Ethiopia’s conflict supposedly ended with a peace agreement last November, but it’s clear that multiple forces continue to commit human rights violations, and violence has increased in the country’s Amhara region in recent months. A United Nations commission has played a vital role in exposing evidence of atrocities, as detailed in its recent report. But the commission has faced consistent opposition from the government and its mandate will likely soon end. An African commission set up to investigate rights violations has already shut down. But with conflict ongoing and victims denied redress, the need for international scrutiny remains as pressing as ever.

It will soon be a year since a peace agreement formally ended the conflict between Ethiopian federal forces and breakaway insurgents from the country’s Tigray region. But what has happened since hardly looks like peace – and there’s no hint of justice.

A new report from the United Nations (UN) International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia makes the impacts of the conflict devastatingly clear – and underscores that for many, the conflict hasn’t ended. It finds that, since the conflict began in November 2020, ‘grave and systematic’ human rights violations have been committed by Ethiopian forces, Eritrean troops that fought on the federal government’s side and remain in the country, and militia groups. Violations include mass killings, rape, starvation, forced displacement and arbitrary detention.

And the violence goes on: the report documents that Eritrean forces and Amhara militias have continued to commit rape and sexual violence even after the peace deal came into effect. The Ethiopian government is accused of enabling or tolerating ongoing human rights abuses and failing to protect the public. Amnesty International has also found evidence of war crimes and possible crimes against humanity committed since the peace agreement was signed.

Peace in name only

The conflict formally ended with a decisive win for federal forces following a two-year conflict, which at times saw gains by rebel forces. Concerns of a post-conflict process skewed towards the victors with little succour for victims are being borne out.

The UN Commission’s report finds that the government’s transitional justice process fails to meet international standards. It says the government is failing to investigate human rights violations and isn’t providing support for survivors of sexual and gender-based violence. The national process emphasises ‘reconciliation’ over investigation of crimes. Judicial independence is frequently compromised, particularly when it comes to military courts, and national laws don’t recognise the offence of crimes against humanity. This leaves unresolved pressing questions of who will be held accountable for the atrocities committed by all sides and denies survivors hope of justice. Victims don’t trust the state to take them seriously.

The Ethiopian government has consistently objected to the Commission’s work, characterising it as having a political agenda. It’s refused to cooperate, stopped it visiting conflict areas and tried to block its funding.

Blatant impunity can only encourage further crimes. There have been multiple incidences of ethnically motivated violence, inflamed by hate speech.

A flare-up of violence in Ethiopia’s Amhara region, where the Fano militia group is fighting federal forces, led the government to impose a renewed six-month state of emergency on 4 August. Violence was triggered by the government’s announcement that militia groups would be disbanded and merged into the regular armed forces.

Under the state of emergency, the government has vast powers to ban public gatherings, institute curfews, arrest people without a warrant and detain them for longer than usual. The police quickly moved to arrest three journalists under the state of emergency; the media is frequently targeted with detention, threats and reprisals, as the government seeks to control the flow of information and narratives about the conflict. Internet shutdowns have also been imposed. Hopes for justice can only get more distant under these conditions.

All the signs are of escalating levels of violence and repression. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has reported evidence of extrajudicial killings of civilians by government forces in Ahmara. Government forces are accused of going door-to-door to kill civilians in and around the town of Majete on 3 September. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has also noted extensive arbitrary arrests in Amhara and the neighbouring Oromia region, and in Addis Ababa, the capital. Those arrested overwhelmingly come from the Amhara ethnic group, the target of previous mass arrest campaigns.

There’s a continuing humanitarian crisis too. Almost all of Tigray’s population relies on aid, but the provision of food aid from the World Food Programme and US government to Tigray has been suspended since March, and to the whole of Ethiopia since June, following exposure of the theft of donated grain by corrupt state officials. The UN Commission records that there were around 1,400 hunger-related deaths in Tigray between April and August this year. The resurgence of conflict in Amhara also disrupted humanitarian access there. Cholera is a growing problem.

