ADDIS ABABA – The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has called on the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) to support the implementation of the joint investigation team’s recommendations instead of pushing for an establishing another body for a similar task.
The call has been made as the Council considers a draft Resolution SS33 on the situation of human rights in Ethiopia which proposes to establish a body with a similar mandate to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT).
On Thursday, the EHRC has expressed its views and concerns on the draft Resolution in a letter addressed to the President of the HRC, Madam Nazhat Khan, and to members of the Council, as well as Michelle Bachelet, head of High Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
In the letter, the Commission stated that it is equally distressed by the ongoing human rights and humanitarian law violations in the context of the conflict in Northern Ethiopia.
It also said some paragraphs of the draft Resolution which may be counterproductive to current positive processes and particularly to the right to redress of thousands of victims and survivors.
In particular, the letter raises some concerns about the proposal to establish a body with a similar mandate to the Joint Investigation Team (JIT) and covering a similar period as that of the joint investigation.
The EHRC and the OHCHR established a joint investigation team and conducted which examines the devastating impact the conflict has had on civilians, and published their report on Nov 3, 2021.
The report covered the period from 3 November 2020, when the armed conflict began in Northern Ethiopia, until 28 June 2021 when the Ethiopian Government declared a unilateral ceasefire.
It details a series of violations and abuses, including unlawful killings and extra-judicial executions, torture, sexual and gender-based violence, violations against refugees, and forced displacement of civilians. The investigation team also made extensive recommendations.
Although most parties to the conflict rejected the outcome, the government of Ethiopia have accepted it with some reservations and set up a Inter-Ministerial Task-force to oversee the response to redress the victims as per the JIT’s recommendations.
– Counterproductive Proposal –
In its letter, the EHRC also recalled that while the joint investigation report does not purport to be an exhaustive record of all relevant incidents that occurred during this period, it fairly illustrates the main types and overall patterns of violations and abuses over the period in question.
The Commission also concurs with some of the facts in the preambular paragraphs of the draft Resolution which fully supports the work, findings, and recommendations of the joint investigation report.
The draft welcomes the State’s decision to set up an Inter-Ministerial Taskforce to implement the recommendations of the report and calls for similar acknowledgments by the Government of Eritrea, the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), and all other parties to the conflict.
The operative section of the Resolution, among others, stresses that parties should take concrete measures to implement the recommendations with clear timelines and without delay, according to the EHRC.
While welcoming these constructive directions which the HRC may communicate to all the parties in a public statement, EHRC’s letter raises some concerns about the proposal to establish a body with a similar mandate to the JIT and covering a similar period as that of the joint investigation.
While there is value-added in encouraging OHCHR and EHRC to continue with joint investigation, the letter also says setting up a new body to investigate the entire period since 3 November 2021 is repetitive, counterproductive to ongoing implementation processes, and further delays redress for victims and survivors, according to EHRC.
“In a conflict setting, victims and survivors took considerable risk by engaging with the joint investigation process to tell their stories, and for most, their right to truth as published in the report has been the only redress they have been able to access” says the EHRC.
The Commission’s letter goes on to underline that, in effect, the draft resolution risks reopening for further deliberation their truth as victims and survivors, while the next step should have been rehabilitation, restitution, and compensation, as well as prosecution of the perpetrators.
The EHRC said it is also concerned that the draft Resolution sends a mixed signal by urging all parties to the conflict to take responsibility and commit to take concrete measures to implement the JIT recommendations while concurrently setting up another body to investigate the same matter and covering the same time period.
“Such a process might set an unfortunate precedent for human rights investigations in which parties implicated in serious and massive human rights and international humanitarian law violations, which may amount to war crimes or crimes against humanity, can “forum shop” by rejecting the findings and recommendations of one investigation over another,” the commission clarifies.
The EHRC has, therefore, stated its concerns that setting up another body to investigate the same matter covering the same time period could be counterproductive as it could delay criminal investigations and prosecution.
It would be detrimental to the right to full redress for victims and survivors of violations identified by the joint investigation team, said the Commission, adding the move may halt steps being taken by the State to implement the recommendations of the team in light of similar new investigations, and gives parties to the conflict which have not yet acknowledged responsibility and taken steps to implement the JIT recommendations an option to reject the report in light of new investigations.
It may also have the effect of undermining the work and voice of independent human rights institutions such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, according to the letter.
The Commission’s letter proposes four recommendations for the UN Human Rights Council and its officials to consider.
It has called on the Council to unequivocally support implementation of the JIT recommendations, and support the Inter-Ministerial Taskforce in the timely implementation of the JIT recommendations, particularly on accountability and redress for victims.
The Commission has also urged for all parties to the conflict, particularly the Government of Eritrea and the TPLF, to acknowledge responsibility and take steps towards implementing the recommendations of the joint investigation report, without delay.
The Commission recommends for the Council to support OHCHR and EHRC to continue with further joint independent investigations into alleged violations and abuses in areas that the JIT could not access and allegations after the joint investigation cut-off date – 28th of June 2021.
Featured Image: Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Commissioner Daniel Bekele [Photo File/EHRC]