Yonas Biru, PhD
July 28, 2021
On November 21, 2020, I proposed a way for a peaceful resolution. The article that appeared in the Ethiopian Reporter, stressed three points:
- “TPLF must honor the constitutional order and give the people of Ethiopia a chance to determine under what constitutional order they want to be governed.”
- “The Ethiopian government must agree to stop the war, suspend its drive to replace the government in Tigray, provided TPLF agrees to reinstate the legitimate former representatives. Finally, the Ethiopian government must drop its demand for the surrender of TPLF leaders.”
- “Any negotiation on the future constitutional governance of the country and border disputes between regions must be held between legitimately elected officials or a democratically established constitutional assembly, not by armed parties.”
I still believe these three points are critical for any peace talk. I am sharing this proposal to initiate discussion on a way toward a peaceful resolution, considering a looming humanitarian, political, economic and security crises.
I acknowledge there is a proposal in circulation titled “Proposal for Negotiated and Durable Ceasefire to Stop the Ongoing War in Northern Ethiopia.” It is put forth by an anonymous group. The group suggests it will anonymously “assume full responsibilities and be held accountable.” I find the notion of professing responsibility and accountability anonymously difficult to understand.
More importantly, the proposal is inherently flawed in terms of lacking internal consistency. For example, it suggests “the negotiations could be entered bilaterally or in a tripartite manner” between “the Federal Government, the National State of Tigray, and the National State of Amhara.” At the same time, it proposes “the Federal Government and the National State of Tigray could jointly select three mediators for the bilateral dialogue.” This suggests if there is a bilateral dialogue between the State of Tigray and the State of Amhara, the decision on who would be the mediator(s) would be decided by the Federal government and the State of Tigray.
Furthermore, the proposal is overly prescriptive and unduly tilted in favor of the State of Tigray and its governing party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). It elevates TPLF at the same level as the Federal government, and in the meantime reduces the State of Amhara to a second fiddle.
I think it is prudent to propose an independent proposal rather than commenting and building on or critiquing the proposal in circulation.
The approach I take is providing a general framework and drawing grid lines within which the warring parties can negotiate and reach a mutually agreeable resolution. By design I avoid prescriptive recommendations. I believe creating a platform and providing a general framework is what is needed, leaving what needs to be done and who does what and when to the conflicting parties.
Background: Looming Crisis and the Role of the International Community
Ethiopia is at a critical juncture. The choice is between two starkly different options. The first option is finding a peaceful resolution within the parameter of the constitutional limits through a democratic system governed by rule of law without infringing on the fundamental rights of 110 million Ethiopians. The second is putting a hold on the budding democratic process and succumbing to the calculus of the power insurgency.
The conflict is deeply entrenched in thorny issues involving the nation’s constitutional framework (the Federal Government vs. the State of Tigray) and land claims and counterclaims between between the States of Tigray and Amhara.
The ongoing war is unsustainable from humanitarian, social and economic perspectives. The human cost has already past unimaginable proportions. Unless reined in, the war can lead to a point of no return, threatening the nation’s unity and territorial integrity. There is an urgent need to reach a negotiated settlement.
The international community has immutable role to play both on the grounds of averting a national humanitarian crisis and maintaining the political and social stability of one of the most important geopolitical regions – The Horn of Africa.
This said, this must be, too. A myopic international intervention that exclusively focuses on stopping the war entails the risk of institutionalizing violence as a political tool to extort political concession. It distorts the nation’s political calculus and foster persisting durable conflicts. Any effort to end the war must keep in mind its durability. All agreements need to be reached within the constitutional order. The will and wishes of the Ethiopian people as signed, sealed, and delivered via election ballots must be treated as a sacrosanct gride line.
The African Union Must Lead the International Intervention
The African Union (AU) Constitutive Act and the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance and the Lomé Declaration on unconstitutional changes of governments reject all forms of unconstitutional changes of government, including “the replacement of a democratically elected government by armed dissident groups and rebel movements.”
The AU’s policy of “zero tolerance” for military coups, armed insurrections or other means of undemocratic power grab is adopted by the Lomé Declaration of July 2000 on “the Framework for an OAU Response to Unconstitutional Change of Government.” See AU Doc. AHG/Decl. 5(XXXVI).
Regarding the Ethiopian 2021 elections, the AU election observer mission has concluded: “Despite some operational, logistical, security, political and COVID-19 related challenges, overall, the pre-election and Election Day processes were conducted in an orderly, peaceful and credible manner. There was nothing, in the Mission’s estimation, that distracted from the credible conduct of the elections. The Mission, therefore, commends all Ethiopians for the demonstrated commitment to the democratic development of the country.”
