Why is the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission Opposing the UN Human Rights Commission’s Session on Ethiopia?

Editors Note:

The United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) is convening today a special session on the grave human rights situation in Ethiopia. The EHRC is opposing, among other things, the HRC’s proposal to establish an independent body to investigate HR violations. The most disingenuous argument of the EHRC says “the draft resolution risks reopening for further deliberation their [victims’] truth as victims and survivors”. This is yet another stab by EHRC on Tigrayans. It is painful because it is being used to attack Tigrayans, while pretending it cares for them.

The truth is EHRC, as the most influential arm of the Abiy government in its genocidal war on Tigray, wants the atrocities not to be investigated. It wants its version of reality, which whitewashes the crimes of the regime, to be the final authority.

Tigrayans have warned from early on about the dangers of involving the EHRC in Human Rights investigations in Tigray. Here are some of the articles Tigrayans wrote on this matter.

  1. A Tigray Civil Society, Seb Hidri, warns OHCHR Head, Michelle Bachelet, against involving EHRC and its head in Tigray HR investigations.
  2. Tigray scholars society urges UN to reverse its decision to involve Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in Tigray HR investigations
  3. Three Tigray opposition parties write an open letter to Moussa Faki Mahamat, asking for the AU to distance itself from HR violations investigations in Tigray
  4. Three Tigray political parties urge Michelle Bachelet not to involve Ethiopian Human Rights Commission
  5. Why Daniel Bekelle Shouldn’t Investigate Crimes in Tigray
  6. Why EHRC should not Investigate Abuses of Human Rights in Tigray
  7. Tghat Forum 8: On the joint Investigation into Atrocities in Tigray
  8. UN Commissioner for Human Rights Owes Tigrayan Victims an Explanation
  9. António Guterres and Michelle Bachelet’s message to Tigrayans: you, the victims, don’t matter
  10. Inaction by International Institutions Emboldening Atrocities in Tigray

There is no Tigrayan that sees the EHRC as a credible organization. Tigrayans see it as the most dangerous organization that the Abiy regime uses against them. It is dangerous because it is led by a man who has a long history of animosity with the TPLF and Tigrayans, and who has perfected the art and language of the international community, using them to decieve, to whitewash the regime’s crimes, to minimize Tigrayan suffering, and to apportion blame and create parity. He uses the techniques of omission and commission extensively, and he makes use of his connections and influence in the international human rights community to appear as an independent professional and to block any meaningful progress towards independent investigation of atrocities in Tigray.

The letter below was sent to Tghat on August 4, 2021. It has been published here earlier. We publish it here in light of the recent developments.


A Peek into the false start and the dangers surrounding the joint EHRC OHCHR investigation in Tigray

My name is Michael Minassie. I was an interpreter/translator for the joint EHRC OHCHR investigation into the reported human rights violations in Tigray. After ten days  of employment, I was forced to resign from the original interpreter/translator job and  offered another task of monitoring the human rights situation in Tigray. From my  discussions with UNOHCHR team, I have come to understand that the reason for my  removal from this role in the joint investigation was solely the undue interference by  EHRC’s internal working process of UNOHCHR.  

In this brief, I would like to address three major issues. 

First, I provide details of why I was forced to resign from the joint investigation. 

Second, I also give an account of what I witnessed during this short but eventful stint  with the preparations and early days of conduct of the joint investigation and the  engagement between the OHCHR and the EHRC.  

Third and more essentially, I offer the reasons as to why I am gravely concerned that  the joint investigation is likely to fail to meet the minimum standard of an independent  and comprehensive inquiry under the UN guidelines. 

But first, let me state my professional background. 

Spanning three decades, my professional experience in journalism, communications,  and public information includes work with the UN Mission in South Sudan/Sudan  (UNMISS+UNMIS), where I served as Radio Producer and Programmes Coach. Prior  to that, I served as Media Monitoring and Radio Production Assistant for the United  Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE). I was also a Communication  Specialist for the Avian Influenza Project at the United Nations Food and Agriculture  Organization (FAO). As a correspondent for the USAID-funded Eye Radio in South  Sudan, I filed several well-received stories and reported in live shows about the  ongoing conflict in South Sudan. What is more, my professional work extends to the  field of nation-building and lifesaving humanitarian information, a focus of my career  when I was at Internews, an international media organization working in more than 30  conflict-affected countries. 

