Joint Open Letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights

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4th of January, 2021 

Michelle Bachelet Jeria 
Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) 
Palais des Nations 
CH-1211 Geneva 10, Switzerland 

Joint Open Letter to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights following the Office’s Press Release on the situation in the Northern Region of Ethiopia 

We, the undersigned Ethiopian Organizations in Europe, wish to express our profound dismay, sadness and disappointment at the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), following the High Commissioner Michelle Bachelet’s Press Statement on the 22nd of December regarding the situation in Northern Ethiopia.  

While we welcome the Office’s concern on the human rights situation of civilians in the region of Tigray, it is sad and unfortunate to see assertions by the High Commissioner, containing unverified allegations, personal testimonies without verifiable evidence as well as elements with a biased posture that clearly undermines the credibility of the United Nations High Commission of Human Rights. Ethiopians do not easily forget the fact that their repeated pleas for the protection of human rights in their country fell on deaf ears during the past several decades. 

It is also sad and unfortunate that the press statement deliberately omitted to mention the ethno-nationalist and oppressive regime of the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) that ruled Ethiopia from 1991 to 2018 perpetrating gross human rights violations that have been regularly reported to your desk and documented by many Human Rights organizations for over two decades. It also ignored the atrocious massacre on the 9th of November 2020 at Mai Kadra town amounting to crimes against humanity and war crimes that have been carried out by the TPLF local administration police and militia forces, according to reports from independent groups such the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission,  Ethiopian Human Rights Council and Amnesty International. In addition, it completely disregarded the attempted internationalization of the conflict by the TPLF by firing several rockets to Eritrea’s territory as well as the attempted strike on densely populated and historic cities Gondar and Bahir-Dar. 

The very same TPLF is the reason for the law enforcement operation to bring the clique’s leaders to justice. For over 2 years, the TPLF has been conducting and financing destabilizing actions leading to the death and displacement innocent civilians. Its intent was to destabilize the country and undermine Prime Minister Abiy agenda for institutional reforms which include the strengthening of the independence and capacity of the judiciary, electoral commission, and Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. 

While we note the legitimate concern of your Office over alleged or reported international humanitarian and human rights law violations in Tigray as well as the lack of access to independently verify these allegations, it is sad and unfortunate again that your press statement failed to recall that the TPLF had destroyed numerous civilian infrastructures including electricity and communication lines, bridges, roads and airport runways (such as Aksum Airport). It does not acknowledge the fact that the Ethiopian Government has declared that its priority is to guarantee humanitarian access and, for the most part, re-establish fully the delivery of public services (telecommunication, electricity, banking and aviation) which are gradually resuming in major towns and cities in the region. 

Furthermore, as you rightly stated, the Ethiopian Government has been open to allow unimpeded, sustained humanitarian access following the 29 November Agreement with the United Nations and started of two humanitarian assessment missions in Tigray. These positive developments, following the (now completed) military aspect of the operation will certainly help in reaffirming (or reversing) that the allegations reported to the Commission, were either uninformed or out-of-date with regards to facts on the ground. 

It is sad and unfortunate to see the High Commissioner issue a press statement with such a haste, including there-in unverified accounts of individuals, without prior validation of alleged reports, thereby echoing fabricated lies of the alleged victims or sympathisers of TPLF such as: 

  • “The Ethiopian army and regional Amhara forces and militia then reportedly took control of Humera, allegedly killing civilians and looting the hospital, banks, businesses, supermarkets and private houses. 
  • Based on multiple accounts, the Amhara “Fano” militia has reportedly committed human rights abuses, including killing civilians and carrying out looting

Once again, it is sad and unfortunate that your Press Release attempts to demonize the Amhara Fano and Ethiopian national army, falsely portraying them as forces committing atrocities in the context of a legitimate operation to uphold rule of law and bring criminals to justice as explained to Senior Officials at your office by the Permanent Mission of the Federal Republic of Ethiopia to the United Nations in Geneva. The High Commissioner’s press statement is clearly repeating the tale by the TPLF remnants or its sympathizers or innocent victims who lack better information, which regrettably indicates the Office is bent in echoing unsubstantiated allegation, putting yet again in question its objectivity and impartiality, which is by itself against the international humanitarian law and principles. 

