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The findings of two reports issued by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in the past fortnight make for grim reading. Covering the period from September 2021 to January 2024, the reports document the perpetration of extrajudicial execution, wounding and abduction of countless civilians caught up in violent conflicts between government security forces and armed groups in different zones of the country’s two largest regions—Oromia and Amhara—. According to the reports, civilians are targeted because they or family members belong to or support the perpetrators’ adversaries in the conflict. While the laundry list of egregious crimes EHRC brought to light are shocking to say the least, they have been occurring with sickening regularity across most regions of Ethiopia since Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) took office in April 2018. Sadly, all the sides to what are generally regarded as fulfilling the requirements of non-international armed conflicts have failed miserably to put an end to the atrocities and restore peace and security despite the expression of revulsion and vilification of the appalling acts, causing Ethiopia  to figure among the nations most at risk of vulnerability.

Ethiopians have had more than their share of internecine strifewhich have exacteda heavy price on their beloved country and fellow citizens. Inevitably, it is civilians who have borne the brunt of the seemingly endless cycle of violence that has bedeviled them for far too long now. The ghastly consequences of the two-year civil war in northern Ethiopia should serve as an object lesson. The parties to the ongoing conflicts that have devastated the livelihoods of the rich and poor alike, particularly in the Oromia and Amhara regions to afford civilians protection from the mayhem and destructionwrought by the conflicts. It’s incumbent on the government, rebels, insurgents and other armed opposition groups taking part in armed conflicts to distinguish at all times between combatants and civilians as well as to observe the principles of necessity and proportionality. In fact they are duty-bound under both domestic legislation and international humanitarian laws which Ethiopia has ratified to undertake all feasible precautions to avoid, or at least to minimize, harm to civilians and to refrain from carrying out attacks that indiscriminately target civilians.

Ethiopia is a signatory to a host of international humanitarian agreements which set minimum standards for all parties to a non-international armed conflict. The most important treaty law is Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and Protocol II to the Geneva Conventions. It has also adopted seven out of the nine major international human rights treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, and the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights. These treaties set out guarantees for fundamental rights, many of which correspond to the rights to which civilians are entitled under international humanitarian law.  All these instruments prohibit the killing, torture, inhuman and degrading treatment of civilians during armed conflicts.Ethiopia’s own legal framework, including its constitution and domestic laws, incorporates principles that align with such international humanitarian laws and human rights principles.

The actions of the parties to the ongoing conflicts in Ethiopia raises doubts whether they have a proper grasp of their responsibilities underthese international humanitarian and human rights laws. Regardless, they should have no disillusion that they must honor the prescriptions of these laws even if the opposing side ignores them. Abiding by the obligations these laws impose is not something predicated on the reasonsfueling the conflicts or why any of themopted to use force as a means to further their goals. Moreover, it should not be lost on them that irrespective of whether they are state or non-state actors, they are held to the same standard though there may be disparities in the level of the harm caused by the violations they have committed and continue to commit.

As the humanitarian toll of the conflicts ravaging the Oromia and Amhara regions mounts, it’s paramount that the parties to the conflict demonstrate the courage to take a host of there are measures however disappointing they may be for their base. In the first place, they must agree to an unconditional ceasefire and start the process of ending the senseless violence through peaceful means alone. Engaging in dialogues and negotiations in which all the stakeholders, including local communities, civil society organizations, and international partners,are allowed to play an active role in peacebuilding initiatives, will go a long way towards addressingunderlying grievances and tensions, thereby fostering social cohesion and bringing about lasting peace and stability in the regions. Aside from seeking a political solution to the conflicts, it’s crucial that all the parties involved in the conflicts respectinternational norms and other relevant legal frameworks with a view to afford civiliansthe protection theyare entitled to. It’s also of the essence to hold the perpetrators of violence and abuses accountable for their actions through fair and impartial judicial processes. Failure to take these measures only serves to perpetuate the conflicts and prolong the ordeal of innocent civilians.

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