GRC’s Submission to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Fact-Finding Mission to the Tigray
The case for investigating starvation-related conduct
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights’ Fact-Finding Mission to the Tigray Region of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (“Commission of Inquiry”) should investigate whether parties to the conflict used starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and seek to identify perpetrators.
In a submission to the Commission of Inquiry on 5 August 2021, Global Rights Compliance summarized conduct by parties to the conflict reported in open sources which may have violated the prohibition on the use of starvation as a method of warfare under international humanitarian law (IHL) and may constitute violations and abuses of the right to food and water under international human rights law (IHRL). Further investigation is required, particularly with a view to determining whether such conduct constitutes crimes under international criminal law (ICL) and identifying and holding perpetrators accountable.
As the conflict in Tigray enters its 10th month since the outbreak of hostilities on 4 November 2020, over 400,000 people in the region are starving, while 1,8 million are on the brink of famine without humanitarian intervention. The dire humanitarian situation facing Tigray, a previously relatively food secure region, is unequivocally man-made.
UN and other international bodies, non-government organisations and media outlets have consistently reported on the targeting of objects indispensable to the survival of the civilian population (OIS) by the warring parties—namely the Ethiopian National Defence Forces (ENDF), the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF), the Tigrayan Peoples’ Liberation Front/Tigray Defence Forces (TPLF/TDF) and the Amhara forces. Contemporaneously, parties to the conflict, and in particular the Ethiopian Government, completely blocked the passage of humanitarian aid, cutting off the population from essential food and water supplies necessary to keep them alive. Further exacerbating pre-existing food security vulnerabilities, reports indicate that the widespread commission of conflict-related sexual violence by parties to the conflict against women and girls adversely affected their ability to access food and other basic commodities necessary for their survival.
In addition to the evident violations and abuses of IHRL, GRC found that “some members of parties to the conflict may have intended to starve civilians in Tigray or were aware of the virtual certainty that it would occur in the ordinary course of events.” In addition to calling on the Commission of Inquiry in Tigray to investigate and report on the use of starvation as a method of warfare by parties to the conflict, this submission makes specific recommendations with a view to robustly investigate and address starvation crimes pursuant to the Commission of Inquiry’s mandate and pursue justice and accountability, including:
- For the warring parties to proactively facilitate unimpeded access and movement of humanitarian aid, medical supplies, humanitarian workers, and life-saving commercial goods without interference or discrimination throughout Tigray, including supplies needed to maintain food production, water, and health facilities.
- For the warring parties to cooperate fully with the Commission of Inquiry, the joint investigation of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), and other AU and UN entities, where appropriate, so that allegations of violations and abuses committed by all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region can be properly investigated, documented and the perpetrators thereof brought to account.
- To the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea, to make a declaration granting the ICC jurisdiction over the situation since, at a minimum, November 2020 and ratify the Rome Statute without delay.
- To the African Union, exercise all efforts to facilitate political dialogue and mediation between the warring parties and relevant stakeholders, towards a lasting peace.
- To the UN Security Council (UNSC), to appoint a special envoy on UNSC Resolution 2417 to monitor and quickly inform the UNSC about conflict-induced food insecurity in armed conflicts, including in Ethiopia.
The African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) established the Commission of Inquiry on Tigray pursuant to Resolution 482 (EXT.OS/XXXII) 2021 on 12 May 2021. After recalling reports of “allegations of human rights violations against the civilian population, including attacks against civilian infrastructure, destruction of property, looting, destruction of refugee camps, which may constitute war crimes and crimes against humanity” and “noting with concern the humanitarian crisis in Tigray, the challenges to the population’s access to humanitarian assistance, and reports of the use of starvation as a weapon of war”, the ACHPR vested the Commission of inquiry with a mandate to “investigate violations of [IHRL] and [IHL]…and identify perpetrators.”
In March 2021, GRC, in collaboration with the World Peace Foundation, published a joint paper calling on the UN Security Council to take decisive action pursuant to UNSC Resolution 2417 to prevent further starvation-related conduct by warring parties and the conflict-induced famine that was expected, and is now occurring, in Tigray.
GRC has been engaged on the issue starvation and conflict-induced food insecurity since 2017 and, supported by the Netherlands Ministry of Foreign Affairs, is engaging and working with government ministries, international organisations, CSOs and academia to provide advice on, and bring attention to, the starvation agenda across multiple fora.