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Rights Groups Alarmed by Ethiopian Efforts Against War Crimes Probe

FILE - A destroyed tank is seen by the side of the road south of Humera in western Tigray in Ethiopia, May 1, 2021.
FILE - A destroyed tank is seen by the side of the road south of Humera in western Tigray in Ethiopia, May 1, 2021.

Rights groups say they are concerned after a report this week said Ethiopia wants to terminate a U.N.-backed investigation into abuses committed during the two-year Tigray war.

Reuters news agency said that Ethiopia is lobbying governments to back a resolution that would end the mandate of the commission conducting the investigation. Rights groups say stopping the probe on alleged war crimes would deny justice and undermine the credibility of the U.N. Human Rights Council.

Human Rights Watch this week published a letter signed by 63 rights groups to the U.N. Human Rights Council, expressing concern about Ethiopia’s plans to introduce a motion to end the commission probing the war in Tigray region.

Amnesty International, one of the groups to sign the letter, says terminating the mandate of the commission would have serious consequences.

Amnesty’s Horn of Africa campaigner Suad Nur says it would only serve what she calls Ethiopia’s deeply embedded culture of impunity.

“It will also deny justice for victims and survivors of gross human rights violations," Nur said. "This is including sexual violence from a highly atrocious conflict.”

The U.N. commission was established a year after war broke out between Ethiopia’s government and forces in the country’s Tigray region in November 2020.

Rights groups say both sides are guilty of atrocities, including torture, mass executions, detentions and rapes.

Ethiopia’s government has from the beginning opposed the commission’s investigation and tried a year ago to block funding for it, calling it politically motivated, but failed to get enough votes.

But diplomats this week told Reuters that Ethiopia is seeking support for a motion it plans to introduce at the U.N. Human Rights Council to end the commission’s mandate six months early.

Ethiopia’s government has not commented directly on the Reuters report.

But in prepared remarks at the opening of the African Union summit on Feb. 15, Ethiopia’s Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen confirmed the plan.

“This commission could undermine the AU-led peace process and the implementation of the peace agreement with inflammatory rhetoric. It could also undermine the efforts of national institutions," Mekonnen said.

The printed speech, given to some media, went on to say that Ethiopia prepared a resolution for “terminating the commission’s mandate” that “will be presented at the council’s upcoming session.”

It then called on the African Union “to endorse our resolution and assist us to terminate this unwarranted mandate.”

But Demeke did not read that part of the written speech during his remarks.

Reuters quoted Western diplomats saying they were urging Ethiopia to back off its plan to submit the motion, saying it would set a “terrible precedent.”

At an AU summit press briefing, VOA asked U.N. Secretary General António Guterres to comment on the deputy prime minister’s attack on the U.N. commission.

“The only thing I can testify is that the U.N. rights work of the U.N. system is a work that is always positive in relations to the peace process," Guterres said.

The African Union brokered a November peace deal between Tigrayan forces and the Ethiopian government after fighting that killed tens of thousands, with some estimates in the hundreds of thousands.

The Ethiopian government rejected the U.N. commission’s September report, which found widespread violations by both sides, including the government’s using starvation as a method of warfare.