The AU’s statement that the election reflected the will of the people is echoed in the Press Release that the US Department of State issued on June 25: “Democracy flourishes when institutions of governance are inclusive, transparent, accountable, and responsive to its people. With that immutable fact in mind, the United States commends those Ethiopians who exercised their right to vote on June 21… We look forward to a continued partnership with the Ethiopian people and to supporting efforts to promote inclusive political participation that moves the country forward on a path to democracy and national unity.”
Prominent international bodies, including the UN, EU and US must follow the lead of the AU in the conflict resolution process in Ethiopia – an AU member country. The US whose Press Release has commended Ethiopians who exercised their right to vote on June 21, must stand with them to make sure that their votes will not be disenfranchised by instruments of violence or by international political expediency dictated by American and European lobbying powerhouses.
The UN has legal obligation to honor and ensure its member countries honor Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR). Article 21, Section 1 of the UDHR promulgates: “Everyone has the right to take part in the government of his country, directly or through freely chosen representatives” Section 3 dictates: “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government; this will shall be expressed in periodic and genuine elections…”
Pushing for a resolution that undermines the recent election results that have been given a clean bill of health by the AU as “orderly, peaceful and credible” will not only disenfranchise the democratic and human rights of 110 million Ethiopians, but also violates the nation’s constitutional order. Most importantly, it will undermine the AU’s Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
There is still a room for a negotiated settlement that will sustain the budding democratic experiment without undermining the will and referendum of the people of Ethiopia and the Constitutive Act of the AU on the African Charter on Democracy, Elections and Governance.
Suggested Preconditions for a Peaceful Resolution Between the Warring Parties
- The Ethiopian Constitution and the recent elections results must be observed as sacrosanct gride lines. There is still wide latitude for a peace talk within those parameters to reach a negotiated settlement.
- The war is between the Regional State of Tigray and the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) supported by regional forces from all other “National States.” Therefore, the negotiation needs to be between the Federal government and the “National State of Tigray.”
- In the interest of ending the looming humanitarian crisis, the Federal government needs to withdraw its sanction on the TPLF as a terrorist organization.
- The 2021 national and regional elections outside of the Tigray region was conducted within the constitutional order. The original election timeline was postponed by the autonomous National Election Board (NEB). That the NEB’s decision was ruled constitutionally legitimate by the highest constitutional decision-making body, namely the Council of Federation.
- The negotiation must be between parties and individuals who have mandate through democratic elections as exercised during the 2020 (Tigray) and 2021 (Ethiopian) elections.
- The negotiations should be held under the auspices of a 10-person Peace Commission composed of Ethiopians and people of Ethiopian Origin. The Federal Government and TPLF may pick 3 members each, and the 4 major religions EOTC, Islam, Catholic and Protestant may be represented by one person each. The number and composition of the Peace Commission may be determined by the conflicting parties.
- The Africa Union (AU) may serve as the primary observer and each the Federal Government and TPLF will propose one international observer each. The Mandate of the observers follow international practices. As such it will be restricted to observe without any interference. The observers may produce a joint report based strictly on consensus.
- The most urgent matter is agreeing on an immediate and unconditional ceasefire. To sustain the ceasefire and avoid situations and accidents that can potentially slip the two parties in confrontation, both parties must pull back its fighting forces equal distance to create a no man’s land space between the waring forces. The distance should be determined by international standards.
- Cease and desist propaganda warfare, concurrently with the immediate and unconditional ceasefire.
- Organize a preliminary meeting to: (a) set the agenda for negotiation, (2) agree a framework for the peace talk, and (c) discuss immediate actions to build on the unconditional ceasefire, following standard international conflict resolution protocols.
- Each party may bring to the table urgent and emergency steps that need to be taken to alleviate the crisis and build confidence and move forward to the second and third phases of the negotiation process. Such urgent matters may include, but are not limited to, restoring utility lines, and opening access to humanitarian aid.
- Agree on a time frame for phases two, three and four of the negotiation.
- Each party agree to take responsibility to keep the peace in the areas under its control and agree to allow unfettered access to international humanitarian organizations.
- Agree on the terms and conditions of urgent steps agreed in Phase One.
- Agree to have a full and credible investigation by national and international human rights organizations about all atrocities committed by all parties since the beginning of the war and bring the perpetrators to account under Ethiopian and International law.
- Agree to have a full, credible, and independent investigation and report about the contested areas between Amhara and Tigray regions. The Amhara and Tigray leaders accuse each other of forcefully displacing people to change the demography of the lands in contention and allege crime against humanity and ethnic cleansing have been committed against each other. Investigation on the claim and counter claim will go as far back as necessary to shed light to the genesis and evolution of the conflict. Addressing the longstanding claims and counterclaims of the contested lands can be addressed only with informed and rational discourse.
- Based on the findings of independent investigators, negotiate on the thorny issues to reach a durable peace.
- Produce a joint report of the agreements signed by the warring parties, the Peace Commission, and the observers.
Phase Four: Implementation
- The implementation process should be observed by the Peace Commission, and the three international observers as proposed above.