Monday, May 20, 2024
In DepthAccountability versus normalization: walking a tight line

Accountability versus normalization: walking a tight line

It has been some time since Ethiopia’s name was brought up in the United Nations Security Council (UNSC). Exactly six months after the signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) in Pretoria, South Africa, Ethiopia’s domestic and international politics have already taken a 180-degree turn. All eyes are now on Sudan, another conflict epicenter in the Horn of Africa, as news of the horrors of war in northern Ethiopia begins to fade.

In addition to cooperating with the federal government, Tigrayan leaders have already reconciled with other regional states in the country that had been at odds. The Ethiopian government, which previously accused western nations of interfering in its internal affairs and violating the country’s sovereignty, has shifted gears and is reengaging with the west.

However, the rush to normalize relations appears to be driven by western interests. The diplomatic convoys arriving in Addis Ababa, especially over the past few weeks, speak volumes about the fact that there is much more in the works than simply ending the conflict in northern Ethiopia.

The German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, is among the recent notable visitors. In addition to African Union (AU) officials in Addis Ababa, the Chancellor met with Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD), President Sahlework Zewde, and Getachew Reda, president of the Tigray Interim Administration, during his two-day visit.

Scholz’s visit, which took place only two weeks after Giorgia Melani, the Italian Prime Minister, visited Addis Ababa, centered on the implementation progress of the Agreement, in addition to other regional and international security concerns.

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During the same week, Amina Mohammed, UN deputy secretary general, and UN high commissioner for human rights, Volker Türk, also visited Ethiopia. Burak Akcapar (Amb.), deputy foreign minister of Turkey, was also in town.

Representatives of nearly all European Union (EU) member states also convened in Addis Ababa last week to discuss with the Ethiopian government and the African Union (AU).

“European countries relationship with Ethiopia, is transforming from quandary to trust. They have been turning their backs on us. But now they are turning their faces to us. Particularly German and Italy, wants Ethiopia to play crucial role in ensuring peace and stability in the horn of Africa,” lamented Meles Alem, spokesperson at Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA), during his weekly brief on May 4, 2023.

The EU Council also issued a statement noting the progress made in the implementation of the peace process. It also urged international financial institutions (IFIs) to expedite the restructuring of Ethiopia’s debt.

MoFA praised the EU’s conclusion.

“The EU’s readiness to re-launch its regular Multi-Annual Indicative Program, its strong encouragement of the IFIs to assist Ethiopia in its economic stabilization and reform agenda, and its call on creditor countries to swiftly conclude the debt restructuring process through the Common Framework are all welcome,” MoFA stated.

It was high time that Ethiopia’s relations with the EU and other allies were strengthened, the report stated. “Ethiopia’s partners are reinvigorating their relations as Ethiopia continues to make remarkable progress in consolidating and sustaining peace, undertaking economic reforms, rebuilding communities affected by conflict, and making progress in climate-resilient growth.”

Both the EU and the United States (US) are taking similar steps to normalize their relations with Ethiopia. During the two-year war, both sides maintained strong positions, which they are now rapidly reversing.

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken described the northern Ethiopia peace process as “successful” in a statement marking the sixth month anniversary of the CoHA. The EU, US, and IFIs have pledged to support the post-war reconstruction of Ethiopia, which the government estimates will cost at least USD 20 billion.

For political analysts and observers, however, the haste to normalize relations after the West’s abrupt change in tone after two years of conflict is cause for concern.

“The EU and the US are no longer demanding accountability for the atrocities committed during the northern Ethiopia war. They are instead rushing to renew their diplomatic ties to a new height,” a political analyst working at an Ethiopian think tank who is not authorized to speak to the media said.

The Analyst claims that the “West seems to have chosen reconstruction over accountability in the post-war rapprochement with Ethiopia.” He argues that it has become difficult to demand that the Ethiopian government ensure accountability and also refresh diplomacy in the meantime.

“The Union and the US have no more leverage to confront the Ethiopian government to ensure accountability and justice for the human rights violations and war crimes,” the Analyst said.

However, according to political officers at the EU office in Addis Ababa, the EU is simultaneously working on accountability and reconstruction.

As Ethiopia advances in implementing the CoHA, western pressure on the federal government to accept the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) is diminishing.

According to anonymous sources close to the situation who spoke with The Reporter on the condition of anonymity, if the commission “discharges its mandates and brings Ethiopian officials to the International Criminal Court, the implications will be devastating for Ethiopia, which is why both the west and the Ethiopian government are compromising the accountability agenda.” They assert that the West’s stance on human rights is more of a political and economic interest than a non-negotiable principle.

Given the rapidly shifting geopolitical landscape and the conflict in the Horn of Africa, Costantinos Berhutesfa (Ph.D.), a former UN policy advisor and chair of the AU Anti-Corruption Board, is not surprised by the rush to normalize ties.

Costantinos does not believe that the West is disregarding accountability; rather, he believes that they are requesting transitional justice in Ethiopia.

“The human rights issues can be addressed under the transitional justice initiated by the Ethiopian government. The initiative can be successful if it is perfectly implemented and monitored. They can come and observe how the Ethiopian government implements the transitional justice system. But they have no jurisdiction or mandate over Ethiopia.”

Regarding priority, he argues that it is appropriate for western powers to prioritize humanitarian aid and reconstruction efforts in Ethiopia. “The socio-economic crisis in Ethiopia will be exacerbated if these measures are postponed and first prioritize accountability.”

Economic normalization is crucial for both Ethiopia and the West, and sanctions are the West’s most powerful tool in international relations, according to Costantinos.

“The West has suspended some privileges and support for Ethiopia since the war. Resuming these supports and trade privileges is very critical for Ethiopia’s recovery,” added Costantinos.

Other experts believe that the rush is primarily due to the situation in Sudan.

Ethiopia has emerged as a crucial partner in the evacuation of citizens and diplomatic staff from Khartoum as a result of the power struggle between two generals that led to an all-out war. European nations are especially concerned about the potential migration influx.

In a statement released on May 2, 2023, Blinken reaffirmed the significance of the US’s alliance with Ethiopia and its commitment to collaborate on issues of mutual interest.

He emphasized that “the complete withdrawal of Eritrean and non-federal forces from the Tigray Region and a credible transitional justice process, including accountability for those responsible for human rights violations and abuses, will be key to achieving a sustainable peace in northern Ethiopia.”

The successful peace process in northern Ethiopia highlights the opportunity to bring peace to the Oromia Region as well, according to the statement. “The United States welcomes the beginning of talks in Tanzania, announced by PM Abiy, and encourages all parties to negotiate in good faith toward a mutually acceptable resolution.”

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