Ethiopia is remaining with bigger hurdles to clear the way for long-term peace, even after making major steps to readmit the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) to its fold.
This week, Ethiopian legislators unbanned the TPLF as a terrorist group, arguing the country was striving to “bring sustainable peace” and that removing the TPLF from the list of terrorist organisations will help the group abandon violence as is proposed in the peace agreement and entice them to re-join nation building.
The TPLF fought the government for two years in a deadly war said to have killed more than 600,000 people and displaced at least two million others. The conflict ended in November after the two sides signed a peace deal mediated by the African Union.
Five months later, Tigray region now has an interim government led by Getachew Reda, the former negotiator for the TPLF. Addis Ababa also says TPLF is surrendering weapons, stopped fighting and has re-joined the national dialogue as the Ethiopian government resumes provision of security guarantees and services for the citizens.
Justice for victims
But the elephant in the room remains the justice for victims and whether the current peace is covering up simmering animosity elsewhere. This week, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said all parties to the war have committed atrocities.
“Formally recognising the atrocities committed by all parties is an essential step to achieving a sustainable peace. Those most responsible for atrocities, including those in positions of command, must be held accountable,” Blinken said on March 20, days after he returned from Addis Ababa.
“These steps – acknowledgement, accountability, and reconciliation – are key to breaking the cycle of ethnic and political violence that has gripped Ethiopia and prevented it from reaching its unlimited potential for too long.”
Ethiopia’s warring parties have committed to the peace deal but Washington says a credible, inclusive, and comprehensive transitional justice process is necessary both in Ethiopia and Eritrea which sent troops to fight alongside the government.
Action on investigations
Human rights group Amnesty International in an open letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abby Ahmed, also asked for quick action on investigations against perpetrators of violence especially on women and girls.
Amnesty has demanded that immediate necessary steps be taken to ensure justice and reparation for women and girls subjected to sexual violence by the military forces aligned with the Ethiopian government.
“One of the key agendas in the Pretoria process that the government committed to was to facilitate the removal of TPLF as a terror organisation. Now that that has happened, it opens the possibilities to peruse a more important political process, including setting up of an interim government and incorporating the TPLF and the people of Tigray back to the political spectrum,” says Adam Kassie, a Senior officer at the Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance.
Muthoni Wanyeki from the Open Society Foundations Africa says Ethiopia will need to pass laws that will enable investigation into the humanitarian crisis in Tigray and help victims and their families get closure in the ills meted upon them in the two years of conflict in the region.
This week, Ethiopian Minister for Peace Tayde Dende’a told an audience in Addis Ababa that the government will implement the deal even though he admitted more work on rebuilding institutions to support intercommunal tolerance will be critical in curbing the instances of conflict in future in Tigray, Oromia and in the Somali regions.
“Transitional justice process must begin in earnest in order to ensure the people see justice served and done and there’s accountability for the perpetrators of the atrocities,” he said at a conference on the peace process which gathered rights groups, governance experts and government officials.
Dr Samir Yusuf, a senior advisor with the Institute for Democratic Studies notes that there is need for political will in enabling the root causes of the conflict in the region to be unearthed, discussed and determined in order for healing to fully commence.
The major elephant in the room at the moment is the atrocities that occurred in the region in the two-year period that heavy fighting occurred in that part of Ethiopia.
George Kegoro from the Open Society Foundations Initiatives for Eastern Africa (OSIEA) believes that the search for healing and justice begins with a disarmament process that should be made clearer and public as it has been termed as going on over time but not much around that has been reported on.
“There are many conversations that need to take place in Ethiopia,” he told The EastAfrican.
The United Nations has released several reports on the humanitarian situation in Tigray, placing the human toll at about half a million people, with over 2 million moving into Sudan and other regions in Ethiopia seeking to be sheltered from the hostilities.
The United States has just granted the Ethiopian government $331 million in new humanitarian assistance for Ethiopia in the financial year 2023/24 through the Department of State and the US Agency for International Development.
Blinken, who was in Ethiopia in mid-March and met the leadership in government over two days, has also stated that the US will channel $1.9 million towards independent investigations into the allegations of sexual violence, murder and human rights violations by all parties in the conflict over the period of heavy fighting.