The Urgency of Accountability and Justice in the Tigray Genocidal War: A Call for International Criminal Court Intervention.

Mekelle:  24 February 2024 (Tigray Herald)

By Zema Tigray

The Urgency of Accountability and Justice in the Tigray Genocidal War: A Call for International Criminal Court Intervention.


The Tigray region of Ethiopia has been plunged into a devastating genocidal conflict marked by mass atrocities, including massacres of civilians, weaponised starvation, ethnic cleansing, and sexual slavery. In April 2022, Amnesty International, in collaboration with Human Rights Watch (HRW), exposed a disturbing campaign of ethnic cleansing perpetrated by Amhara forces in the Western Tigray Zone, with support and complicity from Federal government forces and Eritrean forces. Here, I will underscore the imperative of accountability and justice for these grave crimes and advocate for bringing the perpetrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. My references are reports accounting on the genocidal war in Tigray since Tuesday, November 3, 2020, by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, UN Human Rights and UN News.

Massacres of Civilians

One of the most haunting aspects of the Tigray conflict is the relentless targeting and killing of civilians. The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia documented mass killings, including the Tekeze massacre on January 17 2021. Civilians have borne the brunt of indiscriminate violence, and their lives have been shattered by the brutal actions of various parties to the conflict. These atrocities are a stark reminder of the urgent need for justice, as the world cannot stand idly by while innocent lives are lost. It’s appalling that the mandate of the ICHREE is coming to an end.

Weaponised Starvation

Another distressing dimension of the Tigray conflict is the weaponisation of starvation. Humanitarian organisations have repeatedly sounded the alarm about the dire humanitarian situation in the region, with millions of Tigrayans in need of food aid to survive. The deliberate obstruction of humanitarian access, including food and medical supplies, constitutes a war crime. By blocking essential resources from reaching the population, the perpetrators contribute to a man-made famine that poses a grave threat to countless lives.

The use of starvation as a weapon underscores the necessity of accountability.

Ethnic Cleansing

The joint report by Amnesty International and HRW in April 2022 unveiled a campaign of ethnic cleansing orchestrated by Amhara forces in Western Tigray, with support from Federal government forces and Eritrean forces. Ethnic cleansing involves systematically expulsing a particular ethnic group from a region through violence and intimidation. This egregious
violation of human rights has profound consequences for the targeted population. It can lead to lasting divisions and trauma, which is evident in the internally displaced Tigrains as a result. The international community cannot turn a blind eye to the gravity of ethnic cleansing and must prioritise accountability after failing to renew the ICHREE mandate.

Sexual Slavery and Gender-Based Violence

Tigrayan women and girls have been subjected to horrific acts of sexual violence throughout the genocidal conflict. These crimes, such as rape before family members, rape in detention, gang rape, and sexual slavery, constitute a gross violation of human rights and inflict deep trauma on survivors. Such acts of sexual violence are not merely crimes against individuals but also crimes against humanity. They leave enduring scars on communities and must be addressed through a robust system of justice and accountability the modern world has.

Arbitrary Detention and Extrajudicial Executions

The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia report also documented widespread arbitrary detention of Tigrayans in Western Tigray. The use of prolonged and mass detention without due process contravenes international law and infringes upon the rights of those detained. Additionally, the report highlighted multiple instances of extrajudicial executions, further emphasising the urgent need for accountability.

Denials and Downplaying of Human Rights Violations

All parties involved in the Tigray conflict, including the Ethiopian federal authorities, the Eritrean government, the Amhara regional government, and the Tigrayan forces, have repeatedly denied or sought to downplay credible reports of grave human rights violations implicating their forces. Such denials undermine the pursuit of justice and accountability. The truth must be acknowledged, and those responsible for human rights abuses must be held accountable. It is vitally vital that all parties respect the pretorian peace treaty. A treaty that emphasises on

The non-federal forces withdrew from Tigray

The cessation of all forms of hostilities, including an end to the use of belligerent rhetoric and hate speech:

Disarmament of Tigray force combatants and subsequent steps towards the implementation of a comprehensive Disarmament, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) program

restoration of essential services in the Tigray region;

ensuring unfettered access to humanitarian aid in the Tigray region; and Upholding a commitment to protect civilians, especially women and children.

