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Why EHRC should not Investigate Abuses of Human Rights in Tigray



Social media is awash with news of the atrocities committed in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Even with limited access to the region, some international media outlets such as Sky News, CNN, BBC, and Channel4 have managed to report heinous war crimes and abuses of human rights. Organizations such as Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have also corroborated the facts on the ground in their reports of harrowing accounts of massacres, rape, starvation, looting, and non-sensical destruction of healthcare facilities, schools, and other non-military targets, many of which have been either rejected or misattributed by the Ethiopian government. 

So, who should investigate the war crimes and human rights abuses?

The UN has been raising concerns about the atrocities that have been committed, while US Secretary of State Antony Blinken has explicitly described what has been happening in western Tigray as “ethnic cleansing”. While calling the situation unacceptable, he stated “we are seeing very credible reports of human rights abuses and atrocities that are ongoing”. Even with all the facts on the ground, Ethiopian government officials are in a state of denial. Following UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet’s call for an independent investigation, Amnesty’s Sarah Jackson said:

“The UN High Commissioner’s statement today underscores the gravity of the alleged crimes being committed by all sides in the Tigray conflict, and the urgency of the UN acting now” […] “Given the complexity and gravity of the situation, a UN-led investigation, rather than a joint investigation with Ethiopian institutions, is urgently needed to establish the truth and lay the foundations for accountability. There is no time to lose — work on this must begin now, before evidence could be destroyed and memories begin to fade.”

AU’s involvement in investigating alleged war crimes and human rights abuses has been categorically rejected by the Tigrayan community. In fact, the three opposition parties in Tigray have urged the AU to distance itself from investigating crimes in Tigray. The news that the UN human rights council has accepted the Ethiopian Government’s involvement to co-investigate the atrocities has angered those who oppose the war and those who are expecting independent and objective investigations of the atrocities. The following tweets reflect some of the anger:

  • The war crimes in Tigray were waged by @AbiyAhmedAli whose government runs the
  • @EthioHRC.@EthioHRC didn’t raise a voice when @AbiyAhmedAli made claims that all refugees in Sudan are men with political affiliation with TPLF and that there were no civilian casualties in #Tigray.
  • The war crimes in Tigray were waged by @AbiyAhmedAli whose government runs the @EthioHRC.
  • That is bias, selective outrage, & untrustworthiness.
  • It has already engaged in false reporting & efforts to whitewash #TigrayGenocide!
  • War crimes need an independent investigation, excluding @EthioHRC led by Abiy appointed official, @DanielBekele. 
  • Victims of the #TigrayGenocide deserve a truly independent investigation!
  • UN asking @EthioHRC’s @DanielBekele to help investigate war crimes committed in Tigray is to allow @AbiyAhmedAli & Isaias Afwerki to “get away with murder”.
  • Victims of the #TigrayGenocide deserve a truly independent investigation!
  • Their involvement compromises the integrity of the investigation, dissuades victim participation & obstructs justice!
  • The list of human rights violations not investigated in the past 3 years is clear indications of the selective outrage & incompetence of @EthioHRC.
  • Including the state-funded @EthioHRC means including the perpetrators of these crimes & strips the victims of a legitimate investigation!
  • The Tigrayan community has no confidence in EHRC, thus its involvement is a nonstarter.
  • List of massacres not investigated or misreported by @EthioHRC include, #DanglatMassacre #AxumMassacre #MaikadraMassacre. 
  • EHRC’s involvement is fraudulent!
  • @EthioHRC UNDER @DanielBekele is a corrupt institution working in alliance with @AbiyAhmedAli in multiple ethnic cleansing campaigns across the country.
  • That is bias, selective outrage, & untrustworthiness.

Based on 16908 tweets mentioning ‘EthioHRC’ and sampled independently, a basic sentiment analysis shows opinions reacted negatively to the announcement of joint UN Human Rights Council and EHRC investigation of human rights violations in Tigray.

The analysis was done automatically using NVivo which searches for expressions of sentiment in the source materials. The source materials were captured from Twitter. The search term ‘EthioHRC’ was used and it resulted in 16908 Tweets at the time of the search. Based on these tweets, 68% were negative, 19% mixed, 12% neutral, and 1% positive.

First, there is a reason that the UK, US, UN raised the need for an independent investigation. The warring bodies cannot be independent. Second, given that many reported atrocities have been allegedly committed by the Eritrean troops coupled with the fact that the Ethiopian government rejects reports of Eritrean presence in Ethiopia makes this comical. Here is a key question, how can EHRC investigate atrocities allegedly committed by those who the government claims are not even there in the first place?

