A newly released monitoring mechanism has revealed disturbing evidence that the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA) reached eight months ago between the Ethiopian Federal Government and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) is marred by significant gaps impacting the protection of civilians.
The monitoring mechanism, which is the creation of a coalition of regional and international civil society organisations, has published its findings in a report entitled Ethiopia Watch: Civil Society Monitor of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. The report collects and analyses data from both private and public sources, creating a comprehensive, and independent, assessment of the African Union-brokered peace deal.
The mechanism’s report describes the CoHA as a momentous achievement that has improved the situation in Ethiopia. But the report finds, and meticulously details, critical gaps that derive from both the limited scope of the agreement and failures in its implementation.
The 26-page report is being released in the lead-up to the African Union summit, which will convene in Nairobi from 13 to 16 July.
”The report reveals that it is dangerous to claim that Ethiopia is now at peace,” said Dismas Nkunda, Executive Director of Atrocities Watch Africa, which is a member of the civil society coalition that established the mechanism. ”While there is much to celebrate about the AU-led peace process, more work remains to be done. The deal must be fully implemented and resourced. It should be extended to include other key conflict actors throughout Ethiopia. And it must be expanded to include the full participation of young people, women and girls.”
The sources utilised for the report—many of whom shared their insights on the condition of anonymity—challenged the predominant narrative that the conflict in Tigray is resolved.
While it is true that the worst days of the war have passed, the report’s sources point to the significant gaps outlined in the report as evidence that the peace is tentative, uncertain and fragile.
The report details how Eritrean troops remain present in parts of Tigray, where they are accused of killing civilians, committing sexual assaults and perpetrating forced disappearances. The regional civil society groups involved in the monitoring mechanism call upon the Federal Government of Ethiopia to specifically call for Eritrean forces on Ethiopian territory to leave.
The report describes how conflict has persisted and intensified in Amhara and, to a lesser extent, in Afar, committed (as in the case of attacks by Eritrean troops) by non-signatories to the peace deal. The fate of politically contested land (in Western and Southern Tigray) remains unaddressed explicitly by the agreement and yet is clearly a driver of ongoing alleged ethnic cleansing in Western Tigray, instability and conflict in the neighbouring region of Amhara.
”The limitations in the agreement threaten to unravel the progress made so far, and the African Union policy organs can and must fortify the agreement in order to ensure sustainable peace in Ethiopia,” said Achieng Akena, Executive Director of the International Refugee Rights Initiative, also a member of the civil society coalition that established the mechanism.
The report notes that Article 4 of the CoHA commits the parties to condemn any act of sexual and gender-based violence. Yet there has been little or no public condemnation by the parties of sexual violence by their own troops, neither of incidents arising since the CoHA was signed nor of incidents during the conflict. The report further details how women were absent from the official delegations of the parties to the peace talks.
”The level and brutality of gender-based violence committed by all parties to the conflict makes it imperative that women and girls play a central role in the peace process and any transitional justice process,” said Annah Moyo-Kupeta, Executive Director of The Centre for the Study of Violence and Reconciliation, which is also a part of the civil society coalition.
The report finds a startling lack of transparency in the work of the official AU Monitoring Verification and Compliance Mechanism (AU-MVCM). The AU’s monitoring team works with few resources and a limited mandate, the report shows. At the same time, its efforts to gain access to areas held by forces not party to the CoHA deserve recognition and political support from the AU.
The coalition calls on mediation and monitoring to be scaled up, including by appointing civilian human rights and gender experts to the AU-MVCM.
”It is important to make use of the institutional memory and the resources that the continent and the African Union has at its disposal and deployed in previous situations to solve wicked problems in the past,” said Shuvai Busuman Nyoni, Executive Director of the African Leadership Centre. ”Let Africa seriously consider what has worked, what can be tweaked and forge ahead decisively and without reservation.”
The report explores the plight of hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who are in urgent need of greater support and security. IDPs, who have no legal entitlement to education, health, housing welfare, and jobs, are living at the mercy of the individuals and communities that are helping them.
“While remaining in situations of protracted displacement, many Internally Displaced Persons and other vulnerable populations face inequality particularly in access to basic services, housing, land and property. The Ethiopian Government must support Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in achieving a durable solution of their choice to their displacement,” said Davis Malombe, Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission.
The civil society coalition recommends that the Federal Government urgently introduce a policy framework for IDPs across Ethiopia and grant them legal status as part of country-wide national reconciliation measures.
The report confirms the findings of numerous news reports about the systematic diversion of food aid by Ethiopian and Tigrayan authorities.
”The Federal Government and the TPLF must abide by their commitment under the CoHA not to divert food aid and assistance and should both urgently investigate persistent reports of such diversion and hold perpetrators to account,” said Abdullahi Halakhe, who is the East, Horn and Southern Africa Senior Advocate with Refugees International.
The African Union’s leaders have a special responsibility to insist that the parties adhere to the CoHA and ensure that the peace deal serves as a basis for future, better agreements across Ethiopia, the report concludes.
”As a single agreement, the CoHA is a positive start for peace and reconciliation in Ethiopia,” the report says. ”Despite its successes in silencing the guns in Tigray, the CoHA represents the floor, rather than the ceiling of what can be achieved for Ethiopians. The scope of future agreements must be enlarged, if lasting peace is to be achieved across the country.”