Almost a year into the peace agreement, despite the Tigray force’s disarmament, Non-federal forces still occupy most of western and Eastern Tigray. Despite signing the Cessation of

Hostilities Agreement, the UN Independent Human Rights Commission has determined that

severe violations continue in the Tigray region. In addition, it has confirmed the ongoing

presence of Eritrean forces in Ethiopia and continuing atrocities against civilians, particularly

2 rape and other forms of sexual violence, violating the peace agreement. The African Union,

the USA, and the EU must act to ensure the Pretoria peace agreement in place is implemented immediately to ensure accountability for those who violate their signature on a table. Therefore, IDPs, and Tigrayian in Sudan who fled these atrocities and are refugees are returned to their homes with human compensation accounting for personal, psychological and material damage.

The Commission has also expressed alarm about the deteriorating situation in the Amhara region, including emerging reports of extrajudicial killings and mass arrests. Most, if not all, of the structural drivers of violence and conflict remain unaddressed. Therefore, another piece of evidence to implement accountability at the Hague.

The Role of the International Community

During its special session on December 17 2021, the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) adopted resolution S-33/1, establishing the International Commission on Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE). While this was a positive step toward accountability, challenges persist in domestic investigations and accountability efforts. It is even more worrying that this mandate has come to an end.

Challenges in Law for Domestic Investigations and Accountability

Despite the establishment of ICHREE, there remain significant challenges in domestic investigations and accountability efforts, including:

A, Lack of Independence: Some domestic investigations may lack independence and impartiality due to political pressures and affiliations. This compromises the integrity of the process and hinders justice.

B, Limited Jurisdiction: National courts may have limited jurisdiction to prosecute individuals from other countries, such as Eritrean forces involved in the conflict. This can create legal obstacles to accountability.

C, Impunity: In some cases, perpetrators may enjoy impunity due to their positions or affiliations within the domestic legal system, further undermining accountability.

The Imperative of the International Criminal Court

Given these challenges, there is a compelling need to involve the International Criminal Court (ICC) in addressing the atrocities committed in Tigray. The ICC, located in The Hague, is an independent judicial body with the mandate to prosecute individuals for the most serious international crimes, including genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes. Here are the reasons why involving the ICC is imperative:

Global Jurisdiction: The ICC has a global reach, which means it can prosecute individuals regardless of their nationality or where the crimes were committed. This is crucial for addressing cross-border crimes in the Tigray conflict.

3Independence and Impartiality: The ICC operates independently of domestic political pressures, ensuring impartial investigations and prosecutions.

Expertise: The ICC has extensive expertise in handling complex cases of international

crimes, making it well-equipped to pursue accountability in the Tigray genocidal conflict. Deterrence: The involvement of the ICC can serve as a deterrent to future atrocities, signalling to potential perpetrators that they will be held accountable for their actions.


The Tigray conflict has inflicted immeasurable suffering on the civilian population, with grave human rights abuses, including massacres, weaponised starvation, ethnic cleansing, and sexual violence. The joint report by Amnesty International and HRW in April 2022 provided compelling evidence of these atrocities. While establishing ICHREE was a positive step, its reports should have warranted renewal for further investigation ways paving to the ICC. Challenges persist in domestic investigations and accountability efforts. Therefore, it is imperative to bring perpetrators to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, where they can face prosecution for the most heinous human crimes committed. Accountability and justice are essential not only for the survivors and victims of the Tigray genocidal war and ever-lasting peace in the Horn of Africa but also for the international community’s commitment to upholding human rights and preventing future atrocities. The world must act swiftly and decisively to ensure that those responsible for these heinous crimes are held accountable before the ICC

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