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Good morning. It is a pleasure to be here with you all, and with the other distinguished panelists, to mark the one-year anniversary of the Pretoria Agreement and to discuss the current state of human rights and transitional justice in Ethiopia. This really is an inflection point for the country and thus a great time to conduct a stocktaking of where things stand: where have we come from, where we need to go, and how do we get to a place where Ethiopia can put a history of violence behind it and move into a more prosperous, inclusive, and peaceful future?

As we all know, Northern Ethiopia was devastated by the recent conflict. Hundreds of thousands of people lost their lives and homes and had their life paths ravaged by violence, including mass sexual violence. When the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (COHA) was signed a year ago—under the auspices of the African Union and with IGAD, the United Nations, and the United States present—it silenced the guns in the north and mostly brought about peace in the region and an end to a terrible war. The COHA was a symbol of hope for Ethiopians across the country, but also for the rest of us who yearn for peace and security in the region. However, we also know that the COHA marked the starting point for another long and difficult process to account for the war crimes and crimes against humanity that were committed by all sides in the war in Northern Ethiopia.

Over the last year, we have seen significant progress in some areas. There has been a dramatic decrease in human rights abuses in Tigray. In other areas, unfortunately, much more needs to be done. Indeed, violence continues today in too many regions of Ethiopia, including in Amhara and Oromia. I hope we can discuss today how to address these concerns and how to make the COHA a vehicle for inspiring and instantiating a more nationwide peace.

I want to focus my remarks today on the transitional justice process in Ethiopia. For too long, Ethiopia has experienced cycles of violence, often ethnically based and perpetuated with impunity. This was the theme of Secretary Blinken’s remarks when he visited Ethiopia last March and spoke with Prime Minister Abiy. Ethiopians have never seen a credible, much less a comprehensive, transitional justice process. This is a fact that many Ethiopians have cited to me as a source of ongoing conflict but also as an explanation for their skepticism about the ability of the current government to undertake a proper transitional justice process now. The enduring cycles of violence in Ethiopia are evidence of the fact that there can be no peace without justice.

This is why we were encouraged that the COHA included express commitments to pursue a comprehensive, inclusive transitional justice process by both sides to the agreement to launch a comprehensive and inclusive transitional justice process. We have an opportunity to break those cycles of bloodshed and impunity. The victims of atrocities in Northern Ethiopia, and across the country, deserve justice, broadly defined; they deserve our support as they seek to rebuild their lives; and they deserve a genuine acknowledgement of the crimes committed against them. At the same time, the parties to the conflict and all armed actors, need to take ownership of the atrocities that they committed or that were committed in their name. In this process, those responsible must be held accountable.

Since the signing of the COHA, the Government of Ethiopia has taken some significant steps towards transitional justice, and the United States government—through the State Department, through my office, and through my sister offices—have engaged with government actors; with international experts, many of whom are appearing here today; and with local civil society groups at every step along the way. This process is happening against the backdrop of a larger National Dialogue process that isn’t about transitional justice per se but is about securing a common vision for a new Ethiopia that’s not riven by ethnic divisions, but rather knitted together by a sense of nationhood and a shared future.

To date, the government has issued public commitments to pursue a credible transitional justice process. They are creating a concrete plan to implement the recommendations and the ideas that were put forward in the so-called green paper that many of you may have seen. This options document was, I think quite admirably, released for public comment and review. Not every government does that. We received a copy; we were able to give feedback; and that feedback has been integrated into the current thinking. The government have now pledged to transform the green paper into a concrete plan and to implement it in good faith.

They’ve also convened multiple consultations around the country—with international experts, Ethiopian leaders, civil society actors, but also with ordinary people as well—and the U.S. government has, in various capacities, attended and supported those conversations. These consultations have been held widely, although we recognize that the security situation in some areas did not allow for them to be truly nationwide. We are hopeful that these regions can be consulted in the future so that all Ethiopians have a voice in this transitional justice process.

I want to acknowledge that these public commitments and first steps must be followed by concrete action and durable reforms. We understand that many Ethiopians feel the government—which of course was a party to the conflict—is not capable of undertaking a credible or an evenhanded transitional justice process. And with any such process, there are many, many barriers to success, not the least of which is that there are few pathways to envision justice for Eritrean forces who themselves perpetrated, and continue to perpetrate, terrible abuses.

Furthermore, sustained political will, of course, will be essential, but as we know from our comparative work, it is often elusive in such post-conflict contexts. There is often an urge to draw a thick black line and to put the past behind us and to just move forward. But we know from empirical academic research that that will not instantiate peace but rather will only lead to a return to violence. So again, I will reiterate that there can be no peace without justice.

