Fatou Bensouda, the former chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), was appointed this Wednesday to head the UN Commission to investigate alleged human rights violations by the various contenders in the conflict in Ethiopia. Fatou Bensouda’s appointment is more than prestigious, this one in fact served as Chief Prosecutor of the ICC from 2012 to 2021.

The President of the Council on Human Rights, Federico Villegas, announced the opening of the investigation – and the appointment of two other experts, Kaari Betty Murunghi, of the Kenyan High Court, and Steven Ratner, professor of American law – that will last one year and will be extendable to expire next December.

Despite various denunciations by international NGOs and many international media only last November the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, together with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, highlighted the possibility of the emergence of war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Ethiopian conflict.

The decision to open the investigation was taken last December 17, but only now we have the composition of the commission that will have to determine whether such violations have been committed and if so decide to prosecute them. The resolution was adopted with 21 votes in favor of the 47 present in the council, with 15 votes against and 11 abstentions. It should be noted that of those voting in favor, none were African nations; in fact, the majority of those present were ‘western’ nations along with some South American nations, while African nations either voted against or abstained. China, India and the Russian Federation voted against.

Ethiopia was firmly opposed during the session and, having neither signed nor ratified the Treaty of Rome, cannot be investigated by the ICC: this is therefore the only way in which the international community can investigate the alleged violations of international law committed during the conflict by the various actors. In fact, Ethiopia continues to consider the issue as an internal police operation, as also confirmed by Abiy last February during the last meeting of the African Union, when he then launched “the year of nutrition”, the focus of the summit.

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