Pathway to Peace in Ethiopia


After two years of violent war, the Ethiopian government and authorities from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (“TPLF”) announced on November 2, 2022 a “cessation of hostilities.”[1] Overshadowed in the media by coverage of the COVID-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine, this two-year-long war has been dubbed as one of the worst humanitarian crises.[2] Sources have estimated that hundreds of thousands of people have been killed, and, as of June 2022, thirteen million people have required humanitarian assistance as a result of the war.[3] Both sides of this extremely violent war have committed numerous humanitarian and human rights violations.[4] The agreement ending hostilities provides no means for moving forward from this violence, leaving many to question how long this peace will last.[5]

This blog will start with a brief overview of the Tigray War. It will then transition into an examination of Ethiopia’s obligations under international law and aspects of transitional justice where it will be followed by an analysis of Ethiopia’s Policy Options for Transitional Justice draft document. Finally, the blog will conclude with a discussion of possible pathways to promote justice, healing, and continued peace.

The Tigray War

The Tigray war was an armed conflict in the Tigray region in northern Ethiopia from November 2020 to November 2022, with the TPLF on one side and the Ethiopian government and eventually the Eritrean government on the other.[6] TPLF is the primary political party of the Tigray region.[7] Despite representing an ethnic minority, TPLF was the majority party in the Ethiopian national government from 1991 to 2018.[8] In 2018, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali was elected. Ali was a member of the Oromo Democratic Party until he formed his own party, the Prosperity Party, in 2019.[9] The international community saw Ali as a new hope for Ethiopia in healing its ethnic tensions.[10] Ali won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for his work in ending the conflict at the Eritrean border and his work on restoring political and economic freedoms in Ethiopia.[11] Despite this, ethnic tensions in Ethiopia began to intensify again.[12] This escalation culminated around several delayed national elections due to the Covid-19 pandemic, leading to an extension of Ali’s prime minister term in June 2020.[13] The Tigray State Council defied federal orders to postpone regional elections, deciding to hold their local elections.[14] Shortly after these elections, the federal government accused Tigrayan troops of raiding a national military camp for weapons.[15]

On November 4, 2020, Ali ordered the Ethiopian National Defense Force troops to begin a military operation in Tigray, thus igniting the Tigray War.[16] The war rapidly escalated, and in December of 2020, Eritrean forces joined the Ethiopian federal government in the fighting.[17] Throughout the war, both parties committed numerous atrocities in violation of international humanitarian law and human rights law.[18] The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia concluded in September of 2022 that both sides of the conflict committed numerous war crimes.[19] The Human Rights Watch documented that Tigray forces have killed civilians, committed sexual violence, looting and destruction of property.[20] The International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia also concluded that Ethiopian and Eritrea forces committed crimes against humanity and found that Ethiopian forces were “intentionally using starvation of civilians as a method of warfare.”[21]The Human Rights Watch also documented that “Ethiopian and Eritrean government forces, at times with allied militias, have committed extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence, unlawful shelling and airstrikes, and pillage.”[22] Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also “documented an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tigrayan population by Amhara regional forces and militias in the Amhara region in northern Ethiopia.”[23] The violent war lasted almost two years, killing hundreds of thousands and displacing millions, marking it as one of the worst ongoing humanitarian crises per the Delegation of the European Union to Ethiopia.[24]

On November 2, 2022, the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigrayan authorities came to an agreement ending hostilities after a ten-day negotiation in South Africa led by the African Union.[25] Eritrea, who participated in the fighting on the Ethiopian federal government side, was notably absent from the peace agreement.[26] As of January 28, 2023, Senior U.S. officials have stated that Eritrean troops are still in Ethiopia, contradicting what Ethiopian authorities have stated.[27] Despite the violence and brutality of the war, the peace agreement makes no explicit mention of the alleged ethnic cleansing, nor does the agreement provide details of formal accountability, only mentioning “a transitional justice policy framework to ensure accountability, truth, reconciliation, and healing.”[28]

