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Ethiopia’s Illusion of Justice: The Flawed Narrative of Transitional Reform

Transitional justice represents a structured approach devised by nations to address historical gross human rights violations and facilitate a transition toward a state of peaceful and legitimate governance. Described by the United Nations (UN) as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempts to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past abuses, to ensure accountability, serve justice, and achieve reconciliation,” transitional justice presupposes an environment conducive to the protection of human rights surpassing that of the era under scrutiny. Moreover, it envisions a transition from a violent past to a state of settled peace by implementing a new administrative framework, be it a permanent or transitional government. One compelling rationale for the necessity of a new governmental structure lies in the inability of the incumbent regime, which has perpetrated grave crimes, to hold perpetrators accountable effectively. Additionally, a transitional justice mechanism under the control and supervision of a government implicated in or perpetrating crimes undermines its efficacy, and legitimacy and constitutes a flagrant affront to justice.

However, a critical examination of the Ethiopian context reveals a stark contrast. Despite the government’s purported commitment to transitional justice to address past gross human rights violations, it avows to rectify offenses perpetrated by itself, even as it continues to engage in Genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity, particularly targeting the Amhara people.

Genocide, Crimes against Humanity, and War Crimes

Genocide

Genocide, as defined in international criminal law, entails the deliberate commission of acts aimed at fully or partially destroying an ethnic or racial group. Over the past half-century, the Oromo Liberation Front, in concert with other culpable parties such as the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and the Oromia Prosperity Party, has perpetrated a litany of atrocities against the Amhara populace. These include mass killings, immolation, and deliberate infliction of harm to Amharas’ conditions of life through looting, property destruction, land confiscation, and forced displacement. This systematic, widespread, and targeted violence against the Amhara has intensified in scope and severity since Abiy Ahmed assumed power. The federal government has repeatedly failed to safeguard Amhara residents in the Oromia region, with the regional administration, led by the notorious Shimelis Abdisa, actively endorsing and propagating hate speech that incites violence against the Amhara people. From the Oromo Liberation Front to regional authorities and the federal government, all are complicit in the genocide against the Amhara people.

Crimes against Humanity 

Crimes against Humanity encompass widespread or systemic acts such as murder, forced deportation, imprisonment, torture, and forced disappearance. Since Abiy Ahmed’s ascension to power, Ethiopia has witnessed an egregious onslaught of such crimes. In Addis Ababa, under the direct oversight of Abiy Ahmed, Mayor Adanech Abebie, and unofficially, but illegally, Shimelis Abdisa, Amharas have faced systematic persecution, including targeted killings, ethnic profiling, arbitrary detention, and incarceration in squalid conditions, resulting in fatalities from diseases like cholera. Amharas have been barred from entering into and forcibly expelled from Addis Ababa, with their properties demolished and confiscated.

War Crimes

The conflict between Fano fighters and the Ethiopian National Defense Force constitutes a non-international armed conflict. Ethiopia, being a signatory to the Geneva Conventions, is bound to uphold international humanitarian law. However, the Ethiopian military has flagrantly violated these obligations, perpetrating massacres, employing drones and heavy artillery to annihilate civilians, perpetrating sexual violence, destroying civilian property, and engaging in extrajudicial killings. The constitutionally mandated Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has documented these war crimes committed by the National Defense Force against the Amhara people. International media outlets and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and the Committee to Protect Journalists have reported on these atrocities. The United States, in its Human Rights Reports, has highlighted the gross human rights violations perpetrated against the Amhara people under Abiy’s administration, particularly in the Oromia region, Addis Ababa, and by the military. Human Rights authorities like the UNOCHA, and UN Human Rights Office have repeatedly expressed their concern regarding to the plights that the Amhara people have suffered. 

Therefore, the notion of transitional justice becomes oxymoronic when entrusted to individuals such as Abiy Ahmed, Shimelis Abdisa, Adanech Abeibie, and Birhanu Jula, who wield control over its proceedings. How can the Chief of Staff of the army, Birhanu Jula, and the Commander-in-Chief, Abiy Ahmed, lead a transitional process when they exercise dominion over its procedures and execution while committing war crimes?

Misnomer and Deception

Labeling the mechanism of “transitional justice” in a context where Ethiopia is transitioning nowhere, with the same perpetrators in power, is inherently a misnomer and deceptive. The Abiy regime has concocted the notion of transitional justice to placate international donors and creditors, as it urgently requires foreign assistance and currency. However, justice remains elusive, the transition to peaceful governance is stymied, and Ethiopia’s myriad problems persist, exacerbated by the regime’s suppression of dissent and persecution of political opponents, human rights defenders, and journalists.

The Way Forward

To facilitate genuine transitional justice and national dialogue, a mechanism to hold the incumbent regime accountable must be established. The current administration must relinquish power, paving the way for a transitional government comprising respected and impartial individuals to run the federal and regional governments. The military should withdraw from civilian affairs and return to the barricade, and a robust transitional justice and national dialogue initiative should ensue, involving participation from opposition groups, exiles, detainees, and those who are fighting. Perpetrators of gross human rights violations must face justice, with victims receiving compensation and knowing the truth. Through this process, a real dialogue, concession, and agreement should be held, a new constitution should be drafted, elections held, and power transferred to the democratically elected government.

While I commend the European Union, the United States, and other international partners for their involvement in Ethiopia, I urge them not to be misled by the government’s facade of transitional justice and dialogue commission. Instead, I implore them to leverage their influence to compel the government to cease its war in the Amhara region and other areas, release political prisoners, and pave the way for a genuine transitional process as outlined briefly above.

Henok Abebe

Henok Abebe is an advocate for human rights and democracy, as well as a former law lecturer at Haramaya University. He earned his Bachelor of Law degree from Addis Ababa University and a Master of Law degree from Central European University. During his undergraduate studies, he authored an Amharic novel titled “Augastanga”. Henok is recognized for his insightful contributions across various media platforms, where he shares his perspectives on political and legal matters concerning Ethiopia. His articles, which delve into these issues, are featured on various websites

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