The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission: A Champion of Transitional Justice?

A destroyed tank is seen by the side of the road south of Humera in western Tigray, Ethiopia, May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)
A destroyed tank is seen by the side of the road south of Humera in western Tigray, Ethiopia, May 1, 2021. (AP Photo/Ben Curtis, File)

Since the signing of the Pretoria agreement which ended formal hostilities between the Ethiopian government and the Tigrayan Forces in November 2022, transitional justice has become a leading topic of debate in many Ethiopian and international circles. The spike in interest was spurred in part by nationwide public consultations that are being held based on a January 2023 green paper which outlines policy options for transitional justice. Although this has been viewed as a step in the right direction, most who follow developments closely are unconvinced that the Ethiopian government is going to subject itself to a genuine process of transitional justice.

There are, in fact, clear indications that the government plans to instrumentalize transitional justice in a bid to achieve what a recent book described as quasi-compliance. That is, the acceptance and initiation of a transitional justice process to pacify domestic calls for justice and fend off international pressure while, at the same time, also avoiding reputational and legal liability that may come out of a properly implemented initiative for justice. While the January 2023 green paper itself contained early warning signs in its sovereignty-centric and hypernationalist pronouncements, the government has also been vehemently opposing independent international investigations of atrocities committed in Ethiopia. If the government succeeds in shutting down or preventing international fact-finding and investigatory initiatives, including by preventing the renewal of the mandate of the UN’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (“ICHREE”), it will be able to easily strong-arm local processes in order to achieve its desired outcomes.

While many in Ethiopia, including many opposition parties and some human rights actors, have objected to the government’s designs for quasi-compliance, the international community seems to have resigned itself to a realist outcome that does not bode well for justice and accountability. In the face of ominous signs pointing to the winding down of ICHREE, some seem to be holding out hope for a scenario in which the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (“EHRC”, “the Commission”) would prove to be the local champion of justice that will hold the government accountable.

This article aims to demonstrate that this hope is unrealistic based on research conducted in collaboration with a colleague who will remain anonymous. Even though the EHRC has recently undergone sweeping reforms and retains some potential in the form of human capital, it has made a large number of critical mistakes that should lead to its exclusion from investigations, or transitional justice processes, surrounding the Tigray war. The EHRC’s missteps, and the resulting damage to its credibility, are significant enough that the Commission itself is going to have to go through another process of institutional and personnel reform before it is able to establish itself as a respectable national human rights institution.

The EHRC’s Early Failures in Building Credibility

When the EHRC began a process of reform in mid-2019, it had to overcome serious legal and institutional challenges, in addition to recovering from a bad reputation as a human rights institution that not only failed to address the entrenchment of authoritarianism through the law, but used its reporting mandate to whitewash serious human rights violations. Reforming and professionalizing the EHRC, which required significant legal, institutional, and personnel overhaul, was always going to pose an uphill battle. However, the EHRC was also starting its work in a divided society being afflicted by a spiraling mix of identity-based power struggles, mass violence, and state fragility. This meant that the EHRC’s ability to build legitimacy and credibility was going to be both difficult and critical for its success.  

While the EHRC seems to have successfully completed the reform of its legal and institutional structures together with a vetting process which replaced close to its entire workforce, it has failed to build broad-based trust and goodwill. This, at least initially, manifested in an early gaffe by the Chief Commissioner, Daniel Bekele. In an interview in which he seemed to be taking sides in the Ethiopianist-Federalist debate, the Chief Commissioner went as far as suggesting a need for banning identity-based political parties – which at that time, and probably even today, constituted the majority of political parties – as a panacea to Ethiopia’s extremely complicated problems. Putting aside the ease with which the country’s chief human rights officer was proposing restrictions on the full realization of the freedom of association, this politically convenient, partial and reductionist comment could not have been made by anyone who sought to be a Chief Commissioner of all Ethiopians.

Gaining equal or comparable reception, or detestation, by the government as well as its opponents was never going to be easy. But this was especially true for Daniel Bekele because of his own ethno-linguistic background and the fact that he had been subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment and arbitrary imprisonment at the hands of the TPLF on the accusation that he joined an Ethiopianist conspiracy to overthrow the government. Making statements that would infuriate the social base of the TPLF and other federalist alliance parties was, at best, a big public relations blunder. Although he tried to walk back the statement, he never really recovered from this blunder, and would also repeat similar statements that reinforced pre-existing concerns about his political bias.

