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Ethiopia Peace Shouldn't Derail War Crimes Probe: Panel

FILE: Then-Chair of the International commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia, Kaari Betty Murungi attends a press conference after the presentation of their first report during the 51th Human Rights Council in Geneva on September 22, 2022.

GENEVA - The signing of a peace deal ending a brutal conflict in northern Ethiopia is no reason to stop probing alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity there, UN-backed investigators said Tuesday.

Mohamed Chande Othman, head of the UN-backed Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, stressed before the UN Human Rights Council "The need to investigate alleged violations both before and since the peace agreement remains as important as ever to creating a durable peace with full respect for human rights."

In his comments to the council Tuesday, Ethiopia's ambassador to the UN, Tsegab Kebebew Daka, seemed to hint any plan his country may have had to try to prematurely halt the investigation had been abandoned.

"We call on the International Commission of Human Rights Experts to take extra care in the period until September when it will submit its final report not to repeat the kind of inflammatory and unfounded allegations contained in its preliminary report with the potential to undermine the peace agreement," he said.

In its first report, published last September, the commission said it had found evidence of widespread violations by all sides since fighting erupted in the northern Tigray region in November 2020.

And it warned of "reasonable grounds to believe" Ethiopia's government and its Eritrean ally were behind ongoing "war crimes and crimes against humanity".

The three-person investigation team, created by the council in late 2021, saw its mandate renewed last September for another year.

But a number of diplomats and rights groups, including Amnesty International, have voiced concern that Ethiopia appeared intent on ending the investigation early - something that would be unprecedented for a council-ordered probe

But before putting forward such a resolution proposal, Ethiopia would need to ensure it had enough support among the 47 member states on the council to have a chance of pushing it through.

Countries have until Thursday this week to present draft resolutions to be voted on at the end of the ongoing session, in early April.