Military court system – concerns about transparency and due process
The Ethiopian government’s reliance on the military court system to try serious violations committed by Ethiopian military forces continue to lack transparency and raise concerns about due process and justice and redress for victims and survivors of heinous crimes.
In May 2021, the Office of the Attorney General released its findings of its investigation into allegations of atrocities committed by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces in Axum. The investigation ignored the role of Ethiopian forces in extrajudicial executions and pillage of civilian infrastructure and property, as well as the horrific massacre of hundreds of civilians by Eritrean forces in the course of 24 hours.
On May 21, 2021, after public pressure, the Attorney General's office released a summary of efforts taken so far by Ethiopian authorities towards accountability. It stated that Eritrean forces killed over 100 civilians in Axum and that the military court system had brought charges against 28 Ethiopian soldiers accused of extrajudicial executions, and 25 Ethiopian soldiers accused of committing acts of sexual violence and had sentenced 4. Transparency around these trials and convictions, including the role and rank of these forces, whether any senior officers or authorities exercising command responsibility were held to account, and the areas in which the soldiers are accused or found responsible for carrying out these crimes are still unclear. The joint OHCHR/EHRC report also raised concerns that the “investigations conducted by Ethiopian national institutions do not match the scope and breadth of violations it has identified ...nor that those investigations which are being undertaken sufficiently comply with international standards, including with respect to transparency” (para. 376). The report further raised concerns that “national institutions may not be sufficiently addressing matters of command responsibility for the violations they are investigating” (para. 376).
In September, the government acknowledged that an investigative team established by the Ministry of Defence found 60 incidents of crimes involving extrajudicial killing and sexual violence that had been submitted to the military courts. As of August 2022, the military courts handed down 25 convictions and 2 acquittals. However, no information was made public on the rank of Ethiopian federal force personnel involved, locations where incidents occurred, how abuses implicating regional forces have been investigated, or clarity on access to proceedings by survivors or family members.