The Chief Commissioner would also later make a number of problematic pro-regime declarations that would turn him into a bête noire of the federalist camp while endearing him to government supporters. These declarations included, for example, his apparent defense of the detention of Oromo opposition figures, and repeated claims that Ethiopia was on track to democratization, even stating that the 2021 elections were “much improved and inclusive election than in the past”. The Chief Commissioner would even go on local and international, and even government-controlled media to engage in a campaign-styled polemic against Amnesty International’s reporting on violence in the Oromia region. Besides the fact that the Chief Commissioner was eager to give an interview exclusively dedicated to discrediting Amnesty International to a regional government media outlet, there was also a significant overlap between the talking points of the Chief Commissioner and other government institutions such as the Ministry of Justice and of Foreign Affairs.

These incidents may already have been strong indications of a certain type of bias, but it was the Chief Commissioner’s participation in, and statements at, the January 2021 Geneva Press Club event which made this conclusion inescapable. The event was organized explicitly by the government and its supporters to address “misinformation” about the government’s “legitimate law enforcement operation”. Surrounded by panelists who reiterated the government’s talking points blaming all of Ethiopia’s ills on “the TPLF clique”, the Chief Commissioner affirmed the other panelists’ talking points, including on how the war started and on the ongoing “genuine democratic reform”, and proceeded to make the now infamous comment “it is comforting to learn that the military operation did not result in as severe consequences as it was originally feared” and that “talk of huge civilian casualties … much-hyped about and the much talked about bloodbath did not really happen, at least to the extent it had been anticipated”.

These comments, which at the time shaped the opinions of many domestic and international audiences, were not only insensitive, but were also a clear misrepresentation of a gruesome reality that was unfolding. On top of the Mai-Kadra massacre, which the EHRC reported on, there had already been large massacres in Axum, Maryam Dengelat, Adigrat, Goda, and Adi Goshu. Large-scale sexual violence, pillaging, and the systematic displacement of civilians had already been ongoing at the time of the event. In addition, massacres would take place 24 and 48 hours after Daniel Bekele’s speech in Humera and Bora. The Tekeze River bridge and Mahbere Dego massacres would follow a week later. A team of researchers at the University of Ghent had accounted for 150 massacres that took place by March 2021.

Although the egregiousness of the Geneva Press Club incident is obvious with the benefit hindsight, many, including myself and numerous colleagues I was in conversation with, were unaware of the details and the scale of the atrocities in Tigray, and were therefore swayed by his assertions as to the scale of violations. Even at that time, however, it was clear that the chief human rights officer of Ethiopia should not have gotten on that highly partisan stage and should not have disbursed doubt on the possibility or scale of atrocities in the context of a conflict shrouded in secrecy due to an information and communications blockade. The Chief Commissioner should have also avoided lending his support to the “law enforcement operations” narrative when it was clear that what was taking place was an armed conflict with the involvement of the national armies of both Ethiopia and Eritrea, or the “genuine democratic reform” narrative when it was obvious that a process of authoritarian reversal had already been consummated. Even though it was clear that this misstep hurt the Commission’s and most certainly Daniel Bekele’s credibility, many of us were still inclined to give Daniel Bekele the benefit of the doubt counting the incident as another gaffe, or a sprain of the tongue as one would say in Amharic.

Daniel Bekele would join another public event hosted by the Royal African Society in mid-March 2021 where he would downplay the U.S. State Department’s “ethnic cleansing” determination and even push back against the allegations of war crimes and systematic rape, alluding to a need for “separating facts from fiction”. If there was any doubt as to what Daniel Bekele knew or did not know in January 2021, by this time, the U.S. State Department, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, many humanitarian agencies, and later European Union delegates had privately and publicly stated that war crimes and crimes against humanity, including what could be described as systematic ethnic cleansing, had been taking place. While the publicly available information suggests that the Chief Commissioner knew of these allegations and would have had enough information to know that they were credible, a number of informants have confirmed that he was abreast of the ongoing situation.

It is important to note that the EHRC itself would later conclude that both systematic rape and ethnically driven forced displacement against the Tigrayan population occurred during this time (though even this later report conveniently avoids the issue of “ethnic cleansing” and leans too heavily on the Ethiopian military’s perspective of what happened). There is no denying that the Chief Commissioner was beginning to carve a path and a role for the EHRC that would not just erode its credibility but would create a path dependency that made it extremely difficult for the Commission to assume a neutral position or to hold the government accountable.