Ethiopia’s Obligations Under International Law, Transitional Justice, and a Pathway to Peace

On January 3, 2023, the Office of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s Ministry of Justice released a document titled Ethiopia: Policy Options for Transitional Justice as a “basis for discussion and debate on the topic of transitional justice. It is meant to guide the discussions on transitional justice by outlining various policy options with a view to facilitating the adoption of a comprehensive national transitional justice policy framework.”[29]

The Policy Options for Transitional Justice is a first step to healing in Ethiopia. The document discusses several approaches to resolving Ethiopia’s past injustices by incorporating transitional justice.[30] The United Nations defines transitional justice as “the full range of processes and mechanisms associated with a society’s attempt to come to terms with a legacy of large-scale past violations and abuses to ensure accountability, serve justice, and achieve reconciliation.”[31] Transitional justice consists of four pillars: truth-seeking, prosecution, reparations, and institutional reforms.[32] The Policy Options for Transitional Justice document discusses several options for implementing transitional justice into Ethiopia’s law and society.[33] These policy options will ideally ensure that Ethiopia meets its obligations under international law and secure continued peace.[34]

Ethiopia has several obligations under international law that it must meet during the post-conflict period.[35] Ethiopia has a duty to prosecute its human rights abusers.[36] States must investigate and, if the evidence allows, States have an obligation to prosecute the individuals responsible for gross violations of international humanitarian law.[37] Generally, the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner defines victims of these acts as “persons who individually or collectively suffered harm, including physical or mental injury, emotional suffering, economic loss or substantial impairment of their fundamental rights, through acts or omissions that constitute gross violations of international human rights law, or serious violations of international humanitarian law.”[38] The Ethiopian government is obliged to investigate allegations of human rights abuses and violations of international humanitarian law, including abuses and violations that the government itself performed or authorized.[39]

Ethiopia also has an obligation to ensure that victims of human rights abuses have a remedy.[40] A right to a remedy for victims of violations of international human rights is found in numerous international instruments, such as article 8 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, article 2 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, article 6 of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, article 14 of the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, article 39 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child, and article 7 of the African Charter on Human Rights.[41] Ethiopia is a member state of all these treaties and charters, meaning it is legally obligated to ensure that its citizens have a remedy for the human rights abuses they endured.[42]A proper remedy includes “equal and effective access to justice; adequate, effective and prompt reparation for harm suffered; [and] access to relevant information concerning violations and reparation mechanisms.”[43]

Ethiopia has a few methods for creating access to justice.[44] The Policy Options for Transitional Justice discusses the creation of “a stand-alone institution established by legislation with clearly defined powers and responsibilities that are relevant to the pursuit of transitional justice, taking lessons from best practice and the experience of the now-defunct Reconciliation Commission.”[45] Truth or reconciliation commissions like the one detailed above have become commonplace during this type of post-conflict period.[46] The simple creation of these commissions does not avail a State’s obligation to provide justice and redress for gross violations of human rights and war crimes as seen with Ethiopia’s previous Reconciliation Commission.[47] This Commission was created in 2019 as an effort to help heal ethnic tensions and some of the after effects of political turmoil and past conflicts.[48] The Commission experienced political pushback and was later dissolved in March of 2022.[49]

Another option is incorporating transitional justice through existing institutions.[50] The Ethiopian government has favored this option, stating that:

Human rights violation cases can be processed by a bench at the high court. This bench was established after the new proclamation was introduced the previous year. Another new bench is also established for administrative cases. Decisions of ministries and higher institutions can now be revised by the judiciary. It is a very important aspect of the democratic process. These are the two very important new benches at the higher court levels.[51]

