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EU calls for urgent Human Rights Council session on Ethiopia

A view over Lalibela, a UNESCO heritage site, which has been retaken by Tigrayan forces, according to witnesses cited in media reports on Sunday 12 December 2021. (Credit: Mulugeta Wolde/Unsplash)

More than 50 countries on Monday requested to convene a special session of the Human Rights Council on the worsening conflict and humanitarian situation in Ethiopia. 

The request, which was sent by the European Union to the president of the 47-member rights body, called for a session to be held on Friday. It is backed by 17 HRC member states – more than the third needed to convene a session – and 35 countries with observer status.

“In light of the aggravating situation we believe the international community has a moral obligation to try to prevent further atrocities & ensure accountability and justice for victims and survivors, " said Lotte Knudsen, the European Union’s ambassador to the UN and other organisations in Geneva, in a tweet on Monday.

“The Human Rights Council has to stand up to its responsibilities,” added Knudsen, who co-signed the letter with Slovenia’s ambassador Anita Pipan.

On Sunday Tigrayan forces recaptured the northern Ethiopian town of Lalibela, the UNESCO world heritage site, according to witnesses cited by Reuters and other media, less than two weeks after Ethiopian military forces said they had retaken control.

The year-old conflict between the federal government and Tigrayan forces has killed thousands of civilians and sparked a grave humanitarian crisis, with over 13.6 million people estimated to be facing food shortages due to the combined effects of the conflict, drought, flooding and the Covid-19 pandemic, according the the UN.

The World Food Programme last week warned it was facing a major funding shortfall and called for $579m in aid to be able to deliver food aid and livelihood support in the region.

All sides in the conflict have been accused of committing serious human rights violations, with the findings of an investigation by the United Nations and Ethiopia last month declaring that these violations may amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Rights organisations including Human Rights Watch have called for the Human Rights Council to take action, for example, in establishing an international investigative mechanism into abuses by all warring parties in the expanded Tigray conflict.