LGBQTI+ rights in the firing line

There’s another group increasingly being targeted: LGBTQI+ people. In August, the Addis Ababa city government launched a crackdown on hotels and bars where LGBTQI+ people meet, including by raiding hotels. People are encouraged to report same-sex activity to the police.

This is also an area where online hate speech is booming. The UN Commission notes an increase in hate speech towards LGBTQI+ people, including in statements from government and opposition politicians, senior officials, academics, media outlets and diaspora groups. TikTok posts are used to call for violence, and to out LGBTQI+ Ethiopians.

This sudden upsurge in hostility is clearly an attempt by the authorities to distract people from the ongoing insecurity situation and the other rights violations in which they’re complicit, and to retain support by attacking an easy target. Conditions for LGBTQI+ people in Ethiopia were already tough. Homosexuality is a crime, punishable with a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Now things are getting harder.

What future for international accountability?

The UN’s three-person Commission was established by the Human Rights Council in December 2021 to investigate violations of international human rights law, international humanitarian law and international refugee law, and to provide guidance on transitional justice and reconciliation.

It shouldn’t be a controversial mission, but the Ethiopian government has consistently objected to the Commission’s work, characterising it as having a political agenda. It’s refused to cooperate, stopped it visiting conflict areas and tried to block its funding. In March the government even floated the idea of holding a Human Rights Council vote on closing down the Commission. The Eritrean government has also had nothing to do with the Commission. The Commission’s report suggests that the government’s flawed domestic mechanisms have the purpose of substituting for effective international accountability and offsetting international pressure.

The Commission’s mandate is set to expire at the year’s end unless the current Human Rights Council session decides to renew it. The Ethiopian government would be happy to see it wound up, and the signs are that it will get its way. The Commission may come to an end without a vote even taking place, potentially substituted by the provision of greater technical assistance to the government, putting the process even more under its control. Civil society is clear: there’s much work still to be done, the violations continue, and the Commission must remain.

There’s a discouraging recent example. The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights had its own Commission of Inquiry, established in May 2021. This offered hope that rights violators could be held to account by Ethiopia’s African peers. As with the UN Commission, the Ethiopian government strongly objected to its establishment and claimed its existence undermined the peace process. In June 2023, its mandate was terminated. The African Commission of Inquiry pointed to the existence of national-level processes and supposed ‘positive developments’ in Tigray, seemingly taking government rhetoric at face value. The body never produced a report.

The closure of this process makes the continuation of the UN-level investigation all the more necessary. At the very least the Ethiopian situation must stay on the Human Rights Council’s agenda.

Will the pressure last?

Ethiopia has paid an international price for its rights violations. Both the European Union (EU) and USA suspended their aid during the conflict and said that for support to return there would need to be accountability for violations. The US government imposed sanctions on some senior officials and recently renewed these.

But it isn’t clear how much longer that strong line will last. Ethiopia, host of the African Union, was until the conflict a key African partner for the EU and USA. The government is increasing talking up its relations with China, while Russia has made a successful push for African solidarity to offset criticism of its war on Ukraine. More democratic allies may make compromises to keep Ethiopia in the fold, not least the EU, given its preoccupation with partnerships for migration control.

External partners may prize stability in the country and region above all, defined as the absence of conflict. But there’s abundant evidence that conflict hasn’t ended, and even when it does, no lasting peace will come in the absence of some degree of accountability. The international community must stand with the survivors of atrocities until they get the justice that will bring them peace.


  • Democratic states should back civil society’s call to maintain United Nations scrutiny over human rights violations in the Ethiopian conflict.
  • The government of Ethiopia should commit to working with the international community to develop strong systems of accountability over human rights violations.
  • The government of Ethiopia should guarantee the freedoms to organise, speak out and protest.

Cover photo by Tiksa Negeri/Reuters via Gallo Images