By Eyob Tilahun Abera

Over the last five years, serious human rights violations and abuses have been committed in Ethiopia. These violations include crimes such as torture, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Inhuman acts such as torture following mass arrests and arbitrary detentions of journalists, activists, and opposition party members are normal acts of the régime. Authorities despotically shut down telecommunications and the internet whenever they need to.

A brutal war coupled with abuses by security forces and attacks by armed groups caused the worst catastrophes. Horrific massacres and mass graves were noticed across the country. Due to the war, more than 600,000 people were in Tigray, more than 600 in Mai Kahdra, and hundreds of thousands of people in adjacent regions mainly were killed.

Also, in other incidents, more than 130 ethnic Qimant minorities were killed in the Amhara region; more than 400, 50, 39, and 170 ethnic Amhara people were killed in the Oromia region; and more than 53 people were killed in Hawassa and Sidama Zone. Imagine that those figures are not simply numerical values but rather counts of civilians who were killed. The gambling of politicians at the expense of civilian lives is an indication of extreme cruelty and acts against democracy.

The record of human rights violations and abuses held for a long time has rapidly broken within the last five years. Inconsistent, contradictory, and impractical statements by authorities also caused a decline in people’s trust in the regime. It is recent memory how far authorities advocated hate speeches, particularly against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), to marginalize it from the public, but it resulted in an overall crisis.

After two years of a deadly war, a peace deal was signed by the warring parties on 2 November 2022. It is good progress, but it never changes the status of crimes already committed, and it is a fact that peace cannot be realized without justice and accountability. However, it remains doubtful how effectively perpetrators of those serious crimes will face prosecution.

There are several bottlenecks in achieving justice using the domestic criminal laws of Ethiopia. For example, it is impractical to bring Eritrean forces who committed atrocities to justice using the domestic criminal law of Ethiopia. It is not rocket science to understand that achieving justice and accountability for the crimes committed in Ethiopia could be impractical

Likewise, the impartiality of courts in Ethiopia is under question as their ongoing acts show the intervention of the political wing in the functions of courts. Based on political decisions, courts frequently terminate accusations and release people who were suspected of serious crimes. If so, where is the impartiality? Is it the rule of law or the rule of authorities?

Moreover, gaps in the criminal laws of Ethiopia are another big jam. It criminalizes genocide and war crimes, while crimes against humanity are absent. The criminal code in Articles 270–280 criminalizes many of the crimes committed in the context of armed conflict.However, it does not recognize or criminalize those atrocity crimes that do not have a nexus with the armed conflict but could amount to crimes against humanity. Hence, how can perpetrators of those crimes be prosecuted? Are courts going to prosecute these acts as ordinary, separate crimes that don’t reflect the same values and send a deterrent message as crimes against humanity?

Likewise, some of the acts, such as the forced displacement of people, are not recognized even as standalone crimes under Ethiopian criminal law. So, there is no possibility to prosecute such crimes both as crimes against humanity and as standalone crimes. So, by what law are perpetrators of crimes prosecuted? Are criminals going to be exempt from the charge due to gaps in the law? If so, does it make sense?

Another bold issue is that many authorities, including Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy, have been noticed by Human Rights Watch as having committed war crimes and crimes against humanity due to their commands during the deadly war, even on the front lines of war.

As a result, authorities are frequently accused by Human Rights Watch due to the hindrance of an independent full investigation of crimes committed across the country. So, it is not logical to think criminal authorities by themselves are going to expose another criminal to realize transitional justice. It is a vague dream in the context of Ethiopia where rule of law is at the grass root level and the rule of authorities is above it.

With those manifold hitches, thinking of realizing justice for atrocity crimes committed in Ethiopia looks empty. But the question is if justice for all is truly functioning regardless of when, where, on whom, and by whom the crimes were committed, why does the International Criminal Court (ICC) reluctant to international crimes committed in Ethiopia? Where is the ICC’s core principle of fair justice for all international crimes? Are war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ukraine more crimes than committed in Ethiopia? Think again!