Given how EHRC (headed by Daniel Bekele) treated the Mai Kadra massacre and the whole war on Tigray, it is hard to believe that the commission or the commissioner would be independent and non-partisan. There are several consequential issues with involving the EHRC in the planned investigation:

  1. EHRC is not independent. Although it claims to be independent and non-partisan, it is a government-affiliated organization. It can be used as a tool to cover up past crimes and enable the next ones. The unnecessary complexity EHRC will bring to the ‘joint investigation’ will derail the process. Moreover, the very involvement of EHRC will taint the investigation’s report as victims will be afraid to speak up out of fear of repercussion. EHRC is part of the problem.

2) EHRC lacks agency. Given the high-stake nature of the case at hand, EHRC can be used to cover up crimes and sanitize the hands of criminals. EHRC is too attached to the government. In the case of the Mai Kadra massacre, the report, produced in a hurry and without considering key informants, was used by the government to justify its genocidal war on the rest of Tigray. 

3) EHRC’s commissioner is neither impartial nor trustworthy. Daniel Bekele, in one of his interviews, showed his support for the government when questioned about the arrest of journalists. Also after Abiy claimed ‘victory’ and reported that the war was over with zero civilian casualties, Daniel Bekele came out with a statement that: “it is comforting to learn that the operation didn’t result in as severe consequences as it was originally feared to be, there was a much-hyped about bloodbath, civilian casualties, breaking up of the country.” Thus a supporter of what turned out to be a genocidal war cannot conduct a fair investigation. This is akin to asking a rapist to investigate a rape allegation. Awol Allo, a critic, posted on his Twitter that “Daniel Bekele could not credibly claim to have the independence and impartiality required to conduct a credible investigation into mass atrocity crimes perpetrated in Tigray.”

So, if the goal of the investigation is to deliver a trustworthy and unbiased result, the joint investigation would be a major and irreversible mistake. For that reason, UN human rights chief Michelle Bachelet should reject Ethiopia’s request to join the Tigray inquiry.

Medhanie Gaim is a researcher in paradox theory and entrepreneurship at Umeå University.

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  1. Niguse Shishay

    March 22, 2021 at 9:58 am

    EHRC is the right wing of Abiy Ahmed Ali (the dictator prime minister) and the commission also witnessed for the Mai Kadra massacares that it was done to the Amhara people, so it anounced completely false statmentand, the masacared peoples are the Tigrian ethnic group, and it was done by the Amhara Fano milisha troops, thats why, the commission can not investigate with UN,

  2. Dereje

    March 21, 2021 at 10:34 am

    Our demands should be the followings considering the fact that the truth has been already told by CNN, AI, HRW, Skynews, channel4 world vision, WFP and many others- this is not Michelle Bachellets sole decision and is not revertable- we can demand the followings action that guarantee the credibility of the investigation

    1- The investigation has to be led by UN, not EHRC

    2- UN representatives always participate in the field work- otherwise victims will be intimidated if it is only staffs of EHRC who are going to interview them to collect data

    3- The inclusion of representatives from the Civic societies of Tigray (ሰብ ህድሪ, GSTS, TPA, TDA, forum of the three political parties) and so on as members of the team To counter balance the minimum effect from EHRC

    They are going to investigate- the train has left. It is better if we fight to make sure representatives are included in the team.

  3. Dereje

    March 21, 2021 at 9:35 am

    I am also for 100% independent investigation like many Tegarus, but I am not sure this strategy of demanding reconsideration is going to work as it is not Bachelet’s sole decision, but the result of lengthy diplomatic tractations – it look like that Either to include EHRC, or Eth gvt would not allow the humanitarian fact-finding mission. Is that than what people want? No mission at all?

    So our demands is unattainable- the truth is already known and I don’t think that EHRC will have the power to change the already established facts by CNN, AI, HRW, Skynews, Channel4, WFP, Worldvision and others.

    Taking that in to consideration, we, Tegarus should instead propose achievable demands while the UNHRC is developing the modalities- I believe we can demand the followings
    1- The inclusion of representatives of the Civic societies of Tigray (ሰብ ህድሪ, GSTS, TPA, TDA, forum of the three political parties) and so on in the team and counter balance the effect from EHRC
    2- The investigation has to be led by UN, not EHRC
    3- UN representatives always participate in the field work- otherwise victims will be intimidated if it is only staffs of EHRC who are going to interview them to collect data

    I believe that we contribute a lot for the independency of the investigations if we manage to convince the UNHRC to include our representatives from GSTS or Seb Hidri as members of the investigations team and counter balance EHRC . I am sure also UNHRC will not have the problem to accept that demand compared to the demand you just outlined Medhanie

  4. CHALA

    March 21, 2021 at 3:01 am

    UN lead Independent investigation is a must. Including daniel bekele and Musa Faki in this investigation is creates another atrocities

  5. Tewelde

    March 20, 2021 at 9:37 pm

    I don’t believe the Ethiopian Human rights, because it’s criminal by misinformation of our people’s Genocide in mycadra or other places of is acceptable for supporting the government by misinformation & hiding our people’s Pain/horrific Genocide.we don’t trust these agency.Only Un investigation for Tigray

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