UN agrees to Ethiopia request for joint Tigray inquiry

UN agrees to Ethiopia request for joint Tigray inquiry into alleged war crimes
3 min read
The Ethiopian government has rejected allegations that it committed atrocities while fighting a former guerrilla group, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), in its northern Tigray region.
A soldier walks by in Alamata, Ethiopia. [Getty]

Ethiopia's request for a joint investigation into recent violence in the country's northern Tigray region, where war crimes may have been committed, has been welcomed by the United Nations as a possible step toward an independent inquiry.

Human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Wednesday that the UN had "responded positively" to a request from the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) for joint investigations in Tigray.

The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) will develop an investigation plan jointly with the EHRC "in order to launch the missions as soon as possible", OHCHR spokesman Jonathan Fowler said.

Ethiopia is facing a prolonged conflict between government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) in its northern Tigray region, which borders Eritrea. The government has rejected allegations of atrocities and said it was ready to work with international human rights experts to conduct investigations.

Unrest erupted in early November, just a year after Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed received the Nobel Peace Prize for resolving a 20-year border conflict with Eritrea.

The decision by Ahmed to merge the ethnic and region-based parties of the Ethiopian People's Revolutionary Democratic Front, which had governed Ethiopia for 27 years, into the new Prosperity Party was not welcomed by the TPLF, which refused to join the new coalition. 

Eritrea's President Isaias Afwerki is alleged to have given Ethiopian troops support against the TPLF, a former guerrilla movement and political party that has dominated Ethiopian politics since 1991.

Read also: Sudan officially requests international mediation in Ethiopia Grand Renaissance Dam dispute

The United Nations and the United States have demanded that Eritrean troops leave Tigray.

The Eritrean government has denied that its troops are in Tigray, despite dozens of eyewitness accounts.

Amnesty International had called for a UN investigation into ongoing allegations of grave human rights violations, including potential war crimes and crimes against humanity.  

The watchdog interviewed survivors and witnesses to mass killings in November, documenting massacres allegedly committed by Eritrean troops in Axum and Maryam Dengelat.

"Eritrean troops fighting in Ethiopia's Tigray state systematically killed hundreds of unarmed civilians in the northern city of Axum on 28-29 November 2020, opening fire in the streets and conducting house-to-house raids in a massacre that may amount to a crime against humanity," the report said.

Satellite imagery analysis by the organisation's Crisis Evidence Lab corroborates reports of indiscriminate shelling and mass looting, as well as signs of new mass burial sites close to two of the city"s churches.

"The evidence is compelling and points to a chilling conclusion," Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International's Director for East and Southern Africa, said.

Amnesty International's investigation concluded that the Eritrean troops' massacre of hundreds of civilians in Axum in late November 2020 amounts to a possible crime against humanity.

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