Ethiopia Urges AU’s Commission to Cease Tigray Rights Inquiry

ADDIS ABABA – Foreign Ministry of Ethiopia has urged an African Union body to “immediately cease” a new commission of inquiry into allegations of abuses in the country’s northern region of Tigray.

The African Commission on Human and Peoples´ Rights (ACHPR) announced on Wednesday that it has formed an inquiry body to start investigation the following day.

In a statement today, the foreign ministry reiterated the government’s willingness for the human rights violations allegedly happened during the Federal government’s law enforcement operation in Tigray to be investigated.

However, it said the investigation ACHPR plans to do should be conducted jointly as per its initial understanding with the Commission.

The ACHPR expressed its acceptance of the “proposal for a joint investigation” in a letter written to the Prime Minister office of Ethiopia, according to the Ministry.

“It is, however, regrettable to note that the African Commission… made a unilateral announcement on the establishment of a ‘Commission of Inquiry’,” the ministry said.

“Not acknowledged”

The foreign ministry said the move is “completely outside the scope of the invitation by the government and lacks legal basis”.

The statement also says the unilateral move undermines the “cooperative spirit and the ongoing efforts” of Ethiopia to formalize the modalities of the investigation.

Ethiopia said there “is still time to rectify this unfortunate and unhelpful step and engage in good faith in a joint investigation which it has already accepted”.

“Ethiopia reiterates its readiness and once again calls upon the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights to immediately cease the process it launched which is not acknowledged by Ethiopia,” said the Ministry, using the Commission to engage with relevant authorities in Ethiopia to finalize the modalities regarding the proposed investigation.

Commission’s refusal

During a press briefing in Banjul that announced the launch of the inquiry on Thursday afternoon, members of the new commission said they had not received that statement from Ethiopia, and added the investigation into alleged human rights abuses will go forward.

“What we have started cannot be stopped,” the commission´s vice chair, Remy Ngoy Lumbu.

He added that Ethiopia has given authorization for the commission to visit Tigray but no date has been set, with the security situation a factor.

Ethiopia’s expectations were for the commission of inquiry to work jointly with its Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC).

Commissioner Maya Sahli-Fadel said a probe conducted with the government would “alter and dilute the independence of the commission.”

Even if the commission cannot enter Tigray, she said, it can visit neighboring countries and speak to refugees among the scores of thousands who have fled.

The United Nations human rights office is also looking into the Tigray conflict, but it is a joint investigation with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which has led to concerns about independence.

The AU and U.N. investigations will complement each other, Lumbu said.

The commission started work on Thursday and will sit for at least three months, and that period can be renewed.

Any findings “definitely will not be hidden in the drawer,” Lumbu said. It is not clear when the commission´s report will be published.