UN rights council urges 'verifiable withdrawal' of Eritrean troops from Tigray

AFP , Tuesday 13 Jul 2021

The months of fighting has killed thousands of people, while the United Nations says hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine


The UN Human Rights Council called Tuesday for an immediate end to all violations in Ethiopia's conflict-torn Tigray region and for Eritrean troops to quickly withdraw in a verifiable manner.

The top UN rights body approved a resolution presented by the European Union, which hailed a unilateral ceasefire declared by Ethiopia last month and also its participation in a joint investigation into the Tigray situation.

But in the resolution, which was harshly criticised by Ethiopia and Eritrea, it voiced grave concern at reported widespread abuses in the region in recent months, including mass killings of civilians and rampant sexual violence.

In particular, the text highlighted the reported participation of Eritrean troops in serious abuses there, including violations of international law, "exacerbating the conflict".

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed -- who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for rapprochement with neighbouring Eritrea -- sent the army into Tigray last November to oust the region's once-dominant ruling party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).

Abiy had accused them of orchestrating attacks on Ethiopian military bases in Tigray, an important economic and industrial region in the Horn of Africa nation.

After eight months of brutal conflict with federal troops, the Tigray Defence Forces last month swept across large parts of Tigray and seized the regional capital Mekele.

The months of fighting -- marked by grisly massacres and widespread sexual violence -- has killed thousands of people, while the United Nations says hundreds of thousands are on the brink of famine.

- Joint investigation -
Tuesday's resolution, adopted with 20 of the rights council's 47 members in favour, 14 opposing and 13 abstaining, called "for an immediate halt to all human rights violations and abuses and violations of international humanitarian law."

The text also called for "the swift and verifiable withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region".

Eritrean troops are accused of massacring civilians and forcing Eritrean refugees back across the border, according to rights groups during the eight-month conflict.

For months, both Ethiopia and Eritrea flatly denied the involvement of Eritrean forces in the conflict, but Abiy finally admitted their presence in March, and said they would withdraw.

Before the vote, Eritrea's representative, Adem Osman Idris, slammed the resolution, insisting that his country's troops had left the region.

Tuesday's resolution was met with strong resistance from Eritrea, as well as China and Venezuela, which together presented 15 proposed amendments, which were all rejected.

- 'Politically motivated' -
Ethiopia also categorically rejected the text, saying it "interferes with and undermines the integrity of the ongoing joint investigations" into the situation in Tigray.

"There is no moral nor legal ground to justify the untimely adoption of a politically motivated resolution," the foreign ministry said in a statement.

It stressed that Ethiopia remained committed to ensuring that "those who were involved in committing crimes will be brought to justice and punished to the full extent of the law."

Tuesday's resolution did welcome Ethiopia's decision to agree to the joint probe with the UN rights office, and urged the government to ensure the conditions needed for a "full, unhindered and independent investigation" and for attaining accountability for all violations.

Anita Pipan of Slovenia, who presented the resolution on behalf of the EU, insisted the intention was not to interfere with the probe, but said "for the process to be credible, transparency is needed."

"Given the seriousness of the situation, the international community has the right to be kept informed."

UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet told the council last month that the joint investigation had begun in mid-May was expected to conclude its work in August.

Tuesday's resolution called on Bachelet's office to provide the Ethiopian government with advice and technical assistance towards ensuring accountability.

It also called for her to present an oral update to the council during its next two sessions in September and March on progress made in the joint investigation.

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