By Pip Cook
The United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on Tuesday calling for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Tigray in Ethiopia and expressed deep concern about abuses in the region since the conflict began eight months ago.
The Council voted in favour of a text calling for the swift departure of troops which it said were “exacerbating the conflict” between central government forces and the region’s ruling party the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The fighting has driven millions of people into crisis, forcing around two million to flee their homes and pushing almost 400,000 into famine.
“What is happening in the Tigray region in Ethiopia is appalling,” said Ambassador Lotte Knudsen, head of the EU delegation to the UN in Geneva which brought the resolution. “It is imperative for the Human Rights Council to be able to address this situation.”
Twenty countries voted in favour of the resolution, with 14 against and 13 abstensions. Eritrea, which is a member of the council, voted against the resolution. Although Ethiopia is not currently a member of the council, the country’s representative in Geneva said she also rejected the resolution.
“This resolution is a show of disdain for the ongoing joint inquiry with the intent of influencing its conclusion,” said Ambassador Mahlet Hailu Guadey, referring to the joint investigation by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the United Nations on alleged rights violations announced in March.
Tigrayan leaders have also demanded the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the region, where they have been accused of violations including summary executions, sexual violence and abducting Eritrean refugees. Eritrea denied troops were in Tigray for months before finally acknowledging their presence in April, when they told the UN Security Council that they would withdraw. They also deny the alleged abuses.
However, the UN has repeatedly said there are credible reports that affirm they have remained in the region. “Neither the UN nor any of the humanitarian agencies we work with have seen proof of Eritrean withdrawal,” UN humanitarian coordinator Mark Lowcock told the Security Council last month. “We have, however, heard some reports of Eritrean soldiers now wearing Ethiopian Defense Force uniforms.”
“By deciding to formally discuss the Tigray crisis, the Human Rights Council has taken vital action,” said Hassan Shire, executive director of human rights organisation DefendDefenders, which is active in the East and Horn of Africa, following the vote. “All states, including Ethiopia, should engage with the process, and the African Union and UN Security Council should end their silence. On the ground, violations must stop immediately. “
The resolution was adopted on the final day of the Council’s 47th regular session, which has featured debates and reports on topics related to women’s rights, systemic racism, the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and climate change.
The Council also adopted resolutions on the human rights situation of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, menstrual hygiene management and violence against women and girls with disabilities.
On Tuesday the total number of adopted texts was 16 with 12 yet to be considered, including texts on climate change, the rights situations in Syria and Belarus, and the rights of people of African descent against excessive use of force by law enforcement officers.