The pursuit of international accountability for the human rights violations in Ethiopia has become the center of a heated battle between the Transitional Justice Working Group of Experts (TJWGE) and various human rights bodies.
On October 11th, 2023, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) jointly issued an advisory note, underscoring the urgent need for a transitional policy that unequivocally forbids granting amnesties for international crimes and gross human rights violations.
The EHRC and OHCHR further demanded that the Working Group develop a comprehensive transitional justice policy that clearly “defines both judicial and non-judicial processes and mechanisms, including prosecution initiatives for international crimes and sexual violence, among others, to address the complex legacy of past abuses in Ethiopia.”
However, on October 18, 2023, the Working Group of Experts issued a statement that downplayed the demands made by the human rights bodies.
The statement, titled “Clarification Note of the TJWGE in Relation to the EHRC/OHCHR Joint Advisory Note,” referred to the suggestions put forth by the EHRC and OHCHR as an “a priori dictate.”
“It is also important not to put prescriptive thoughts on matters of transitional justice that should be decided by Ethiopians and Ethiopians alone,” it reads.
The TJWGE stressed that local and national stakeholders should lead the transitional justice process. They firmly asserted: “National and local ownership applies to all aspects of transitional justice, from assessment and implementation to monitoring and evaluation- which entails that process leadership and decision making… are led and driven by national stakeholders.”
The TJWGE was established by the government eight months ago, tasked with formulating a transitional justice policy that addresses past human rights violations in Ethiopia.
Operating under the Ministry of Justice, the team announced last month that they are finalizing the policy process and will proceed with implementation in the coming months.
However, human rights bodies, most notably the UN, as well as the European Union and the US, have been advocating for the investigation of the conflict in northern Ethiopia by external entities such as the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE).
They argue that the involvement of foreign forces, such as the Eritrean forces, in the northern Ethiopia conflict, along with the violations of international human rights laws, necessitate an investigation by international bodies.
The Group of Expert’s statement further cautioned the EHRC and OHCHR against dictating the direction of transitional justice.
They emphasized that, “the drafting of the transitional justice policy must be guided solely by the choices and aspirations of the Ethiopian people based on specific contexts in Ethiopia.
In this light, “any assessment note by EHRC/OHCHR- offered to the process- should exercise caution not to engage in substantive dictate on what or how Ethiopia’s future policy framework should be organized.”