For more than 15 years, I worked in Ethiopian Television, a national TV with the largest  reach in Ethiopia. Chief among the prominent programmes I produced was ‘Worento’  – an investigative programme focusing on violations of human rights violations, abuse  of power, corruption, and accountability. The programme was so powerful that it  prompted some people with vested interest to physically attack me to silence the  widely received programme.  

I was the producer and host of a popular interview show in the English language,  ‘Mekelle Foresight,’ broadcast by Tigray TV. Focusing on Ethiopia’s politics, human  rights, tensions, and how to avert war in Ethiopia, I hosted over 40 high-profile current  affairs interviews and documentaries.

The TV broadcast was, however, disrupted a couple of weeks after the declaration of  war on Tigray on 4th November 2020. A scheduled interview with the renowned analyst  in the Horn of Africa, Rashid Abdi, was cancelled abruptly. With the imminent takeover  of Mekelle by the combined forces of Eritrea and Ethiopia, I, with other journalists who  feared for our lives, went into hiding. After 23rd November 2021, and for two months,  I was holed up in an extreme situation that left me in dire physical and psychological  trauma due to the dangers to my life and freedom due to possible persecution by  Eritrean Ethiopian and Amhara forces. 

On 25th December 2020, I, together with several of my colleagues, decided to return  to Mekelle City as we were under constant risk of falling under the crossfire of the  combatants. We had no more role to play there as journalists. On 28th December,  after travelling for most of three days and nights on foot through rugged mountains  and gorges to try and dodge the combatants, we were accidentally spotted by soldiers  at one military outpost. In an attempt to establish our identity, the soldiers and their  commanders took us from one military command post to another under heavy security  and put each of us through three days of rigorous interrogation. 

For this reason and the continued discrimination and brutal treatment of Tigrayans in  many parts of Tigray, we decided not to mention that we were Tigray TV staff. We  managed to disguise ourselves. Once in Mekelle and away from the armed conflict hot  spots, most of my colleagues reported back to the station. Some of us decided to stay  in hiding. Our fear was confirmed with the killing of one of our colleagues, Dawit  Kebede, on 20th January 2021. Dawit was my longtime colleague and friend, and I  was shocked and frightened by the tragedy that befell him. I then decided to move to  Addis Ababa, where I stayed low profile and concealed my identity for over two  months. To avoid such a misfortune, I confined myself to my home for most of the time.  On some three occasions, I had to sneak out by a cover of darkness and move to my  next of kin’s place after being alerted by friends about the prying of some people in the  neighbourhood. I later learned that these people were in contact with the security and  that I was under surveillance. 

This was compounded by the fact that I was mentioned in a propaganda campaign by  the government-owned national broadcaster, EBC targeting Tigrayan journalists. EBC  had a few days before the takeover of Mekelle, Tigray’s capital, on 28th November  2020, aired a documentary in which it accused me of interviewing people, including  ICG’s Ethiopia Analyst, William Davison. EBC claimed that I am one of the people  misguiding foreigners about the situation in Ethiopia. The accusation also targeted  other journalists and bloggers. The whole message of the documentary was  threatening as it called for action against me and others. In Addis, some people,  including my neighbours, understood the documentary’s message to mean that I could  be a fugitive and wanted by the authorities – one of our neighbours actually told this to  our former housemaid. She intimated the same to my wife. 

In early May 2021, I started seeking livelihood incomes for the family while concealing  myself from the watchful eyes of the government and local informants. Although I had  a Schengen visa at hand, it was difficult for me to exit Ethiopia, and I had almost given  up hope of freedom from the ordeal of having to hide. 

