UN, Ethiopia rights agency to conduct joint Tigray probe

FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 file photo, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister's office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ethiopia's leader said in an address before lawmakers Tuesday, March 23, 2021 that atrocities have occurred in Tigray, the country's northern region where fighting persists as government troops hunt down its fugitive leaders. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File)
FILE - In this Monday, Nov. 30, 2020 file photo, Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed responds to questions from members of parliament at the prime minister's office in the capital Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Ethiopia's leader said in an address before lawmakers Tuesday, March 23, 2021 that atrocities have occurred in Tigray, the country's northern region where fighting persists as government troops hunt down its fugitive leaders. (AP Photo/Mulugeta Ayene, File) (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

KAMPALA – The United Nations and an Ethiopian rights agency said on Thursday they had agreed to carry out a joint investigation into abuses in the embattled region of Tigray, where fighting persists as government troops hunt down the region's fugitive leaders.

An investigation of all parties to the conflict is “part of the much-needed accountability process" for victims of the conflict, the government-established Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a statement.

"With multiple actors involved in the conflict and the gravity of the reported violations, an objective, independent investigation is urgently required," the statement said, adding that deployment of investigators will start as soon as possible for an initial period of three months.

The announcement came a day after the humanitarian group Doctors Without Borders, known by its French acronym MSF, reported that its staff on Tuesday saw Ethiopian government troops kill at least four civilians in Tigray. Three MSF staff alleged that they witnessed the extrajudicial killings when they were traveling ahead of two public mini-buses that were stopped by soldiers on the road from Mekele, the regional capital, to the city of Adigrat.

“The soldiers then forced the passengers to leave the mini-buses. The men were separated from the women, who were allowed to walk away. Shortly afterward, the men were shot,” according to MSF, which said in a statement late Wednesday that the “horrific event further underscores the need for the protection of civilians during this ongoing conflict.”

Ethiopian authorities have not responded to MSF's allegations of the killings after an apparent ambush of a military convoy by an armed group. MSF's statement said Ethiopian military vehicles were on fire at the scene of the executions.

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who was in Eritrea Thursday for talks with President Isaias Afwerki, told lawmakers earlier this week that atrocities have been reported in Tigray, his first public acknowledgment of possible war crimes in the country’s northern region. Abiy also admitted, after repeated denials by authorities, that troops from neighboring Eritrea have gone into Tigray, where their presence has inflicted “damage” on the region’s residents.

Eritrean soldiers killed over 100 people, including pilgrims attending an annual religious event, on Nov. 28 and the next day in the city of Axum, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said in a report released Tuesday.