There are no indications that the Chief Commissioner has apologized for or walked back his statements at the Geneva Press Club and Royal African Society. Neither has the EHRC taken steps to undo the harm caused by its Chief Commissioner’s statements to victims or to the Commission’s reputation.

The EHRC’s Wartime Failures as Evidence of Bias

The inability of the Chief Commissioner to cross political lines, or to overcome the perception that he supported one side of the war, diminished his ability to engage with all the warring sides and become the human rights commissioner of all Ethiopians. But this did not necessarily mean that the entirety of the EHRC had to suffer the same fate. In theory, even if the Chief Commissioner himself was not able to establish a working relationship with the TPLF or other parties opposed to or fighting the government, it was possible for the EHRC to at least attempt to cross those lines. Looking at the overall work of the EHRC outside of the failures discussed in this article, it is not difficult to see that the Commission has always had potential for success in the implementation of its investigative mandate.

In what follows are three clear examples of biased reporting which show that the EHRC has not succeeded in establishing itself as an impartial and credible investigatory institution. These examples are illustrative of a pattern that is relevant to the EHRC’s potential engagement in future investigations and which can, for the most part, be verified by readers with publicly available information.

The Mai-Kadra Massacre

The horrifying massacre Mai-Kadra, where scores of Amhara-Wolkait civilians were killed, was a centerpiece of the government’s portrayal of the TPLF as irredeemably evil. Whereas the TPLF was initially portrayed by the government and its supporters as a duplicitous adversary which betrayed its comrades and “stabbed” them in the back with the outbreak of conflict, the Mai-Kadra incident provided a discursive turning point in which the TPLF could now be easily portrayed as a genocidal and a terrorist organization that is comparable to Boko Haram. The government and its supporters also used Mai-Kadra to dismiss human rights reports of atrocities in Tigray, by portraying Tigrayan civilians as “[Mai-Kadra] perpetrators acting as victims” in order to spread misinformation after “dropping their machine guns, machetes, and changing their clothes”. Mai-Kadra would remain a cornerstone of the government’s narrative even after reports that Tigrayan civilians were also attacked there, as well as the TPLF-backed fighters committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Amhara and Afar regions after turning the tides of the war in June 2021.

The EHRC’s report on Mai-Kadra was a significant part of the government’s narrative which allowed it to overcome the low credibility of its own propaganda machinery by putting the EHRC up front as a neutral arbiter of the facts. This was an effective strategy as the EHRC report would become the basis on which many Ethiopians, including the author of this article, local news outlets, and international media organizations became aware of the Mai-Kadra massacre where “[a]t least 600 civilians were killed” in a single day.

Despite its discourse-shaping role, the methods of the EHRC’s Mai-Kadra report raise a number of questions. The EHRC was invited to Mai-Kadra by the Ethiopian government within days of the killings, and it allegedly conducted its investigations in the company of militia members who used dehumanizing language against Tigrayans, including during interviews of Tigrayan witnesses by EHRC investigators. What is more, while large scale atrocities were committed in Mai-Kadra, it is now clear that the Mai-Kadra report significantly exaggerated the scale of atrocities. The Commission later quietly revised the casualty number from “a minimum of 600” to “more than 200” – bringing it in line with a figure that is consistent with reporting done by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch as well as the federal government which, unlike the EHRC, publicly admitted that previous reports were exaggerated.

According to EHRC sources we interviewed, the challenges behind the Mai-Kadra report were known from the beginning and had been a source of much consternation among the Commission’s professional staff. Not only were the defects of the investigations known from the beginning, the EHRC never publicly acknowledged its misrepresentations, nor did it attempt to mitigate the harm caused by such misrepresentation. This is despite the fact that the EHRC and its leaders had actively participated in government propaganda initiatives by providing interviews and soundbites that were aired repeatedly and multiplied in social media.

The Axum Massacre

As opposed to the EHRC’s over-reporting of the level of violence in Mai-Kadra, the EHRC’s report on the Axum massacre, which took place between November 28 and 29, provides an example of under-reporting the regime’s violations. Although the EHRC report covers violations by Eritrean soldiers, it for the most part avoids discussing violations by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). The indiscriminate shelling of the city by the ENDF and its allies, a factor that was covered by every other investigatory report on the incident, is described indirectly and without acknowledging the indiscriminate nature of the shelling or the identity of its authors. In addition, almost every reference to ENDF violations is qualified as having been done by “some members” of the ENDF while no such effort is made to qualify Eritrean violations.

