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In search of impartiality

The primary ambitions of independent investigations into atrocities should be to establish the truth of what happened, give a voice to victims, create the conditions for perpetrators to be held to account, and end impunity.

The UN/EHRC investigation into human rights violations in Tigray [Ethiopia], however, achieved none of these goals. It not only failed to give a voice to the majority of this conflict’s victims, but it also laid the ground for the Ethiopian government to evade accountability for the atrocities committed in Tigray by its forces and allies. Indeed, more paragraphs in the final UN/EHRC report call for the cessation of hostilities, reconciliation, and capacity building than demand accountability, attribution of culpability, and an end to impunity.

Moreover, the report seems to take the Ethiopian government’s word that its ‘independent’ institutions will hold all perpetrators – including the government itself – accountable for the atrocities committed in Tigray. “International mechanisms are complementary to and do not replace national mechanisms,” the report states. “In this regard, the JIT was told that national institutions such as the Office of the Federal Attorney General and military justice organs have initiated processes to hold perpetrators accountable, with some perpetrators already having been convicted and sentenced.”

It is bizarre that the UN appears to believe that the Ethiopian National Defence Force and the attorney general of the government of Ethiopia can ensure accountability. The Ethiopian National Defence Force is a principal party in the war, and the attorney general, like the EHRC, has no prosecutorial independence to hold officials of the Ethiopian government accountable.

The UN does not lack experience in conducting independent, balanced investigations into brutal, complex and multi-faceted conflicts. It has established countless independent commissions of inquiry and international fact-finding missions around the world and tasked them with investigating atrocities and recommending corrective actions based on their findings. From Burundi, South Sudan and Gaza to Syria, Libya, and Lebanon such investigations allowed victims an opportunity to voice their truth, and ensured legal and political accountability for perpetrators. Moreover, the comprehensive reports these investigations produced served as historical records of grave crimes, withstood the test of time, and inhibited revisionist tendencies.

In Ethiopia’s conflict, however, the UN’s efforts to unearth the truth and call for accountability fell short of all of its established standards. The UN/EHRC report not only failed to establish the truth of Ethiopia’s bloody and ongoing conflict, but it also caused many affected by these atrocities to lose any trust they had in the UN.

But it is not too late for the UN to make up for its many failings in Ethiopia.

The joint report itself points to the need for further investigations and accountability. Now the UN should start working towards establishing and supporting a fully independent, international investigative mechanism.

Excerpted: ‘There is need for a truly independent probe into Ethiopia abuses’

Mehari Taddele Maru, "In search of impartiality," The News. 2021-11-26.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Defense force , Attorney general , Accountability , Crimes , Reconciliation , Ethiopia , Syria , Libya , JIT , EHRC