Then, an opportunity presented itself for me in this dire situation. It all started when  about three months ago, I got a call from a friend of mine who I knew during my 

assignment with the UN Mission in Sudan and South Sudan. He intimated to me of a  forthcoming UN job opening and recommended that I apply. For over three months up  to that point, I had been out of job for the first time in my professional life. Although I  am the only breadwinner in a family of five, and I was already feeling the pangs of  economic distress, I had in that period declined a job offer in Addis Ababa with an  international NGO. That was because I was keeping a low profile in the national capital  where I lived and worked for over thirty years for fear of persecution by the  Government – and that job required partnering with the Government. Abiy Ahmed’s  Government has been repressive of Tegaru and anything Tigrayan, including members  of the media from Tigray like myself. 

So, the UN employment offer came at a critical time for me. In mid-May 2021, I was  recruited by the UN OHCHR to serve as an interpreter/translator for the joint Ethiopian  Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and Office of the High Commissioner for Human  Rights (OHCHR) investigation into the reported human rights abuses in Tigray. I  thought the internationally sanctioned assignment would provide me with some  immunity, at least as long as it lasts, which I was told was initially for three months.  Taking the widespread persecution, extrajudicial killings, forced displacement and  summary dismissals from jobs meted out against Tigrayans throughout the country, I  should have known better. I accepted the task. That is how, on 16th May 2021, I went  back to Mekelle, Tigray, where I fled from a few months ago. 

On the first day of work (17th May 2021), the task started with a half-day induction.  Investigators and interpreters of the joint investigation for the two sides participated in  the induction, which dwelt on the why and the how of the investigation. It allowed  participants to familiarize themselves not only with the assignment but also with each  other. In that meeting, participants who spoke, including me, had made it clear that we  would be impartial, that we would play by the rules. 

What happened afterwards, however, is strange, to say the least. We were told that  the EHRC objected to involvement in the investigation job of two interpreters, myself  included, hired by the UN and demanded that we get removed from the position. The  EHRC team apparently argued with the UN side that we lacked the impartiality  required for the task – I say apparently because the discussions happened in the  absence of the two of us implicated by the accusation. We only came to know about it  from a briefing by the UN team. For me, the accusation was based on what I was doing  – interviewing people as a journalist. For the other colleague, it was due to a picture  profile he used for his Facebook account. So, we were not given the opportunity to  defend our position. We were informed by the OHCHR Addis Ababa Office that EHRC  opposed our recruitment and that the OHCHR has no other option other than our  removal from joint investigation. I trust the OHCHR tried – and we were told in the  briefing of that fact – to defend us against the unjust and discriminatory stand of the  EHRC. I would also like to believe that the UN side stood against the EHRC’s undue  effort to impose its will on the UN, a body with global legitimacy and an equal partner  in the task at hand. I had not believed that the EHRC had even offered to hire  interpreters for the UN, to which the latter, much to its credit, apparently refused. But,  the outcome indicates the excesses of the EHRC carried the day. 

This employment was short-lived: I and another interpreter-translator of Tigrayan origin  were forced to resign from the joint investigation after being selected and employed 

by the UNOHCHR. So, the UN eventually settled to offer us, the aggrieved, another  job as human rights monitors in Tigray. I personally appreciated the pressure the UN  side had to endure and understood its caution to avoid being bogged down with  wrangling from the start. 

The reasons behind the opposition advanced against another interpreter and me – from the EHRC is not clearly communicated to us. So, while waiting for any opportunity  to flee the country, I started to examine and to get to the bottom of our dismissal.  Moreover, I also started to gather information informally – informally because we were  not issued UN ID yet and wanted to be discrete as much as possible so as not to  attract the ire of the security – and look into the human rights issues from some  sources in the IDP camps and other affected by the war. 

Almost all circumstantial evidence I gathered appear to point to two main reasons. The  first relates to EHRC’s decision to control the probe and determine its outcome in a  certain way. In the course of my research, I found out that the EHRC had ulterior  motives to hide or skew some critical issues in the human rights investigation, which  may corroborate my suspicion over their willingness to go to great lengths to do what  they did to us. The ulterior motive of the EHRC became evident when the joint teams  started their investigation work in the IDP camps in Mekelle. For instance, on the  atrocities that happened at Mai Kadra, they have shown reluctance to try to get the  truth from the real victims. Mai Kadra, who are still alive and displaced from their  homes, are either in the IDP camps in Mekelle and Shire or have crossed the border  over to Sudan. The rest have been evicted from their land due to the forcible transfer  of the Tigrayan population as part of the ethnic cleansing campaign by the Amhara  forces. But, the EHRC team seems to have clung to the fabricated narrative its team  leader tried hard to sell to the world soon after the start of the war in November last  year. 