However, Ethiopian criminal law does not criminalize crimes against humanity, creating a massive procedural gap for incorporating transitional justice and providing victims of crimes with a remedy.[52] The document emphasizes that “it is therefore important that the substantive element of ‘crimes against humanity’ be incorporated into Ethiopian criminal law. Such a measure ensures a harmonized and fair criminal process.”[53] However, if incorporating crimes against humanity into the Ethiopian criminal code fails, victims will be without redress.[54] Ethiopia is not a state party to the Rome Statute and therefore does not consent to the International Criminal Court’s jurisdiction, meaning that the International Criminal Court (“ICC”) could not prosecute these crimes.[55] The document emphasizes this idea by stating that “other options availed by the international system are neither desirable nor feasible.”[56]

Many international institutions are skeptical of Ethiopia’s ability to properly handle claims of human rights abuses, international humanitarian law violations, and crimes against humanity on its own.[57] Since the war began, Ethiopian authorities have denied that they were obstructing humanitarian assistance in the Tigray region, despite multiple international organizations stating otherwise.[58] Whether Ethiopia creates a truth and justice commission or uses its existing judiciary capacity, it must ensure that victims can properly seek redress for the violations they suffered.[59]

Ethiopia must also provide “adequate, effective and prompt reparation” for victims.[60] Their reparation “should be proportional to the gravity of the violations and the harm suffered.”[61] Victims should also have access to relevant information concerning violations and reparations.[62] Ethiopia will face many challenges as it attempts to satisfy its obligations for peace, healing, and justice because of the nature of civil wars and the sheer scale of the violence that occurred in the Tigray War.[63]


Peace, healing, and justice should be the main goals of Ethiopia at the moment. Applying aspects of transitional justice and ensuring that justice is sought for the atrocities committed during the war is essential to achieving these goals.[64] There are many obstacles to achieving this.[65] It is difficult to conceive that the Ethiopian government would be able to properly prosecute crimes occurring in its civil war, because of the government’s own participation in the atrocities that occurred in which it participated and committed these atrocious crimes.[66] Without outside guidance, it is difficult to imagine Ethiopia meeting its international obligations to provide justice to its victims, since that would mean that some of its leaders may face consequences for the government’s actions in the war.[67] The international community must remain involved in the process to help ensure that Ethiopia maintains peace, whether through international encouragement for Ethiopia to submit it ICC jurisdiction or through international guidance in trying war criminals in Ethiopia.[68] However, perhaps one of the most effective ways to ensure justice is for Ethiopia to consent to ICC jurisdiction.[69] This use of an independent court would help avoid biases that will inevitably occur due to the Ethiopian federal government’s involvement in the war.[70] Justice is essential to maintaining peace and healing in Ethiopia after such a violent war.

  1. Lauren Jackson, Ending a Civil War, N.Y. Times (Dec. 11, 2022)
  2. Ethiopia: Truce Needs Robust Rights Monitoring, Human Rights Watch, (Nov. 4, 2022)
  3. Id; Jackson, supra note 1.
  4. Jackson, supra note 1; Human Rights Watch, supra note 2; International human rights law and international humanitarian law are complementary towards each other and share many of the same goals, however, there are some key differences between the two bodies of law. International humanitarian law applies only during armed conflicts and binds all warring parties to certain obligations. Violating international humanitarian law is violating the “law of war.” International human rights law applies during peace time and armed conflict, it governs the relationship between a State and persons who are subjected to the State’s jurisdiction. See, What is the Difference Between IHL and Human Rights Law?, International Committee of the Red Cross (Jan. 22, 2015)
  5. Jackson, supra note 1; Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  6. Center for Preventive Action, War in Ethiopia, Global Conflict Tracker (Jan. 6, 2023)
  7. Id.
  8. Id.
  9. Ethiopia’s Abiy Ahmed: The Nobel Prize Winner Who Went to War, BBC (Oct. 11, 2021)
  10. Id.
  11. Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Nobel Peace Prize Awarded to Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopian Prime Minister, N.Y. Times (Oct. 11, 2019) %2C%20the%20prime%20minister,of%20political%20and%20economic%20repression.
  12. Global Conflict Tracker, supra note 5.
  13. Id.
  14. Id.
  15. Id.
  16. Id; Simon Marks, Ethiopia Declares Emergency After Attack on Federal Military Base, VOA News (Nov. 4, 2020),
  17. Phil Stewart, Exclusive: U.S. says Reports of Eritrean Troops in Ethiopia’s Tigray are ‘Credible‘, Reuters (Dec. 10, 2020), ps-in-ethiopias-tigray-are-credible-idUSKBN28L06R.
  18. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  19. Oral Statement to the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, Human Rights Watch (Sept. 22, 2022)
  20. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  21. Id.
  22. Id.
  23. “We Will Erase You From this Land” Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone, Human Rights Watch (April 6, 2022)
  24. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2; Ethiopia: Speech on behalf of High Representative/Vice-President Joseph Borrell at the EP Debate on the Humanitarian and Human Rights Situation in Tigray, Delegation of the European Union to Ethiopia (May 5, 2022) %20is,direct%20result%20of%20the%20conflict.

