Now that the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front have signed a cease-fire to end the bloody civil war, a formidable to-do list awaits. In addition to silencing the guns, it is vital to forge a lasting political settlement, and enormous humanitarian needs require attention, including millions of people desperate for food and medical assistance. One important and difficult goal cannot be neglected: investigating atrocities by all sides in the conflict and pursuing accountability for them.
The U.N. Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia concluded in September that, based on interviews with 185 victims, survivors, witnesses and others, there are “reasonable grounds to believe that parties to the conflict have committed war crimes and violations and abuses of human rights.”
Further evidence of such violence comes in a report from The Post’s Katharine Houreld describing a massacre at a prison camp near Mirab Abaya on Nov. 21, 2021, in which 83 inmates were killed by 16 to 18 guards. The victims were all Tigrayan, many of whom were detained early in the war, held in prison camps for nearly two years with no access to their families, phones or human rights monitors. Others were detained in November 2021 as Tigrayan forces advanced toward the capital, Addis Ababa. About 2,000 to 2,500 serving or retired Tigrayan soldiers, both men and women, were at the new prison camp north of Mirab Abaya. Ms. Houreld reported that it is not entirely clear why the guards opened fire, but some might have been motivated by revenge; most were from Amhara, a region Tigrayan forces had invaded as they pushed toward the capital. The shooting stopped when an Ethiopian colonel arrived, and the guards were said to have been arrested. Ms. Houreld reported that similar attacks occurred in at least seven other locations.
The U.N. commission was not given access to the war zone by the Ethiopian government, but its conclusions were stark. It found that “sexual and gender-based violence … in particular rape, has been perpetrated on a staggering scale” since hostilities broke out and that “some 20 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance and protection in Ethiopia, nearly three quarters of them women and children.” The panel said “profound polarization and hatred along ethnic lines in Ethiopia” have “created a disturbing cycle of extreme violence and retribution.”
The Nov. 2 cease-fire agreement says that the Ethiopian government “shall implement a comprehensive national transitional justice policy aimed at accountability, ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation, and healing,” consistent with the Ethiopian constitution and an African Union policy framework.
A broad and credible investigation is essential. But the peace agreement offers no room for a U.N. or other international probe. This leaves open the question of whether a serious effort at accountability will occur. Though it faces many other difficult tasks ahead, the Ethiopian government should not lose focus on such a critical goal.
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