Concerning Mai Kadra, the bulk of evidence contrary to the Team Leader’s claim is so  overwhelming that her boss, Daniel Bekele, was forced to admit to The Guardian on  2nd June 2021.1 So, here is a Team leader who earned household notoriety at Mai  Kadra for adding salt to the wounds of victims through her deliberate treachery and  falsehood striking again. The EHRC Team’s bias against the IDPs in Mekelle,  particularly those displaced from Mai Kadra, is so deep that they are on their  tenterhooks to go to Mai Kadra where they know who to get there – perpetrators of the  atrocities and the new settlers – and what stories to find. It is no wonder why most  members of the EHRC Team belong to one ethnicity. The investigators seem to have  made up their mind as to what to expect from the IDPs. During the half-day induction,  one of the EHRC investigators who facilitated the presentation on the code of conduct  of interpreters cautioned us that we would find people who would tell us white lies  about things that never happened. As a member of the investigation, he was supposed  to be open-minded and not second-guess the response of the victims even before he  met them. In essence, he told us to sift it and weigh it- a job that was not offered to us  in the first place. So, his caution was belaboring the point as the role of interpreters is  limited and that there is nothing we could have done if at all we were to encounter one  

1 https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2021/jun/02/ethiopias-human-rights-chief-as-war rages-in-tigray-we-get-accused-by-all-ethnic-groups) that the report may “come across [as] one-sided” 

such an interviewee. Our part is to relay the information and not evaluate or judge it.  It is up to the investigator to find ways of checking and counter-checking the claim. 

From the information I got from the camp authorities, some of the investigators from  the EHRC tend to act like the police interrogating an alleged criminal. This is incredibly  worrying as, according to the sources, the EHRC investigators are not taking into  account the traumatic experience that the victims had gone through. For instance,  when an IDP who had fled for his life gives testimony how his family members and  friends were killed after they remained in their areas, one would find it in the  investigator’s mandate to try to learn how he came to learn of the killing, record his  response and check the veracity of the testimony through multiple sourcing. Instead,  they engage in arguments trying to corner the source/victim through rigorous cross questioning and derogating his/her claim. That is over-stepping the professional  bounds. Their tone, according to the sources, is also intimidating and demeaning. My  sources went on to say that anyone appearing on the scene in the middle of the  interview would know who is who from the interview techniques the respective partners  employ. 

Even when they faced the IDPs in Mekelle, the urge of the investigators to shy away  from the widely held truth was so great that they were seen to pelt and exhaust the  IDPs with questions regarding humanitarian aid and the situation in the camps. The  purpose of this strategy is two-pronged: One, it is to deprive the victims of enough time  to testify about cases of genocide, ethnic cleansing, widespread and systematic rape  and other gross human rights violations, which should have been the team’s major  preoccupation as per the mandate of the investigation. The second objective is, by  prodding the IDPs to complain about humanitarian relief and camp management, the  EHRC team wants to blame the international community. It is interesting to note that  one of the EHRC investigators criticized the international community for not matching  their calls for uninhibited humanitarian access with humanitarian assistance when the  access is created – he was parroting a narrative that percolated all the way from the  Head of the Government. Of course, there is no need to argue on the Government’s  claim of allowing unrestricted humanitarian access. This has been contradicted by  reports of aid organizations on the ground and credible international media outlets. 

The EHRC has shown its partiality both by commission and omission. As of yet, EHRC  said nothing about the systematic war-induced famine that has exposed 5.2 million  people to a life-threatening situation. Besides, it made a fake announcement claiming  that schools have opened in Mekelle, presiding over abuse of human rights. 