The EHRC report also contrasts significantly with reporting by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the UN’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia in terms of the volume of civilian casualties. Whereas these reports depict the massacre of hundreds of civilians, the EHRC would only report “more than one hundred” casualties. Although the EHRC suggested that its first Axum report was incomplete and that it would provide a more complete account at a later date, its accounting of fatalities remained the same in the EHRC-OHCHR joint report.

What is concerning about the EHRC Axum report is that the original findings of the EHRC team that investigated the Axum massacre were consistent with those of the international investigations. According to the lead EHRC researcher of the Axum massacre, although the investigating team had reported that “hundreds” of civilians were killed, it was only in the editing phase that the EHRC report was changed to “more than a hundred” due to the decision of an EHRC employee who was not part of the investigating team.  

The lead researcher of the Axum massacre reported that he was labeled a “junta” within the EHRC for his protestations against the tampering of his findings. “Junta” is a term that was popularized by the Prime Minister to refer to the TPLF with the connotation that the latter attempted to overthrow his government. It is also, however, a word that has been used to dehumanize Tigrayan civilians targeted for ridicule, detention, violence, and rape. We confirmed the Axum researcher’s account through a number of additional EHRC sources who also informed us that accusatory labels such as “OLF” or “Shene”, monikers used to denote the Oromo Liberation Front or any anti-government belligerents or political opponents in the Oromia region, and which have been used in identifying targets for human rights violations, have also been used to describe EHRC staff.

Although this is not a practice that is widespread among EHRC staff, it is quite concerning that it has been used quite frequently and at the highest levels of the institution’s hierarchy to silence staff who are assertive about reporting government violations in the Tigray and Oromia regions. What is more concerning, however, is that this is a matter that has been repeatedly brought to the attention of the Chief Commissioner. The Chief Commissioner seems to have condoned this practice despite it being a cause of distress for many and the resignation of a number of staff members.

The Blockade of Humanitarian Aid

The EHRC reporting on the de facto blockade of Tigray, or the near-complete lack of such reporting, presents another egregious example of underreporting. The blockade of Tigray during the recent war was neither unprecedented nor something that took serious observers of Ethiopia by surprise. Successive Ethiopian governments have resorted to massacres, war crimes, and crimes against humanity when faced with serious political and security challenges. The 2007/2008 military blockade of the Somali/Ogaden region and the 2019 blockage of food aid to Gedeo IDPs provide examples which show that the restriction of humanitarian aid to attain military or political goals to the detriment of a suffering population is not unprecedented.

Although there had been indications that the government had impeded humanitarian aid from reaching TPLF controlled areas throughout the war, the blockade was intensified and expanded in mid-2021 after the government began to lose ground to insurgents, and eventually withdrew from most of Tigray. Accompanying a shift in discourse from that of law enforcement to a campaign of national survival, the Prime Minister had claimed that the Tigrayan public was killing Ethiopian soldiers and siphoning off food aid to pass it on to the TPLF. It is hard to find any equivocation in the Prime Minister’s offer of a “grace period” or “time for reflection” to “the people of Tigray” in which the government would discontinue providing food and water and give them an opportunity to “decide what is good for them”. This declaration was coming in a context in which the Tigray Region was already facing major food insecurity and reports of intentional blockage of food by the government had already started trickling in.

While the human rights and humanitarian world was shrieking in horror over the blockade of humanitarian aid for millions of Ethiopians, the EHRC operated as if the blockade did not exist. The EHRC-OHCHR joint report was released in early November 2021, four months into when the blockade was fully in effect. The report, which according to internal sources was authored mostly by the EHRC, dedicates a total of 4 pages to the subject. The report also insinuates that there had only been “impediments or delays” due to active conflict and lack of coordination at military checkpoints. The report also explicitly concludes that it “could not confirm deliberate or willful denial of humanitarian assistance to the civilian population”. What is more interesting about the report is that it polemically implies that “Tigray forces” are equally responsible for the denial of access to humanitarian relief. The only source of information for this conclusion is the Federally appointed interim administration which “reported” that “Tigray forces prevented humanitarian access for up to three days at a time”.

This is, of course, quite an alarming conclusion since anyone who followed Ethiopian news would have understood that there was a government-led blockade of Tigray. The government at least wanted the public to believe that there was a blockade and went to great lengths to justify it. Besides the Prime Minister’s public announcement of a “grace period” for Tigrayan civilians, one could not have missed confirmations of the existence of a blockade by many government officials, including by the Deputy Prime Minister, and the Amhara and Afar Regional States. State TV and radio stations, pro-government social media accounts, and additional public statements of the Prime Minister himself, were replete with conspiracy theories which portrayed humanitarian agencies as Western and American security outfits which were set on smuggling weapons and military supplies to the TPLF.

