H.E. Mr. Demeke Mekonnen, Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia has addressed the 46th session of the United Nations Human Rights Council today via a pre-recorded video message. Mr. Demeke’s speech highlighted why the law enforcement operation in Tigray was an absolute necessity given the belligerent attitude of the TPLF clique that threatened to hijack the reforms registered under the new political administration in the country. He also emphasized that the focus of the government is now on the rehabilitation and humanitarian assistance works underway in the region. He reaffirmed the Government of Ethiopia’s commitment to take all allegations of human rights violations seriously and give proper attention to the findings of Independent institutions, such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in this regard. Please find the whole speech below.
Allow me at the outset to congratulate you on your election to preside over the work of the Human Rights Council. I wish to take this opportunity to express the full support and cooperation of my country to you and members of the bureau in the effective discharge of your responsibilities.
With the change and reform that opened a new chapter in our country’s political and socio-economic dispensation three years ago, Ethiopia has made significant strides but also faced complex challenges from the global pandemic to domestic political problems. We were not, of course, oblivious of the daunting challenges of managing a transition in Ethiopia with the existing longstanding and complex socio-economic and political problems. One of such challenges was the deliberate and calculated efforts aimed at derailing the reform process through multi-faceted measures, including economic sabotages, disinformation campaign, incitement of violence and ethnic strife in many parts of the country. These anti-reform acts and campaigns were spearheaded by TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopian politics with brutal force for much of the past three decades but lost its power with the reform initiatives. TPLF’s authoritarian rule, which stifled and punished political dissent, suffocated the political space in the country as well as its rampant corruption and mismanagement of resources, was the cause of the popular uprisings which forced it out of power.
Despite TPLF’s long history of abuses and corruption, the new reformist administration in Ethiopia opted for peaceful co-existence and moving forward than criminal prosecution except for grave human rights violations and grand scale corruption by some top TPLF members. Even when TPLF and its acolytes launched both covert and public campaign as well as subversive efforts to derail the reform process, the new administration patiently sought all possible avenues for a peaceful resolution of the matter, including through several interlocutors.
TPLF rebuffed all these peace gestures; instead, it publicly escalated war rhetoric and public show of force, which ultimately culminated with a sudden and brazen military attack on the northern command of Ethiopian National Defense Forces stationed in the Tigray region, killing scores of the force members, and looting the armament. TPLF’s attack against the federal forces, including mid to top level command officers was particularly heinous as unsuspecting officers were massacred along ethnic lines in their own military camps. Thousands of the force members along with some of the force commanders were also kidnapped and detained by TPLF.
Following this heinous attack on the 4th of November 2020, and seizing of large number of weapons, TPLF publicly and unashamedly boasted about its “lightning strike” against the northern command and threatened to attack major cities including the capital city Addis Ababa. Indeed, it launched some rocket strikes in nearby cities leading to further deaths and destruction.
That is why the Ethiopian government was left with no option but to take legitimate law enforcement measures to reverse the unwarranted attack by TPLF, to free kidnapped federal force members, to restore law and order, and to recover looted weaponry. These operations were completed in less than a month with all the efforts to minimize civilian casualty.
Our priority currently is rehabilitation of affected areas of the Tigray region, including delivering much needed humanitarian assistance, rebuilding damaged infrastructure, and resuming social services, establishing law and order, and restoring full peace and stability. On the other hand, several senior civilian and military leadership of TPLF have either been arrested or surrendered and they have been brought to a court of law. The rest of TPLF leaders and accomplices who still remain at large and launch sporadic fighting in small pockets of Tigray are given a chance to peacefully surrender. Otherwise, the federal security forces will continue to pay all the sacrifice to bring them to justice.
In the meantime, we are mobilizing all the necessary efforts to provide urgent humanitarian response to people in dire need of assistance working closely with local and international partners. Admittedly, the humanitarian response effort was fraught with many challenges. There was a complete breakdown of law and order in the region. Critical infrastructure, including airports, roads, bridges, telecom, and electric installations were damaged. TPLF opened the doors for more than ten thousand prisoners some of whom are violent criminals. This has directly contributed to rising number of criminalities, including rape, and looting in the region.
TPLF remnants have also been ambushing humanitarian convoys. Therefore, full return to stability is a work in progress but there is no doubt the situation keeps on improving allowing better movement of humanitarian operations, except for few pocket areas, where there is sporadic shooting by these remnants. Emergency humanitarian assistance is being delivered in 36 Woredas of Tigray Region at 92 food distribution centers.
So far, we have reached out to two million beneficiaries in the region and all possible effort is being made to reach out to every single person in need. Some of the senior UN officials who visited the region recently have witnessed this fact. The hostile propaganda by the TPLF supporters in the diaspora and sensationalized reporting by some media, which appears to have filled the airwaves of social media, is by no means a reflection of the reality on the ground. My government is committed to facilitating unhindered access to humanitarian assistance. We are moving with urgency to approve request for international staff movements into and within Tigray. We are also committed to facilitating access to both local and international media and the relevant government departments are working with media representatives.
We have not also forgotten our nationals who crossed the border to Sudan to seek refuge. Most of them fled from the border town of Humera and the surrounding areas. We believe it is now possible to facilitate the safe, voluntary, and dignified return to their homes and the support of development partners in re-establishing their lives is critical. We have already prepared four temporary sites to accommodate those returnees as well as other internally displaced persons. While many of the refugees are innocent civilians affected by the military operations, it is also important to keep in mind that some of those in the Sudan refugee camps are the perpetrators of the Mai Kadra massacre and other crimes who should be brought to justice.
Ethiopia is also host to large number of refugees, some of whom have been affected by the military operation in the Tigray region. We are committed to the safety and well-being of Eritrean refugees and we duly appreciate the concerns of the international community in this regard. I want to assure this Council that Ethiopia, as a host country to hundreds of thousands of refugees, takes its responsibility to all refugees very seriously. We are working very closely with all relevant agencies to address their needs, including the delivery of the necessary humanitarian assistance.
Allegations of human rights violations including sexual violence is no doubt a matter of big concern for my government. We are fully committed to undertaking the necessary investigation and ensuring full accountability of all perpetrators. I wish to remind the Council that Ethiopia now has an independent, credible, and effective national human rights institution. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has already been investigating and reporting on human rights issues, including the Mai Kadra massacre, civilian casualties, sexual violence, and allegations of discriminatory treatment.
My government takes all of its findings very seriously and we are committed to working closely with the Commission to implement its recommendations to improve the human rights situation. This Council and the human rights agencies will do well to work with the Commission and further strengthen its capacity for the promotion and protection of human rights in Ethiopia. We believe supporting the work of the Commission is the sustainable way towards a credible, transparent, independent, and impartial investigation of all allegations of violations by all parties.
Finally, Madam President, despite the complicated challenges and the aforementioned setbacks, hopes remain high of our reform agenda and we are determined to pursue it with all the necessary vigor and commitment. We will continue to work tirelessly to fulfill the promise of a democratic and pluralistic political order based on the rule of law, respect for human rights for all. Let me conclude by thanking you for all your support so far and calling for your continued support and understanding as we strive to build a peaceful, democratic, inclusive, pluralist, and prosperous Ethiopia.
I thank you.