African countries have rallied behind Ethiopia in protesting against a planned special session at the UN Human Rights Council, which is aimed at reprimand Addis Ababa’s alleged war atrocities in Tigray region.
On Tuesday, none of the continent’s 13 representatives in the 47-member body of the UN, based in Geneva, backed a proposal to have the Human Rights Council discuss Ethiopia as had been proposed by the European Union.
The session was due to be held later on Tuesday but the suggestion lacked African support.
Those pushing for the debate were mostly Western members of the Council, including the United Kingdom, Germany, Italy, France and Denmark.
The revelations emerged a day after Ethiopia issued a call to members of the Council to reject what it called a “regrettable” move to have the Tigray war discussed for the possibility of creating a special team to investigate war crimes in the country.
Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s Spokesperson, Bellene Seyoum, said the move had a “politically motivated objective” and accused some members of the human rights body of choosing “to advance their political agenda through the work of the Council.”
“Ethiopia therefore calls on members of the Council to categorically reject and vote against the special session and its politically motivated outcome,” Ms Billene said on Monday in a statement.
“What should have been a priority for the Council instead was the urgent task of carrying out investigation into the violations of human rights and atrocities committed by the TPLF terrorist group in the Afar and Amhara regional states. It is unfortunate to witness that no such call has come forth from some in the Council.’
The proposal to discuss Ethiopia emerged last Friday, pushed by the European Union.
On Monday, EU’s Head of Delegation to the UN in Geneva, Lotte Knudsen, wrote a joint letter with Slovak Permanent Representative to the UN in Geneva, Anita Pipan, asking for a special session “because of the importance and urgency of the situation” in Ethiopia.
They said the request had the support of both members and observer states of the Human Rights Council, such as the US (which only returned to supporting the body after President Donald Trump left power.)
As is the rule, such a move required at least a third of the members supporting and according to the letter, 17 members of the Council and 35 non-members endorsed the call to have it go on later on Tuesday.
None of Africa’s members of the Council endorsed the move and none of the non-members who support the call came from Africa.
The continent is currently represented by Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Ivory Coast, Gabon, Eritrea, Libya, Malawi, Namibia, Senegal, Somalia, Sudan and Togo.
They are all serving three-year terms on the Council, although their start dates are staggered as is tradition with the Council.
The call though has been endorsed by other members, including South Korea, Fiji, Ukraine, Japan, Poland, Netherlands, Mexico and Bulgaria.
“The Human Rights Council has to stand up to its responsibilities,” Knudsen said on Monday, amplifying the call by EU High Representative Josep Borrel who had said the world has not reacted “properly to the large-scale human rights violations, mass rapes using sexual violence as a war arm, killings and concentration camps based on ethnic belonging.”
The problem though, says Ethiopia, is that discussing the country’s war problem appears to repeat what has already been done.
Earlier in August, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights conducted a joint investigation into alleged rights violations and abuses, and violations of international humanitarian law and refugee law.
It found that both the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Ethiopian government forces and allied militia had committed atrocities, including killings, rape, forcible displacement and torture. But it did not find evidence of genocide.
Ethiopia says it has since formed a multiagency taskforce to implement some of the proposals in the report, including prosecution, rehabilitation of those who surrender, humanitarian service as well as assisting those who were sexually violated.
The problem though is that the war hasn’t stopped.
The government and the TPLF, once a ruling party and now a proscribed group, have been fighting since November last year.
The war has led to a large-scale humanitarian crisis, besides deaths of civilians, according to the UN.