Nonetheless, as Ethiopians committed to the promotion and protection of human rights that are guaranteed under international law and stipulated in the mandate of your Office, we call upon the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights, its Commissioner and the Human Rights Council Member States to take corrective measures to address the bias and propagation of unverified allegations in the press statement.  

Furthermore, we would like to recall that, since 2018, Ethiopia has been undergoing a profound transformation which cut across political, economic and social areas, under the leadership of H.E. Prime Minister Abiy whose efforts also include reforms to respect human rights, which have been grossly violated under successive authoritarian regimes in Ethiopia for several decades. Acknowledging the promising reforms to better protect human rights in Ethiopia, we call upon your office to work closely with the Ethiopian Government, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and Civil Society Organizations to nurture conducive mechanisms in support of the country’s long-term agenda.  

We also recommend the High Commissioner to avoid public communications that unduly vilify the Ethiopian Government and its legitimate law enforcement operation in its sovereign territory without sufficient evidence as it may impair the collaborative relationship with a member state engaged in exemplary transformations to improve its human rights records. Prior to going public with named accusations, the High Commission is expected to conduct verification with scrutiny and incontestable evidence. Such a communication piece being rather counterproductive and prejudicial to the victims of human rights abuses, we invite you to work or consult with national (Ethiopian Human Rights Commission) and international humanitarian organizations (e.g., Amnesty International) as well as the Ethiopian Government for access to the sites in order to independently verify the allegations, if and when the situation on the ground permits it. 

We also urge you to listen to all Ethiopians regardless of their ethnic origin who continue to be killed, injured, raped and tortured because of their ethnicity, an unfortunate result of the long-standing hatred, distorted historical narratives and ethnic-based policies promoted and executed for the last 27 years by the TPLF. The quest for respect of human rights of the thousands who continue to be massacred in many regions of Ethiopia because of their ethnic origin should be on your agenda on the same footing as your legitimate concern in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. 

Last, we also call upon your office to bring its institutional capacity and exceptional experience to bear and thoroughly investigate, and verify information and so as to shield itself against the wide-spread disinformation campaign on the legitimate law enforcement operation. Given the complex underlying origins of the situation in Ethiopia, we also appeal to the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to be part of the solution by, at least, stopping to fuel disinformation campaigns, which will only contribute to deepen the victims of this unfortunate conflict while also negatively affecting the credibility and impartiality of the United Nations. 

Initiated by Network of Ethiopians in Geneva for Action Taskforce (NEGAT)  

Endorsed by 

  • Association of Ethiopians, Scotland  
  • Ethiopians Association In Switzerland 
  • Democratic Change in Ethiopia Support organisation in Norway (DCESON), Norway  
  • Ethio-Bridge E.V. Stuttgart, Germany  
  • Eshet Friendship Association, London, United Kingdom  
  • Ethio Berlin Association, Germany  
  • Ethio Unity Association, Basel, Switzerland  
  • Ethiopian Association in the United Kingdom, United Kingdom  
  • Ethiopian Community Association in Italia, Italy  
  • Ethiopian community in Sweden, Sweden  
  • Ethiopian Democracy and Human rights Taskforce in Switzerland, Switzerland  
  • Ethiopian Diaspora Association in Belgium and Luxembourg, Belgium  
  • Ethiopian History Society, United Kingdom  
  • Ethiopian International Professional Support for Abay, United Kingdom  
  • Ethiopian National Arts Council (ENAC), Mainz Germany  
  • Ethiopian Oromo community in United Kingdom, United Kingdom  
  • Ethiopians for Ethiopians, United Kingdom  
  • Europe Task Force for Human Rights and Justice in Ethiopia, Pan European Frankfurt Deutsch Land (Germany) 
  • South West Ethiopian Community, United Kingdom  
  • The Children of Taitu, Switzerland 

Cc: All Members States of the Human Rights Council;   

  Permanent Mission of Argentina to the United Nations  
  Permanent Mission of Permanent Mission of Austria to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Bahamas to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Bahrain to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Bangladesh to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Bulgaria to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Burkina Faso to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Cameroon to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Czechia to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Denmark to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Eritrea to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Fiji to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of India to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Italy to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Philippines to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Somalia to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Togo to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Uruguay to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Armenia to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Germany to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Indonesia to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Libya to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Marshall Islands to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Mauritania to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Namibia to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Netherlands to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Poland to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Republic of Korea to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Sudan to the United Nations 
  Permanent Mission of Venezuela (Bolivarian Republic of) to the United Nations