As we evaluate the government’s efforts, we need to be cognizant of the dearth of other viable options for justice in this context. Many will call for the International Criminal Court (ICC) to take action, but it has no jurisdiction in this matter absent activity at the Security Council, which is unlikely to be forthcoming given the current political crisis. There have also been calls for the creation of a hybrid court, but we know that such an institution will be difficult to establish given the tribunal fatigue that has set in within the international community. Any such proposal would require Security Council action or the consent of the government, which, at this point, wants to keep this process in-house. There may be some opportunistic universal jurisdiction cases that materialize around the world; however, these will not offer of comprehensive justice. As such, domestic efforts in Ethiopia are currently the only credible option for any sort of comprehensive transitional justice process.

We, as an international community, and as friends of Ethiopia and the Ethiopian people, cannot let this possibility of justice pass us by without giving it the best possible chance of success. Now is the time to hold the Government to its promises. This is why the United States—including my office, but also the embassy, our regional desk, and our human rights bureau—are continuing to work within this process to try to make it as credible and survivor-centric as possible. It will not be perfect; no transitional justice process is. But we do believe that comprehensive international engagement—including with likeminded partners, with civil society organizations, with human rights groups, and with local leaders throughout Ethiopia working together—affords the best possibility to deliver justice for victims.

To be clear: we are not accepting all the government’s promises at face value. Over the next few months, and even years, we will be continuously assessing the process, evaluating its credibility, and measuring its success in addressing survivors’ needs. We will be adjusting our engagement accordingly. In particular, and as the next step, we will closely analyze the plan that the Transitional Justice Working Group of Experts will put forth in the next couple of weeks. We will be looking to ensure that it addresses the views and needs of victim communities and the public and that it includes frequent opportunities for public engagement, input, and comment once transitional justice process is underway. In this regard, we consumed with great interest the survey data produced by the Harvard Humanitarian Initiative, which surveyed Ethiopians across the country on their preferences and expectations for justice. I really want to commend this effort and hope that it will be an iterative process so that we can continually assess the views of Ethiopians as this process unfolds.

We will expect the future plan, once it is released, to include processes to address the main pillars of transitional justice that are crucial to healing: truth telling, accountability, reparations, and various guarantees of non-recurrence, including institutional reforms. The process also needs to integrate gender into all elements and ensure that women and other marginalized communities are able to engage meaningfully in the process. Likewise, any plan must include criminal responsibility, particularly for those most responsible and those in positions of command, who either ordered the crimes, or who failed to prevent them in advance or to punish them after the fact. Trials of these individuals must be conducted according to fair trial guarantees and should include opportunities for victims and witnesses to participate meaningfully, if they choose, and to be protected if they do. We urge that those who are credibly accused of abuses in the meantime be removed from positions of power pending investigation to demonstrate allegations are being taken seriously and to eliminate the influence of those implicated in serious international crimes.

In the next few months, we will work with the Government of Ethiopia; our likeminded partners, including African countries that may step forward as guarantors of this process; and the African Union, which has developed a very sophisticated transitional justice framework, to ensure that the international community is informed about this process and has opportunities to support and to provide expertise and guidance all along the way. This international engagement will be essential to a credible process. At the same time, we are also working to continually document the abuses both past and ongoing, to inform the process, to shed more light on the atrocities that have been committed against civilians, and to inform our own approach to this process. In this regard, we will consider the systemic injustices and ethnic divisions which have contributed to violent consequences for Ethiopians over the years. And finally, of course, we have not lost sight of other areas across the country still beset by conflict, and we will continue to work for peace in Amhara and Oromia and to advocate for a comprehensive political process to bring an end to violence wherever it flares.

So, in closing, please rest assured that we are clear eyed about the challenges of transitional justice in Ethiopia. This will not be an easy feat. In our view, it is still too early to definitively assess the credibility of the government’s transitional justice efforts, notwithstanding criticism that has been leveled against the process by the International Commission for Human Rights Experts in Ethiopia and others, and we take those criticisms and those perspectives very seriously. We understand the skepticism many people feel, and we share the concerns underlying that skepticism. But we continue to believe that the best chance of a comprehensive and a credible transitional justice process—one that brings a lasting peace to the people of Ethiopia—rests in the current process underway. And we encourage the international community, civil society, other governments, and intergovernmental actors to support the process as it unfolds while continuing to scrutinize it to ensure its legitimacy.

Ultimately, we know that we are all stronger together. The insights and reporting of civil society actors have been crucial throughout this process. We are extremely grateful for the thorough reporting of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, and I look forward to hearing from Steve Ratner later today. All of your work has informed our thinking and our policy and will continue to do so. We also listen to the Ethiopian diaspora and the many voices advocating for a better and more just future for all Ethiopians.

So with that, I look forward to our conversation today. Thank you so much for including me.

U.S. Department of State

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