On the Impartiality of Daniel Bekele and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission By: Naomi Tesfai

Since Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch released their reports regarding the alleged Axum Massacre, there has been widespread concern from many Eritrean and Ethiopian communities as to the investigative methodology of these alleged crimes as well as the legitimacy of the claim itself. The identities of the alleged witnesses, the claims of TPLF forces retaking the city that same day, the fact that Ethiopian telecom service was down during the time of the phone interviews, and the video of churchgoers peacefully celebrating the day after the event have all called the legitimacy of the NGOs’ claims into question.

As such, the need for a neutral and impartial investigation is overdue. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC)has been tasked with this job, however once the EHRC chief commissioner, Daniel Bekele, released their preliminary report, it became clear to many people that the organization may not, in fact, be as independent as once thought.

In its report, the EHRC simply rewrote and rehashed previous claims and similar to the NGOS, without hard verifiable evidence. The only significant deviations being the number of victims having drastically decreased by almost 700 individuals as well as the dismissal of Ethiopian forces participation.

As such, the impartiality of chief commissioner Daniel Bekele, has been called into question. Indeed surprisingly, Daniel Bekele has history with both Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, having been a Senior Advisor for the former and Africa Director for the latter. During his time at HRW, Daniel wrote multiple biased and questionable reports regarding Eritrea’s mining industry using much of the same methodology he used to write his Axum preliminary report – without any on-the-ground investigation and citing unproven witnesses. Taking this into account, how could Mr. Bekele be expected to lead an impartial and independent investigation?

It seems the EHRC itself should be subjected to an inspection regarding the impartiality of its employees and, if necessary, a different apolitical organization altogether should be assigned to this investigation.

Seeing as how the EHRC has accepted the offer of a joint investigation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) – another historically biased organization against Eritrea – it must be said that any fair and thorough investigation would include the following:

  1. The participation of both Ethiopian and Eritrean investigators/language interpreters
  2. An emphasis on bipartisanship – which, for example, would include investigators from countries such as those in the West as well as Russia/China.
  3. A consideration of the potential occurrence of witness coaching/tampering and witness intimidation
  4. The acknowledgement of claims of military uniform changing as displayed by the existence of Almeda Textile Factory

We believe that the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission as it currently stands, is not an independent investigator and its participation should be reconsidered. A fair investigation including observers from all parties accused as well as carefully selected participants must be required.

Naomi Tesfai is an Eritrean Canadian who lives in Toronto.

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