Ethiopia seeks to end UN-ordered probe into Tigray war abuses

Tuesday February 28 2023
TPLF fighters are welcomed in Tigray capital Mekele

TPLF fighters are welcomed in the Tigray capital Mekele on June 29, 2021. Ethiopia is seeking to end a UN-mandated inquiry into atrocities in the Tigray war. PHOTO | YASUYOSHI CHIBA | AFP


Five diplomats said Ethiopia was courting support for a motion to cut short a UN-mandated inquiry into atrocities in the Tigray war, a move that could divide African and Western nations.

The Ethiopian government's two-year conflict with forces in the Northern Tigray region ended last November with thousands dead and millions uprooted. Both sides blamed each other for the widely documented carnages; including massacres, rape and detentions without trial.

Although the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council has not yet finalised the probe, Addis Ababa has already circulated a draft version of a resolution calling for the Tigray inquiry to stop six months early. This move would also block publication of findings and a final debate at the council.

Ethiopian Government Spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's Spokesperson Billene Seyoum did not comment on the issue.

Addis Ababa has opposed the investigation from the outset, calling it politically motivated and aimed to block international funding.

Ethiopia's proposed motion has not yet been formally submitted to the 47-member rights council, which began meeting from February 27, 2023, until April 4, 2023. Two of the diplomats familiar with the matter said there were ongoing efforts to dissuade Addis Ababa.


"It would be a terrible precedent," said a Western diplomat in Geneva.

The war pitted the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) against Ethiopian troops, who were also backed by fighters from nearby Amhara Region and Eritrea.

Allegations of abuses have persisted since the formal cessation of hostilities on November 2, 2022.

Since three independent experts began work at the end of 2021, the inquiry has found "reasonable grounds to believe" that parties in the conflict committed war crimes and other abuses.

But political support has faded in recent months, most notably among African states which all opposed its renewal in October. The probe was extended for another year by a tiny margin.

The West dilemma

Diplomats said any vote on a possible Ethiopian motion would be tight and would pit Western countries, including the EU that helped set up the investigation, against African partners. The West needs allies against China in the divided council and against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.

"It would be a big fight," said one of the diplomats, who opposes early termination of the mandate. The US Ambassador to the council, Michele Taylor, confirmed that Ethiopia was considering an early halt to the mandate.

“We oppose the precedent that it would set. We do not think that it is helpful for Ethiopia's current process and progress.” she said.