Date: Monday, 27 February 2023
GENEVA, Feb 27 (Reuters) - Ethiopia is courting support for a motion to cut short a U.N.-mandated inquiry into atrocities in the Tigray war, five diplomats said, in a move that could divide African and Western nations.
The Ethiopian government's two-year conflict with forces in the northern Tigray region ended last November with thousands dead and millions uprooted. Both sides blamed each other for widely-documented atrocities, including massacres, rape and detentions without trial.
Though the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council has never ended a probe before its mandate, Addis Ababa has circulated a draft version of a resolution calling for the Tigray inquiry to stop some six months early. That would also block publication of findings and a final debate at the council.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Legesse Tulu and Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed's spokesperson Billene Seyoum did not respond to requests for comment.
Addis Ababa has opposed the investigation from the outset, calling it politically motivated and trying to block funding.
Ethiopia's proposed motion has not yet been formally submitted to the 47-member rights council, which meets from Monday until April 4. Two of the diplomats familiar with the matter said there were ongoing efforts to dissuade Addis Ababa.
"It would be a terrible precedent," said a Western diplomat in Geneva.
The war pitted the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) against federal troops, who were also backed by fighters from nearby Amhara region and Eritrea.
Allegations of abuses have persisted since the formal cessation of hostilities on Nov. 2.
Since three independent experts began work at the end of 2021, the inquiry has found "reasonable grounds to believe" that parties in the conflict committed war crimes and other abuses.
But political support has faded in recent months, most notably among African states which all opposed its renewal in October. The probe was extended for another year by a tiny margin.
Diplomats said any vote on a possible Ethiopian motion would be tight and would pit Western countries, including the European Union that helped set up the investigation, against African partners. The West needs allies against China in the divided council and against Russia over the Ukraine conflict.
"It would be a big fight," said one of the diplomats, who opposes early termination of the mandate. The U.S. ambassador to the council, Michele Taylor, confirmed that Ethiopia was considering an early halt to the mandate: "We oppose the precedent that it would set.
We do not think that it is helpful for their (Ethiopia's) current process and progress."