The EHRC’s conclusions are also once again contrary to the findings of ICHREE, the UN’s Emergency Relief Coordinator, and the UN Secretary-General, the US State Department, USAID as well as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, which confirmed the imposition of a de facto humanitarian aid blockade on Tigray. The blockade, the international outcry against it, and the government’s rationalization of it, are not events the EHRC could have missed.

Whereas the publicly available information clearly indicates the EHRC has played a biased or even a partisan role, leaked EHRC documents show that EHRC investigators were keenly aware of widespread blockages of humanitarian aid in many parts of Tigray. In addition, the EHRC also seems to have received reports on intentional attempts to prohibit farming and the looting or destruction of local means of food production such as crops and farming equipment. At this point, it is not altogether clear what happened between the point when the EHRC received these reports and their exclusion from the EHRC’s final report. It is, however, clear that the EHRC’s underreporting could not have been an oversight.  

Transitional Justice and the EHRC’s support for Quasi-Compliance

While these findings cast doubt on the EHRC as an impartial investigator of facts, the Commission brings up additional challenges when it comes to transitional justice. The EHRC has unfortunately elected to align itself with the government’s campaign of quasi-compliance in relation to international investigations.   

It appears that the Chief Commissioner of the EHRC seems to have continued to participate in efforts to downplay and cast doubt on international reporting with regards to human rights violations during the Tigray war. The Chief Commissioner, apparently not learning from his previous interviewing blunders, gave an interview disbursing doubt on Olusegun Obasanjo’s statement that the Tigray war had taken the lives of 600,000 Ethiopians, calling into question “overly exaggerated death toll estimates.” A day or two later, he gave another interview in which he disparaged the 600,000 estimate as being “without any scientific basis”, only to later concede that there was “reason to believe that it is over a hundred thousand and we are probably likely talking about several hundreds of thousands”.

In December 2021, the EHRC formally joined the government’s campaign to prevent the establishment of ICHREE by the United Nations Human Rights Council. In addition to supporting the government in many formal and informal settings, the EHRC even went as far as issuing a formal statement in opposition to the establishment of ICHREE. On top of repeating core components of the Ethiopian governments’ conclusions and talking-points, the EHRC formally protested the establishment of an independent UN body. The main reason it cited for this was that the EHRC-OHCHR joint investigation had investigated some of the relevant facts.

Leaked documents, however, show that the EHRC was very well aware that the joint investigation report with the OHCHR left out or underreported much of what was investigated, including the Mariam Dengelat massacre and the Togoga airstrike. The Commission is also well aware that even the part that did make it into the joint report was neither geographically comprehensive nor exhaustive of significant human rights violations committed in Tigray. The Joint Investigation Team was not able to conduct investigations in Central and Eastern Zones of Tigray due to security concerns. At the same time, the joint investigation did not collect testimonies of IDPs originally from those areas and sheltered in Mekelle, hoping that they would be able to travel to those areas in the course of the investigation. Villages and towns in zones like Seleklaka, Mariam Dengelat, Mai-chew, Axum, Adwa, and Adi-grat, witnessed grave human rights violations including sexual violence and rape, pillages, destruction, extrajudicial executions, and others.  

These obvious gaps in the joint report did not hinder the EHRC and the Chief Commissioner from publicly opposing the establishment of the UN ICHREE or requesting that its mandate not cover human rights violations committed in the period covered by the EHRC-OHCHR report. The fact that the EHRC went out of its way to issue a statement 48 hours after ICHREE issued its first report, insinuating that the report was redundant and potentially biased, in addition to reiterating the importance of handing over investigations to the Ethiopian government, shows that the EHRC is fully committed to the government’s quasi-compliance policy.  

A final datapoint is provided by the Chief Commissioner’s recent appearance at the 52nd Regular Session of the UN Human Rights Council. Behind the scenes of the meeting, there was an intense debate and diplomatic wrangling in which the Ethiopian government was trying to get ICHREE shut down mid-way through its mandate. In the public meeting, the Chief Commissioner reported that his institution, together with the UN OHCHR, conducted community consultations on transitional justice and that victims of human rights violations reported that their “primary needs” were “to live without fear, to have peace and security, and reparations to get their lives back.” One can only ask as to how these victim groups successfully moved beyond an urge for justice and how the opinions of hundreds of individuals just happened to be reducible to a sentence that summates the Ethiopian government’s transitional justice wish list.   

