Ethiopia’s foreign ministry has called for the African Union (AU) to “immediately cease” a new commission of inquiry into allegations of abuse in the nation’s Tigray region.
Reportedly, thousands of civilians have been killed since the conflict began in November between Ethiopian forces -- with backing from neighbouring Eritrea, and Tigrayan fighters supporting the area’s now-fugitive leaders.
In addition, the months of deadly conflict have led to warnings of famine and “ethnic cleansing.” The latter term refers to forcing a population from a region through expulsions and other violence, often including killings and rapes.
Witnesses have described to the media gang-rapes, mass expulsions and forced starvation in the conflict -- to be looked into by the United Nations human rights office in an investigation with Ethiopia.
The Ethiopian government also wants a joint probe with the AU’s new African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights.
The body insists that it had not received any statement from the east African country criticizing -- as “misguided” and lacking legal basis, its independent investigation which will go forward in the spirit of impartiality.
“What we have started cannot be stopped,” the commission’s vice-chair, Remy Ngoy Lumbu, told reporters Thursday. He added that Ethiopia has given authorization for the commission to visit Tigray but no date has been set, with the security situation a factor.
Any findings “definitely will not be hidden in the drawer,” Lumbu said. It is not clear when the commission’s report will be published.
As far as concerns about independence within joint investigations, AU commissioner Maya Sahli-Fadel Said has explained that a probe conducted with the government would “alter and dilute the independence of the commission.“
Even if the commission cannot enter Tigray, she said, it can visit neighbouring countries and speak to refugees among the scores of thousands who have fled.
Commission vice-chair Lumbu added the AU and U.N. investigations will complement each other and work began Thursday and will sit for three months -- a period that can be renewed.
Meanwhile, Ethiopia's government has rejected the allegations and asserted that it is helping Tigray to rebuild.