The second reason why the OHCHR forced us to resign relates to the fact that EHRC’s  power can dictate its terms in the independent work of OHCHR. The OHCHR recruited  me and the other interpreter-translator according to the UN’s rules and regulations in  keeping with the standard for staffing investigations. Despite the protest from the  OHCHR, the EHRC was allowed, and able to rid of even those recruited by the UN is  indicative of a much more dangerous state of play and sinister desire to determine the  findings of the investigation in a certain way. The looming crisis of independence and  impartiality of the joint investigation can also be corroborated by the fact that the  composition of the investigators lacks the diversity of professionals drawn from  different parts of the country. Not only was the selection process shrouded in secrecy  but it is also widely believed that key investigators with specific ethnicity dominate the 

task of EHRC team. Some of the remaining interpreters-translators are currently facing  illegal interference and pressure from EHRC to resign from their role. The EHRC key  investigators are intensifying pressure on interpreters/translators that are still working.  This also indicates OHCHR intensifying failure to shield itself from unwarranted  interference. 

In its desperate effort to keep its partnership with EHRC and the Ethiopian  Government, the OHCHR has permitted the EHRC to interfere in its staff members’  internal recruitment and retention. The forcible resignations and the composition of  key investigators indicate the problems at the core of the joint investigation. OHCHR  may sacrifice the independence and impartiality of the investigation for the sake of  keeping a partnership with EHRC. 

Though short, my exposure to the internal workings of the joint investigation has  convinced me that the joint investigation fails to meet the minimum standard of an  independent and comprehensive investigation as stipulated under the UN guidelines.  Here are the reasons why I think so. 

My observations and my ongoing conversations with those contacted for interviews  inform me the confidentiality related to the trust and security of the victims, witnesses,  and persons who cooperate with the investigation may not be kept. The EHRC and its  investigators are appointed to operate under strict purview and control of the  Government, which in turn interfere in the internal working of the OHCHR. The fact  that there are always the prying eyes and ears of the Ethiopian and most dreaded  Eritrean government security all around puts the sources at great risk. Some  interviewees intimated that they don’t feel secure to tell their stories. They are afraid,  reluctant and unsure to answer questions. 

After my forced resignation, I faced more pressure and the threat of persecution. With  the reported round-ups of Tigrayans in Addis Ababa and travel bans on some who tried  to fly out of the country, I decided and started to look for ways to relocate myself  temporarily out of the country. It is horrifying to note that all this time, the EHRC, after  depriving us of our right to work based on false accusation and discrimination, did not  stop at that. It continued to harass us. I have indications the EHRC Team Leader has  been working with the government security people, bringing us under their strict  surveillance. I can particularly speak for myself, and I have tangible tips from those  concerned about my security that I was closely followed, and I could have been  exposed to some form of harm as a result. Afraid of my safety, I decided to leave the job and fly out of the country. I was lucky to have made it through the airport. 

I have recently learned that the EHRC Team has asked another interpreter to “resign  or face the consequences”. This is yet another indication that the EHRC team has  continued to flaunt its discrimination and obstruction at whim. The architect of Mai  Kadra drama is again at the centre of all these injustices. The OHCHR has allowed  the EHRC to dictate the process of investigation.  

The question now is how long OHCHR should allow itself to act as if the investigation  will be independent, impartial, objective and credible?

I am convinced that the joint EHRC-OHCHR investigation will not establish an impartial  and independent account of the atrocities in Tigray. There are many reasons for this,  but the core cause will be the involvement of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission  as a proxy for the Ethiopian Government and Amhara forces, and the OHCHR in Addis  Ababa will highly likely succumb to the pressure from the Ethiopian Government. The  EHRC and its leadership are publicly and broadly perceived as siding with Abiy’s  administration in the Tigray populace. The involvement of the EHRC has been  counterproductive as people have decided to not cooperate with the investigations.  Tigrayans expect and accept the inquiry to be conducted only by an UN-mandated  body.  

So, this is far beyond an attack on my person, a trampling of my right to work.  

It is about the victims’ right to justice and effective remedies. It is about establishing  truth and facts for the sake of dialogue and reconciliation in the country.  

I am, therefore, convinced that the ongoing investigation cannot offer an independent,  impartial and credible international investigation into the egregious violations of  fundamental human rights and international humanitarian law committed against the  People of Tigray. 

