To the Commissioners and Special Mechanisms of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR)
25 October 2022
The ACHPR should strengthen the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry on Ethiopia and adopt a strong resolution condemning ongoing human rights violations
On the occasion of the 35th anniversary of the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), Atrocities Watch Africa and the Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum call on Commissioners to strengthen the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry into Ethiopia originally established in 2021 through a resolution utilizing strong human rights language drawn from the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and other regional and international frameworks, calling for an immediate ceasefire, access to humanitarian aid, and accountability for human rights violations committed in Ethiopia since the outbreak of the conflict in Tigray two years ago. The collapse of a fragile 5-month ceasefire agreed to in March 2022 by the Government of Ethiopia (GE) and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) has resulted in new intense fighting, and the GE has announced the establishment of a new military front on the border of Sudan in western Tigray. Aid distribution continues to be hampered by restrictions imposed by the GE, lack of fuel, and a communications shutdown, with the UN reporting that life-saving supplies by road and air have remained suspended since 25 August. This has exacerbated hunger and malnutrition in the region. More than 5.1 million people were displaced in 2021, the highest figure recorded for any country in a given year. Displacement in 2021 was three times the amount of the displacement recorded in the region in 2020 according to the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center.
The gravity of the conflict in Ethiopia has been recognized by the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC), who, during their 51st session in September 2022, extended the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) for another year. In the ICHREE’s report presented to the UNHRC, the group noted that
“there are reasonable grounds to believe that violations, such as extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence, and starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare have been committed in Ethiopia since 3 November 2020. The Commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that, in several instances, these violations amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity”.
Ethiopian and allied forces have carried out deliberate attacks on civilian objects and infrastructure such as schools and hospitals, and perpetrated mass sexual violence, with more than 1,300 rapes documented between January 2021 and February 2022. On 30 August, explosions took place late in the evening in the capital of Tigray, with one explosion hitting a neighborhood near Mekelle General Hospital. The explosion follows an airstrike on 26 August, on a children’s playground, killing seven people, including children. The Amhara security forces have carried out ethnic cleansing campaigns against the Tigrayan population in the western Tigray zone of the country. Ethiopian authorities have effectively besieged the population since June 2021, blocking humanitarian aid and medical supplies from entering the region and implementing a shutdown of essential services. A shutdown of communications networks has left Tigray’s capital, Mekelle, without access to phones, banking, electricity, and internet for over a year and has impeded the capacity to report violations and abuses. Throughout the conflict, fuel restrictions imposed by the GE have also culminated in an inability to deliver what little food and medical aid is available to the civilian population. The restoration of services has been a core demand of the TPLF before peace talks, but the GE has insisted talks must begin without the restoration of services.
International human rights organizations have noted the inability and unwillingness of the GE to fulfil its responsibility to protect civilians. Human Rights Watch reported that the GE did little to prevent the killings of civilians in Western Oromia in June 2022, despite having the primary responsibility to protect. On 18 June 2022, about 400 civilians, including children, were killed by an armed group despite the presence of government forces in the area.
Efforts to document the conflict and associated rights violations have been met with repression and restrictions on civil and political rights, including censorship, with the Government charging 111 unregistered media outlets with “working to make Ethiopia a center of violence” in August 2022. On 3 June 2021, journalists Dessu Dulla and Bikila Amenu were summoned to appear in court on criminal charges of “outrage against the constitution” related to their work covering human rights violations committed during the conflict in Tigray. The criminal charges levied can carry the death penalty.
We call on Commissioners to the ACHPR to adopt a strong resolution strengthening the mandate of the Commission of Inquiry, and in particular highlighting areas of concern noted by our organizations in the context of the current crisis, in which several articles of the African Charter, particularly in regard to the right to life (article 4), freedom of expression and access to information (article 9), freedom of association (article 10), right to health (article 16), women’s rights (article 18), non-domination of groups (article 19), and peace and security (article 23) are in question. We highlight the 2017 ACHPR resolution on the situation of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Africa and the displacement crisis within Ethiopia. We call on the special mechanisms of the ACHPR focused on thematic issues, particularly surrounding the rights of women, human rights defenders, refugees and IDPs, torture, and extrajudicial killings and enforced disappearances to all highlight the dire situation in Ethiopia during the closed working sessions of the ACHPR.
Given restricted levels of access to the conflict-affected areas of the country, including sites of reported mass atrocity crimes, for international observers and continued reliance on state human rights bodies by the African Union during the ongoing peace process, we call on Commissioners and special mechanisms alike to liaise with independent national human rights organizations and other civil society actors well placed to provide timely and accurate information from the conflict zones. This is particularly imperative in the context of a media blackout, in the June 2022 presentation of the ICHREE, the Commission noted that they had been slow to receive information from the national Ethiopian Human Rights Commission.
We thank you for your attention to these pressing issues and stand ready to provide your delegation with further information as required.
Atrocities Watch Africa
The Horn of Africa Civil Society Forum
 UN News, “Ethiopia: UN chief ‘gravely concerned’ by escalation in fighting across Tigray”, 15 October 2022, https://news.un.org/en/story/2022/10/1129572.
 Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre, “Children and Youth in Internal Displacement”, 2022, https://www.internal-displacement.org/sites/default/files/publications/documents/IDMC_GRID_2022_LR.pdf.
 ICHREE, “Report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia”, 19 September 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/documents/hrbodies/hrcouncil/regularsession/session51/2022-09-19/A_HRC_51_46_AdvanceUneditedVersion.docx
 Al Jazeera, “Ethiopia’s war marked by ‘extreme brutality’ from all sides: UN”, 3 November 2021, https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/11/3/ethiopias-war-marked-by-extreme-brutality-from-all-sides-un
 Al Arabiya, “Airstrike hits capital of Ethiopia’s Tigray region”, 31 August, https://english.alarabiya.net/News/world/2022/08/31/Airstrike-hits-capital-of-Ethiopia-s-Tigray-region
 Reuters, “Air strike on playground kills 7 in Ethiopia’s Tigray region – hospital”, 26 August, https://www.reuters.com/world/africa/air-strike-hits-capital-ethiopias-northern-tigray-region-local-media-aid-sources-2022-08-26/
 Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopia”, https://www.hrw.org/africa/ethiopia
 International Crisis Group, “Avoiding the Abyss as War Resumes in Northern Ethiopia”, 7 September 2022, https://www.crisisgroup.org/africa/horn-africa/ethiopia/avoiding-abyss-war-resumes-northern-ethiopia
 Human Rights Watch, “Ethiopia: Civilians in Western Oromia Left Unprotected”, 31 August 2022, https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/08/31/ethiopia-civilians-western-oromia-left-unprotected
 Addis Standard, “News: Fed. Police file charges against 111 “illegal digital media” outlets suspected of “working to make Ethiopia center of violence”, 31 August 2022, https://addisstandard.com/news-fed-police-file-charges-against-111-illegal-digital-media-outlets-suspected-of-working-to-make-ethiopia-center-of-violence/
 HoACSF, “The Watch: January – June 2022”, https://hoacsf.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/The-Horn-of-African-Civil-Society-Watch-January-June-2022.pdf
 ICHREE, “Oral Update of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia to the UN Human Rights Council”, 30 June 2022, https://www.ohchr.org/en/statements/2022/06/oral-update-international-commission-human-rights-experts-ethiopia-un-human