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A year after an agreement to end the war in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, there are global calls for more to be done to protect civilians and ensure justice for victims of atrocities.
Human Rights Watch, the European Union and 10 foreign governments said rights abuses in Africa’s second most populous country continue despite a peace deal reached on November 2, 2022 in Pretoria.
The two-year conflict between forces loyal to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front has killed half a million people, according to the United States, with all sides accused of atrocities such as massacres and rape.
An agreement brokered by the African Union ended the fighting in Tigray, but clashes have since erupted in other parts of the country, particularly in the Amhara region, whose forces were supported by federal troops during the war.
“While the Ethiopian government and its international partners tout the huge progress made in the past year, civilians in conflict areas continue to bear the brunt of atrocities,” said HRW Deputy Africa Director Laetitia Bader.
HRW said Eritrean forces that supported Abiy during the conflict “carried out killings, sexual violence, kidnappings and looting, obstructed humanitarian aid and obstructed the work of African Union observers” after the peace deal was struck.
“The United Nations and interested governments should continue to pressure the Ethiopian government to fulfill its obligations to ensure the protection of civilians and establish clear criteria to ensure victims have access to justice,” she added.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken last Thursday praised the “significant progress” that had been made since the agreement was reached, but acknowledged “challenges that remain”.
“Eritrean forces must withdraw completely. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea must refrain from provocation and respect the independence, sovereignty and territorial integrity of all countries in the region,” he said.
Asmara subsequently condemned the “smear campaign” and accused Washington and European countries of using Eritrea as an “easy political punching bag”.
EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on the Ethiopian government to “investigate all allegations of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law and prosecute those responsible”.
The 27-nation bloc signed a 27 million euro ($650 million) development deal with Ethiopia last month in a bid to normalize relations after the Tigray conflict.
However, Brussels has not resumed budget aid to Ethiopia, which was suspended in December 2020, a month after the war began.
“Further progress on accountability and justice is critical to … normalization,” Borrell said.
Concerns have also been raised by the federal government’s decision to declare a six-month state of emergency in Amhara in early August, with the UN-backed International Commission of Experts on Human Rights in Ethiopia warning of an increase in human rights abuses in the region.
The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) – an independent federal state body – said last Monday that the use of heavy weapons and aerial bombardment in Amhara had killed, injured and displaced many civilians.
It also condemned “executions of arrested civilians” by security forces and assassinations and kidnappings of local civilian leaders by armed groups.
Ethiopian government spokesman Legesse Tulu criticized the report for being “based on unreliable elements and lacking impartiality” and for “not taking into account the context”.
He said authorities had detained about 3,000 suspects since the state of emergency was declared.
HRW spoke to a 24-year-old woman in the North Gondar zone of Amhara who said: “People are being killed and arrested. Things are much worse. I don’t feel safe right now. Nobody feels safe.”
Tensions rose after Abiy’s government announced in April that it was disbanding regional forces across the country, sparking protests by Amharic nationalists.
Bader called on countries supporting the Ethiopian ceasefire not to look away as “past rights abusers repeat patterns of abuse without consequences”.
“More needs to be done”
The embassies of 10 countries, including Britain, Australia, Norway, Canada and Japan, hailed the Tigray deal as a “significant achievement” but warned that more needed to be done to protect and implement peace in the face of “persistent human rights violations”.
Human rights groups have expressed dismay at the abolition of the UN-backed human rights commission last month, with Amnesty International calling it a betrayal of victims of atrocities.
It is not possible to verify the situation on the ground in Amhara or Tigray as media access is severely restricted.
Although services including banking, electricity and internet have been restored in some parts of Tigray in the past year, according to the International Organization for Migration, one million people remain displaced across the region.
Source in English: HERE