Ethiopia’s House of Peoples’ Representatives finally give in to widespread public criticism over its reluctance to condemn the spate of massacre that has been rife in different parts of the country. This week it passed a resolution strongly denouncing the heinous massacre of innocent civilians and law enforcement personnel in the Oromia, Benishangul Gumuz, Gambella, Amhara, Afar, Somalia, and Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples regional states. The resolution called for, among others, the individuals behind the killings to be brought to justice as well as all levels of administration, security and enforcement organs to protect the safety and security of the public. During their deliberation on the resolution Members of Parliament underscored the imperative to hold everyone complicit in the violence, including individuals working in administrative structures and the security apparatus, to be held accountable.
Although Ethiopia has seen its share of senseless violence throughout its history, hundreds of inter-communal conflicts and targeted attacks have rocked it since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) came to power in April 2018. Thousands of defenseless citizens—children, women and the elderly among them— have been slaughtered with millions more displaced from their homes and left psychologically traumatized in egregious acts devoid of any legitimate political objectives. Despite expressing condolences and declaring that the groups responsible for the carnages have been dealt a deadly blow, the actions taken thus far by the federal and regional governments have not been nearly enough to prevent their recurrence. The stark failure of the political leadership at both the federal and regional levels to honor their word, particularly in terms of undertaking a serious house-cleaning to see to it that individuals within their ranks that consort with the perpetrators of the violence are held to account has led to questions whether they are genuinely committed to restore peace and security in the affected communities.
As important as taking measures aimed at guaranteeing the safety and security of citizens is, holding answerable anyone, no matter their station in life or government office they hold, involved in planning, executing or covering up atrocities is also equally vital. Accountability is central to the rule of law, the pillar of a democratic system. Without the rule of law such fundamental freedoms as the right to life, liberty, work, and expression of thought cannot be enjoyed fully. Accountability is instrumental in ensuring that the government, its officials and agents along with individuals and private entities are held accountable under the law. It also underpins the principle of equality before the law and affords protection to basic liberties. On a personal level accountability signifies the acceptance of responsibility for one’s own actions and resigning from office it implies a willingness to be transparent, allowing others to observe and evaluate one’s performance.
Accountability is a concept enshrined under the Ethiopian constitution. Article 12 of the constitution stipulates that the conduct of affairs of government shall be transparent and that any public official or an elected representative is accountable for any failure in official duties. It also provides that in case of loss of confidence, the people may recall an elected representative. Moreover, insofar as the violation of rights recognized by international instruments to which Ethiopia is a signatory, namely the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international/continental covenants on human rights, is concerned any person guilty of such violation is liable to be held under the mechanisms established under these instruments. The ruling Prosperity Party routinely acknowledges, without naming names, that some of its officials are entangled in the butchery of innocent people. While the senior leadership of the party may or may not be directly implicated in the atrocity, it cannot escape liability by laying the blame on low-level functionaries. It needs to realize that the buck stops with it.
Condemning the massacre of defenseless citizens in itself cannot bring solace to the families of the victims and the communities they hailed from. As such it’s incumbent on the Government of Ethiopia to investigate and prosecute gross violations of human rights. This may necessitate the establishment of a specialized institution capable of handling crimes that may amount to violations under international law. Regardless of whether the probe is carried out by a special parliamentary committee, as Parliament itself decided, or another entity, it’s of the essence to guarantee the full judicial, prosecutorial and investigative independence of the entire process. It’s only then that the process can be credible and effective in delivering accountability.