Human Rights Watch said Friday that a truce reached by Ethiopia and Tigrayan authorities earlier in the week “provides a crucial opportunity for immediate and rigorous international monitoring to avert further atrocities and a humanitarian catastrophe.”
The cessation of hostilities agreement was reached Wednesday after 10 days of talks in Pretoria, South Africa, mediated by the African Union and led by former Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo.
Friday marks two years since war broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region between Tigrayan forces and the federal government and its regional allies, including neighboring Eritrea.
“International scrutiny will be key to ensuring that the warring parties, which committed widespread abuses, don’t prolong the harm to the civilian population,” said Carine Kaneza Nantulya, deputy Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
The organization said it has documented “serious violations of the laws of war and human rights abuses by all parties to the conflict, including extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence, unlawful shelling and airstrikes, and pillage.”
HRW said, “Tigrayan forces have also killed civilians and been responsible for sexual violence, and looting and destruction of property.”
In addition, Human Rights Watch said that along with Amnesty International, the two human rights groups have also documented in the Western Tigray Zone “an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Tigrayan population by Amhara regional forces and militias, at times with the participation of Ethiopian federal forces.”
Human Rights Watch said the agreement that it has seen “does not explicitly mention the situation for civilians in Western Tigray. … The warring parties should facilitate immediate and safe access for international humanitarian agencies – including to formal and informal detention sites without prior notification.”
The deal calls for the Tigray rebel group to lay down its arms in exchange for reintegration and the return of the national army to the region. With mistrust on both sides, experts say this part of the agreement may be difficult to fulfill.
The warring factions also agreed to end hate speech that has fueled much of the 2-year-old conflict.
The agreement is seen as a major breakthrough after the warring sides had failed to come to the table to find ways to end the war that has claimed the lives of tens of thousands and displaced millions.
Human Rights Watch said key backers of the agreement should prioritize protecting civilians, press for robust monitoring, and ensure that the Ethiopian government and Tigrayan authorities fully carry out their rights commitments.