people already displaced.

In a press conference organized by the Geneva Press Club and the Network of Ethiopians in Geneva for Action Taskforce in collaboration with the Ethiopian mission in Geneva, Daniel denies the scale of the atrocities and calls them “misinformation”

The use of the term “military operation” too is interesting, here; as a “humanitarian” while he should call it “conflict” or “war”(because that is what it is) he chose to use the term “military operation” in line with Ethiopian Government’s narrative. This alone may tell a lot about the mindset of commission and its chief.

Furthermore, despite the fact that the commission published findings of 108 rape cases in Ayder, Adigrat and Mekelle hospitals, it has not specified responsibility. But, the victims, the media, independent human rights institutions, and the interim administration officials of Tigray have given testimonies accusing Eritrean, Ethiopian, and Amhara forces. This pattern of bias says a lot about the overall independence and integrity of the institution.

Partial list of Victims of the massacre in Maryam Dengelet by Eritrean army

Furthermore, the commission that reported a preliminary investigation on the Mai Kadra incident in a twisted way that it serves the government’s genocidal campaign fortnight after the incident, failed to conduct a prompt preliminary investigation into the atrocities committed in various parts of Tigray such as Dengelat, Bora, and Debre Abay, Bora Chellena, Mahbere-Dego, Mai-Kinetal, Adwa, Zelabessa, Irob, Wukro, Tembien e.t.c in over 10 months.

Civilian Massacre in Mahbere-Dego by Ethiopian Army [Videos first shown by TMH; corroborated with investigations by Amnesty, CNN, BBC, Newsy]
  • The commission didn’t also utter a word on the chemical attacks in Tigray.
  • The commission didn’t condemn the arbitrary arrest and killing of Tigrayans throughout Ethiopia.
  • Only when victims are Amhara; or when there is a window to distort the report [a window to make the victims ethnic Amhara, and the attackers Tigrayans, Gumuz, or Oromo] will Ethiopian Human Right Commission make a swift ”investigation” and provide “report”.
Ethiopian soldiers walk among the bodies of dozens of recently-killed Tigrayan villagers in Debre Abay monastery. The full footage is too graphic to publish. CREDIT: THE TELEGRAPH / SCREENGRAB

Lack of trust

If we are to have an independent, credible investigation, it has to be victim-focused. That is, survivors’ and victims’ testimonies have to be at the heart of the investigations. However, it appears that Daniel’s EHRC is not fully trusted by Tigrayan victims. That is why the announcement of a joint investigation was met with fierce opposition from Tigrayans.

Ethnicity also plays a role in this mistrust as many Tigrayans feel that the EHRC has a well established bias against Tigrayans. EHRC’s one-sided Mai-Kadra report has intensified this concern and created, among Tigrayans, the perception that EHRC is a pro-Amhara organization that cannot be trusted.

The entire hierarchy of EHRC is controlled mainly by ethnic Amhara; there are also Eritreans with an Ethiopian passport in the commission. 

Taking this into account, an investigation that involves EHRC might be tantamount to sidelining victims and survivors – the very group of people that should be at the heart of the investigations.

In fact, taking the ethnic orientation of the conflict in Ethiopia, the OHCHR should take great care of the employees and the interpreters it uses in the investigation.

Institutional Capacity

On top of the challenge of bias and lack of integrity, the EHRC does not have the capacity or experience to conduct such a wide-ranging, sensitive, and intricate investigation.

EHRC’s organizational reform is still underway and it has not yet demonstrated its institutional capability. Indeed, its record with regards to human rights inquiries over the last three years has been unremarkable. Ethnic conflicts and massacres in different parts of Ethiopia such as Guji, Gedeo, Konso, Shashemene, and Metekel were not investigated promptly and in-depth.

The process of conducting investigations into grave atrocities such as the one in Tigray is a complex task that requires first-rate institutional capacity.

There is a process of collection and verification of information, thorough registration of events, and preparation of documentary evidence for further investigation or prosecution. The process also includes recommending actions to correct breaches, provide justice and redress to victims, and hold perpetrators accountable.

Bad precedence:

It is important noting that the UN’s decision to conduct a joint investigation with the EHRC is unusual. The UN has never allowed national human rights institutions, like the EHRC, to jointly investigate allegations of serious international crimes, including ethnic cleansing and war crimes. A joint investigation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, an organization that is effectively part of the government, wouldn’t bring about justice and reconciliation. Indeed, this flies in the face of the principles of justice, independence, and fairness.

Ethiopian Human Rights Commission actively trying to sabotage the investigation:

The latest report by OHCHR and EHRC included 12 towns, irrelevant Bahirdar and Gondar among them. The sites of the most gruesome massacres like Axum, Mahbere-Dego, Debre-Abay, Tembien, Mai-Kinetal, Dengelet, Zelambessa, Irob e.t.c were not included. Eastern and Central Tigray, where the majority of massacres were recorded next to Western Tigray are left out. The reason given for this was “security reasons”. The truth is, there is no active fighting in Central and Eastern Tigray, and the only reason could be because these places fell to TDF first. The fact that OHCHR/EHRC could do its investigations in and when only government forces control an area, is malicious that only EHRC could push for.  Leaving Axum, Dengelet and similar sites of massacre, and including Bahirdar into these investigations can only be a joke.

In conclusion: it is true, EHRC’s lack of adequate institutional capacity, experience, integrity, independence, and credibility are major problems on themselves; but, more important is on the eyes of Tigrayans, EHRC itself is a party in the conflict and in the crimes against humanity (including Genocide) committed on Tigrayans, having cooked a fake document which fueled the conflict and aggravated the anti-Tigrayan sentiments.

For Tigrayans, EHRC is a party to be investigated, not a “neutral” party to independently and honestly investigate”. It shall not be involved in any of the investigations in Tigray in the future. A UN-led, truly independent investigation in to the war crimes and grave crimes against humanity is all that Tigray demands. All the investigations conducted jointly shall be discarded, and a new, Only-UN-led independent investigation shall be restarted.

Therefore, the OHCHR should review its wrong decision and launch a genuinely independent investigation that does not include parties in crime, and that victims, survivors, the broader Tigrayan community who are at the receiving end of the genocide, and the broader international community could trust.

[The author of the article, Dr. G. A. Z is a Physician, Civil Rights leader, and an Activist ]


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