NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — The foreign ministers of France and Germany used a visit to Ethiopia on Thursday to call for accountability for widespread abuses committed during the Tigray conflict as a condition for the European Union to normalize relations with the country.
Speaking in the capital, Addis Ababa, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock highlighted crimes including “systematic sexualized violence” committed during the two-year conflict in which hundreds of thousands of people are thought to have died.
“I would like to say, as a female foreign minister, no, it is not normal that rapes are part of wars,” Baerbock said. “Humanitarian international law is clear: Civilians and the protection of civilians is top priority in armed conflict, and rapes are crimes of war.”
The EU suspended budgetary support for Ethiopia shortly after the conflict in the country’s Tigray region began in November 2020, citing abuses. A peace deal signed by the federal government and Tigray forces in November has stopped much of the fighting, while badly needed basic services and humanitarian aid delivery have begun to resume to the region.
The peace agreement also contains provisions for transitional justice. The French foreign minister, Catherine Colonna, said implementing the deal and following through on promises of accountability was the “condition” for Europe’s re-engagement.
“There is no peace that can be lasting without justice,” she said after meeting with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed earlier in the day.
Both ministers said their countries stood ready to help Ethiopia, Africa’s second most populous country, implement the deal.
Investigators with the United Nations have found evidence of killings and rapes during the conflict in northern Ethiopia, which has also affected the regions of Afar and Amhara. Troops from neighboring Eritrea in particular stand accused of widespread sexual violence while fighting alongside the federal government in Tigray and remain in the region despite demands for their withdrawal.
Ethiopia’s justice ministry has prepared a paper laying out a framework for investigating and prosecuting war criminals, although the government has previously tried to block funding for the U.N.’s committee of experts investigating abuses committed during the conflict.
Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen said Ethiopia has asked the U.N.’s human rights office “to support the transitional justice policy consultation process” and deploy monitors in “conflict-affected areas” alongside the state-appointed human rights commission.