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Ethiopia: Prioritize victims amidst legacy of rights abuses, UN office urges

The UN human rights office on Thursday urged the Ethiopian Government to ensure that ongoing efforts addressing a legacy of rights abuses, rooted in years of violence and ethnic unrest, prioritize the rights and needs of victims and their families.

A joint report by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission emphasized the need to implement all components of transitional justice equally. These include criminal accountability, truth-seeking, reparations, and guarantees of non-recurrence, involving effective remedies for victims, legal reforms, and reconciliation.

One of the recommendations stemming from the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, signed between the Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, is the establishment of transitional justice policies. This agreement marked the end of the bloody conflict in Tigray, Amhara, and Afar regions.

In 2018, Ethiopia witnessed a surge in human rights violations, marked by killings, torture, and ethnic- and faith-based violence. The situation escalated with the eruption of an armed conflict in the Tigray region in November 2020, claiming thousands of lives and displacing millions.

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Ongoing ethnic-based violence in various regions further intensified the crisis, prompting a nationwide state of emergency in August 2023 due to escalating tensions in the Amhara region.

Victim-centred approach critical

Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, welcomed Ethiopia’s steps to develop a national transitional justice policy aligned with the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement.

“It is crucial for such efforts to be holistic and consistent with international human rights norms and standards, placing victims and affected populations, especially women and girls, at the centre,” he added.

Key recommendations

The report sets out findings of 15 community consultations held from July 2022 to March 2023 with hundreds of participants, including victims and their families, in Afar, Amhara, Harari, Oromia, Somali and Tigray regions, and in the Dire Dawa city administration.

It sets out 31 recommendations, including on the design and implementation of the transitional justice process, justice and accountability, truth seeking and recommendations, and guarantees of non-repetition.

“By amplifying the experiences and voices of directly affected populations across Ethiopia, it is important that this report properly informs ongoing discussions on the development of a legitimate, holistic, genuine, and inclusive policy on transitional justice,” Mr. Türk added.

States’ obligations

The UN rights chief also stressed that States have a duty to investigate and prosecute gross human rights violations and abuses and serious violations of international humanitarian law, including those which amount to crimes under international law.

“Those who have been subjected to violations or abuses are entitled to justice, including adequate, comprehensive, prompt, and effective reparations,” he said.

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