UK’s Minister of State for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchel said he was “appalled” by human rights violations committed in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and called upon Eritrean forces to leave the country in response to a question from independent peer Lord Alton of Liverpool. The letter comes over half a year after the formal cessation of hostilities between Ethiopian, Tigray and Eritrean forces in the Tigray region.
In a letter dated August 7, but released to the public on Friday, Mitchel said:
I was appalled by the reports of human rights abuses and violations committed by all parties to the conflict in Tigray, I hope that the peace agreement, signed in November 2022, will help resolve the conflict, open space for accountability and reconciliation which will in turn enable more sustainable development.
Though the conflict was resolved in a peace agreement in 2022, the war in Tigray raged for close to two whole years. In just the past year, alone, the UK spent £156 million on humanitarian aid in East Africa, including Ethiopia, according to the UK Minister for Development and Africa. Mitchel said that, despite the aid, the remaining Eritrean forces in the Tigray region “present an obstacle to the overall objective of peace and stability within the region.” In January, the US also noted that Eritrean forces remain in the Tigray region, despite Ethiopian officials stating otherwise.
Mitchel also echoed international calls for peace in the region, following a 2021 statement in which Australia, Canada, Denmark, Netherlands, the UK and the US condemned the mass detention of individuals in Ethiopia on the basis of their ethnicity and without due process. The UK also doubled down on the statement in 2022 following the peace agreement, which temporarily ceased hostilities.
Though the conflict formally ended with the peace agreement, Mitchel recognized that the UK has failed to hold perpetrators accountable. The US also noted this, finding in March that all parties involved in the conflict in Ethiopia committed war crimes such as rape, murder, ethnic cleansing and sexual assault—all of which constitute crimes against humanity. Mitchel built upon this, saying, “Whether or not a declaration of genocide is declared, we will continue to do our utmost to end violations of international human rights law and, where appropriate, international humanitarian law; prevent the escalation of such violations; and alleviate the suffering of those affected.”
All parties to the Rome Statute, including the UK, must prevent, protect and punish those responsible for the crime of genocide. This is also echoed in the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which both the UK and Ethiopia have signed. The UK has also enshrined the convention into their national legislature, granting the UK jurisdiction to prosecute genocide committed in the UK, or anywhere in the world, if the suspect was a UK national or resident and the crime occurred after 2001.
The conflict in Tigray began in November 2020 when tensions between government forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) boiled over. The Ethiopian government launched operations in Tigray against the region’s ruling party, TPLF. Several human rights violations resulted from the conflict, including armed drone attacks that have killed at least 57 civilians and injured 42 others. The conflict ended in November 2022 with all parties signing the COHA. Eritrean troops withdrew as a result, reducing the number of human rights violations.