  25. Id.
  26. Eritrea Troops Still on Ethiopian Soil, U.S. Says, Reuters (Jan. 29, 2023),
  27. Id.
  28. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  29. FDRE Ministry of Justice ኢ.ፌ.ዴ.ሪ ፍትህ ሚኒስቴር (@MOJEthiopia), Twitter (Jan. 3, 2023),
  30. Ashenafi Endale Draft Document to Resurrect Reconciliation Body, The Reporter (Jan. 7, 2023),
  31. U.N. Secretary General, The Rule of Law and Transitional Justice in Conflict and Post-Conflict Societies, U.N. Doc. S/2004/616, (Aug. 23, 2004).
  32. Transitional Justice Mechanisms: Lessons Learned from Truth and Reconciliation Commissions, American Friends Service Committee (Aug. 26, 2011)
  33. Ashenafi Endale, supra note 22.
  34. Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice, Draft for Stakeholder Consultations (Jan. 2023)
  35. G.A. Res 60/147, Basic Principles and Guidelines on the Right to a Remedy and Reparation for Victims of Gross Violations of International Human Rights Law and Serious Violations of International Humanitarian Law (Dec. 16, 2005).
  36. Id.
  37. Id.
  38. High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rule of Law Tools for Post-Conflict States, U.N. Doc. HR/PUB/09/1, (2009).
  39. High Commissioner for Human Rights, supra note 30; G.A. Res. 60/147, supra note 27.
  40. G.A. Res. 60/147, supra note 27.
  41. Id.
  42. United Nations, Status of Ratification Interactive Dashboard (2012),
  43. G.A. Res. 60/147, supra note 27.
  44. Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice, supra note 26.
  45. Id.
  46. Rule of Law Tools for Post-Conflict States, supra note 30.
  47. Id.
  48. Solomon Ayele Dersso, Ethiopia’s Experiment in Reconciliation, United States Institute of Peace (Sept. 23, 2019)
  49. Addis Abeba, News: Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission Dissolves, Addis Standard (Mar. 1, 2022)
  50. Id.; Ashenafi Endale, supra note 22.
  51. Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice, supra note 26.
  52. Id.; Ashenafi Endale, supra note 22.
  53. Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice, supra note 26.
  54. Ashenafi Endale, supra note 22.
  55. Id.; The States Parties to the Rome Statute, International Criminal Court (ICC),
  56. Ethiopia Policy Options for Transitional Justice, supra note 26.
  57. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  58. Id.
  59. G.A. Res. 60/147, supra note 27.
  60. Id.
  61. Id.
  62. Id.
  63. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  64. Turning the Pretoria Deal into Lasting Peace in Ethiopia, International Crisis Group (Nov. 23, 2022),
  65. Id.
  66. Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  67. Id.; Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  68. International Crisis group, supra note 55; Human Rights Watch, supra note 2.
  69. Id.
  70. Id.