African Union will investigate human rights violations in Ethiopia

In relation to the Tigray conflict

PHOTO/AP  -   Tigray survivor Abrahaley Minasbo, 22, from Mai-Kadra, Ethiopia, shows his machete wounds

The African Union launched a commission of enquiry into the conflict in Tigray, a northern region of Ethiopia against which the federal government has been engaged in an armed offensive since early November and in which numerous human rights violations have been documented.

"The commission of enquiry is mandated, among other things, to investigate violations of humanitarian and international human rights law, and to gather all relevant information to determine whether the allegations constitute serious and gross violations of human rights," reads a statement issued late on Wednesday.

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AFP/EDUARDO SOTERAS - People gather around the body of a young man who witnesses say was shot dead by security forces after breaking curfew in the town of Mekele, capital of Tigray

As reported by the AU in March, the creation of the commission -which will work for three months before being renewed- stems from a proposal by Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

This investigation will be conducted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights (ACHPR), a body responsible for investigating human rights violations but which has no binding power on states to enforce its decisions.

After the pan-African body called for a cessation of hostilities in November and dispatched special envoys to Ethiopia to mediate -which Addis Ababa rejected- AU Commission chairperson Moussa Faki Mahamat showed his support for the Ethiopian government in late December, asserting that its military actions in Tigray were "legitimate".

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AFP/EDUARDO SOTERAS - Arsema Berha, 9, rests in her hospital bed in the Tigrayan capital, Mekele

Since then, the Addis Ababa-based body has maintained a resounding silence on the conflict, raising doubts about the impartiality of this investigation.

The editor of the local Ethiopian daily Addis Standard, Tsedale Lemma, said in an interview with Efe this week that the AU "has clearly aligned itself with the Ethiopian government and they have made no further statements since then, not even on humanitarian access".

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) warned in early March that evidence from the Ethiopian region points to "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

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AFP/EDUARDO SOTERAS - Young men walk past an abandoned tank belonging to Tigray forces south of the town of Mehoni, Ethiopia

On 25 March, the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (ECHR) announced that they will conduct a joint investigation into human rights violations and abuses allegedly committed by all parties in the Ethiopian region.

Experts and organisations have questioned the impartiality of this investigation because of the presence of the ECHR, a body that operates autonomously but is appointed by the Ethiopian Parliament.

Human rights organisations have reported indiscriminate violence and atrocities committed against the civilian population in Tigray, including more than a thousand documented cases of sexual violence, although the actual number could be much higher.

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PHOTO/AP - In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 file photo, Ethiopia's prime minister Abiy Ahmed

The conflict in Ethiopia erupted on 4 November after the central government attacked the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), the region's ruling party until then, in retaliation for an earlier alleged attack by Tigrayan forces on a federal army base.

Since then, thousands of people have been killed, nearly two million have been internally displaced in the region and at least 75,000 Ethiopians have fled to neighbouring Sudan, which borders Tigray, according to official figures.