The Way Forward

Although Ethiopia is most likely to go through a process of transitional justice, it is extremely difficult to imagine that this process is going to be genuine, especially since it is not accompanied by some form of a political transition. The international community would be ill-advised to fail to renew the mandate of ICHREE as it is vital to both investigating the abhorrent human rights condition in Ethiopia and ensuring that the Ethiopian government does not have free rein in determining what happened during the Tigray war. Although one individual communication has been submitted to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights, the institution’s Commission of Inquiry on the Tigray Region has already been terminated without having had much effect. If ICHREE is wound down following the UN Human Rights Council’s session in September, arrangements should be made for the continuation of its work within the UN system, possibly including through the establishment of an investigatory mechanism based on the IIMM or IIIM models and the appointment of a Special Rapporteur dedicated to Ethiopia.

Ethiopian human rights actors, political parties, and civil society, as well as the international community should be cautious not to include the EHRC as part of the investigatory framework for upcoming transitional justice initiatives, particularly concerning the war in Tigray. The EHRC is already committed to so many of its erroneous reports and has shown that it is willing to engage in polemics against human rights institutions reporting different findings than itself. Whether the EHRC participates in transitional justice investigations or not, institutions providing support to the EHRC ought to insist on getting the EHRC through an investigatory process that includes strong elements of personnel reform. Any future EHRC ought to be extremely careful in locating itself in a diverse society, and between political actors, NGOs, academia, and the state, without being too beholden to any one of them or their sub-constituencies. Unlike its current and pre-2018 iterations, a future EHRC should synergize with, rather than antagonizing, the international human rights community.

The reform of the EHRC should obviously not be undertaken under the leadership of the current Chief Commissioner, who should step away from the position. It has to be underscored that the failures covered in this article are not all personally attributable to the Chief Commissioner. Nevertheless, as far as one can tell, he is aware of the outlined challenges and mistakes and has explicitly or implicitly supported some of them while tolerating others. His toleration and empowerment of those who are not just biased but who terrify, silence, or drive out colleagues by accusing them of being “junta” or “shene” is simply unfathomable.

While the departure of Daniel Bekele is essential for the creation of positive buoyancy for the Commission, finding his replacement is going to be easier said than done in a state where the ruling party controls over 96% of seats in Parliament. Thus, opposition parties, the human rights community, and civil society actors ought to move the reform of the EHRC and the nomination of a consensus candidate higher in their roster of priorities. With an ongoing war in the Oromia Region and another armed conflict looming large in the Amhara region, the Ethiopian government needs to realize that it has to change track and engage its political opponents in sincere negotiations and dialogue aimed at achieving a genuine political transition.   

Establishing a separate investigatory body or a truth and reconciliation commission that conducts its own investigations should be preferred over a retrofitted EHRC. Considering the rather partisan role played by the EHRC during the conflict, it has to be recognized that the Commission cannot easily turn a new page on lost credibility even if it were successfully reformed. This is especially the case in the context of a transitional justice process that promises to be complicated and politically wrought. It should be noted, however, that a specialized transitional justice process is not going to be a panacea either in as far as the government is motivated to thwart or coopt it for its quasi-compliance initiative.  

In the end, the best-case scenario for transitional justice in Ethiopia is one in which the mandate of ICHREE is extended. Its established institutional infrastructure and ongoing operations make it the most effective choice as compared to its alternatives. It should be acknowledged at the outset that ICHREE will not guarantee justice in the short term. An international investigation that is not under the thumb of the Ethiopian government is, however, necessary under the current circumstances in order to ensure that justice is not compromised at the stages of fact-finding and investigations, and to keep the prospects of justice alive in the long run.

Abadir M. Ibrahim is the Associate Director of the Human Rights Program at Harvard Law School. Before joining the HRP, he was the Head of the Secretariat for the Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council of Ethiopia, an institution established as an independent body to advise the government on conducting pro-democracy and pro-rights justice sector reforms. His current research focuses on African approaches to human rights which studies, among other things, the iteration and practice of human rights as impacted by Africa’s political, religious and cultural heritages and contexts.

Views expressed on Harvard Human Rights Reflections are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or positions of the Human Rights Program or Harvard Law School.