Officials at the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) reject the national transitional justice initiative spearheaded by the federal government, on grounds of wrong modality and disregard for the nature of the conflict in northern Ethiopia.
In a letter addressed to the Justice Ministry, Tigray Interim Administration deputy head Tsadkan Gebretinsae requested a meeting to discuss concerns and find a way forward.
The letter states that the federal initiative ignored terms of the Pretoria Agreement, criticizing the national transitional justice system being led solely by the federal government without Tigray input.
Officials in Tigray want to collaborate with the federal government on equal foot, to draft a transitional justice policy that will encompass Tigray’s perspectives.
The National Transitional Justice (NTG) Working Group Team under the Justice Ministry has been preparing for the past eight months and currently at final stage to implement a new transitional justice policy nationwide in the coming months. However, Tigray regional authorities have so far denied cooperating with the Group officially until their objections are addressed.
The region’s officials raised their concern to Gedion Timotiwos (PhD), minister of Justice, since back when he led delegation of federal government officials to Mekelle in April 2023. The Tigrian officials told minister Gedion and the federal delegation that rebuilding trust with Tigrian peoples should precede the rushing to implement a transitional justice.
“We firmly believe in the need for transitional justice. However, we completely reject the national justice initiative being solely run by the federal government,” said Alem Abreha, director of the Legal Service directorate at the Tigray Genocide Inquiry Commission.
The Commission is currently conducting a door-to-door assessment of damages incurred in Tigray since November 2020.
Alem continued, “The draft transitional justice policy prepared by the NTG Team is also completely unacceptable. We told the federal government from the beginning that the model is wrong. However, the government is rushing to ratify the policy and proceed with implementation of the national transitional justice system.”
“First, the federal government cannot talk about transitional justice while nearly a million Tigrayans are internally displaced. Second, it cannot ensure justice by avoiding the victims and the international aspect of the crimes,” he said.
Tigray regional officials are demanding the national transitional justice system be redesigned before implementation proceeds.
During discussions with the Justice Minister and heads of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, Tigray officials proposed two options for approaching the transitional justice issue.
The first is to allow transitional justice through a completely independent body. The second is a hybrid model.
A hybrid model can be created by redesigning the national transitional justice system itself. Teams of professionals from Tigray, the federal government, international bodies, and other concerned groups would come together to collaborate. These cross-functional teams would embark on jointly drafting a transitional justice policy. The teams could then decide together whether the approach should be justice-centered or victim-centered.
Even though the NTG Team requested that the Tigray Interim Administration represent them with one professional, the latter refused, stating “our issue is not about representation on the NTG, but our complete objection to the NTG.”
“Transitional justice is very fluid, and you cannot copy and paste from other countries’ experiences. We clearly told the federal officials, including the Ministry of Justice and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), that the NTG must be redesigned,” Alem said. “The national transitional justice is not working with us so far. The need for transitional justice is articulated in the Pretoria agreement, stating that both the federal and Tigray governments will work on it. But the effort underway is one-sided.”
Another underlying issue the Tigray officials demanded of the federal government is reforming the Ministry of Justice, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, and other institutions expected to engage in the transitional justice system.
“The government is utilizing existing state machinery to implement transitional justice. Transitional justice cannot be ensured unless the MoJ, EHRC, and all responsible institutions are reformed,” added Alem. “Until reforms are made, Tigray cannot have trust in the national transitional justice system. We do not have confidence in them.”
So far, the NTG team conducted consolations with university professionals in Tigray. However, the officials argue that is not sufficient.
“We have no problem with the team coming and talking to anybody in Tigray. But we rejected the system. Our issue is from the very beginning, the NTG model is wrong,” said Alem.
“How to contact the victims in Tigray itself requires a comprehensive study. You cannot just come, talk to some professionals and ensure TG. First of all, consultation does not mean just coming and talking to university professionals. Transitional justice goes beyond that,” added Alem.
During a press briefing held a few weeks back at the MoJ premise, members of the NTG working group stated they are ready to launch the implementation of the transitional justice in the next few months, across the country.
The team was formed eight months ago, just a couple of months after the Pretoria agreement was signed. They have been collecting inputs for the preparation of the transitional justice policy, which is already at finalization stage. They have also conducted consultations in federal universities in regional states.
“We could not organize two consultations each in Tigray and Amhara regions,” said Marishet Tadesse (PhD), member of the ETG working group. “We are not politicians. The ETG team is comprised of purely professionals.”