Given the recent military and political developments in Tigray, a UN mandated inquiry  commission would serve the above purpose best.  

Best regards, 

Michael Minassie

This Post Has One Comment

  1. Fano terrorists and Eritreans troops out of Tigray

    “The vulture is a patient bird”. Chase titled his book around the Vulture-like behavior of the key character in the story. Vultures are described as scavengers, meaning ‘they eat dead animals’. One writer explained that, “The vulture is a patient bird because it can wait for days for an injured or sick animal to die. It would keep a safe distance but have a direct view of its prey, and would only go to it when a swarm of flies signals the end of life for the animal. It’s willing to wait for five days for an animal to die”

    https://www.lusakatimes.com/2021/08/03/are-the-vultures-back-for-the-pf-carcass/

    The above extract and its analogy, taken from Lusaka times, have nearly a direct correlation with Ethiopian current situation.

    Isyas is a vulture(sick animal) who was waiting patiently to attack its prey , Ethiopia and mostly people of Tigray , for years until the date he received a signal from a swarm of flies and their corrupted leader Col Abiy Ahmed . The swarm of flies is Fanos and ENDF who were preparing for years in the hope of killing our leaders, subjugating our people and seizing Humera and Raya.
    Swarm of flies could also be the appearance of kingit , Ginbot 7 pro-Isyas cadres like Abiy Ahmed, Birhanu Nega etc within Ethiopian government positions that signal weakness of Ethiopian governing body and invited Isyas to start doing what he was dreaming to accomplish for years.
    Aristotle “humans are political animals”. It must be noted that « Analogies compare two things that have no logical or physical relation to each other. « Hence, not every aspect of these two or three things we compare here 100 % alike , and it is almost always impossible to have a perfect one-to-one fit between the analog and the target apart from conveying their similarities and enhance the degree of comprehension about a given concept .

    Analogy: Joyce’s personal care and hygiene are the same as a pig who roots in the mud and rolls in the dirt day after day.
    Analogy of Jesus Christ – Faith as little as Mustard seed to move mountains(Matthew 13:31-32 )

    As vulture willing to wait for five days for an animal to die” , So is the sick animal Isyas was willing and dedicated himself and his army to wait so long until the traitor Abiy Ahmed who is the enemy of Ethiopia took office and gave the platform for Eritrea to execute the genocidal project that was designed By Isyas Himself.

    As healthy animals and humans should deter themselves from sick animals and their carcass, We should say a big NO to Isays and Abiy Ahmed and must abandon their chokingly stinky genocidal ideology . Just as we remove stinky remains of animals and trashes from our surroundings, WE should say « Eritrea out of Ethiopia , hired modern day Askaris Eritrean forces from Tigray , Oromia and elsewhere in Ethiopia, Fanos and Ethiopian genocidal terrorist forces from Tigray.
    Fano is a terrorist group as long as it persists in its genocidal campaign and actions against unarmed civilians. It doesn’t matter whether it represents 50 million or 3 million people. Those who claimed that Fanos are perfect representations of Amhara people , makes Amhara represented by goons who engaged in massive killings of teenagers, children , women and elders . These people are criminalizing the amhara people who are intermarried and lived with every ethnic group, while attempting to classify fanos as defenders and representatives of entire amhara people. Amharas should condemn the killings of innocent unarmed children , women and elders by Fanos if they deem fanos represent them. NO more false accusations and propaganda campaign against civilians in order to help yourself with fake pile of self-testimony and look innocent as if you killed soldiers found in the villages. Stop it Now . You still have time to save yourself from further investigations and facing the consequences of your actions. The genocider Menelik had already caused hostility and damage for what he has perpetrated in the past and surely your genocidal actions will oblige your children to pay the economic and sociopolitical prices, disintegration of the nation , and dissolution of the social bond we had established thus far . However, You could still reduce the price if you stop it now. Stop the genocide against our brothers , sisters, elders and mostly our children. NO religion, no societal value and norm justify this evil act except self-serving fabricated religious like rhetoric passed to you by your evil socio-economic and political elites. Stop the genocide on our people and Fanos and Eritreans must leave Tigray !!! Stop Tigray Genocide in Humera !

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