What Ethiopia and Tigray need for the success of the peace talks | conflict

On August 24, 2022, the wheels fell from a troubled nine-month truce between the Ethiopian and Tigrinya governments, with a massive military assault on dozens of fronts in Tigray.

The informal cessation of hostilities had been achieved following the withdrawal of Tigrinya forces from neighboring Afar and Amhara regions in December 2021. In the subsequent period, both sides requested mediation to end the war, as the humanitarian situation in the Northern Ethiopia got worse.

US mediation efforts to revive the ceasefire in early September have failed. The deadly war on Tigray – which killed more than half a million people, left more than 5.6 million Tigrayers starving and displaced another two million – has flared up again. In a way, the signs have been disturbing for a while: the Addis Ababa government, in early August, refused to lift the siege on Tigray and criticized a joint visit by envoys from the United Nations, States United and Europe Union to the capital of the Mekelle region.

However, a new window of opportunity for peace has emerged if the warring parties and bodies such as the UN, which currently meets in New York, can use it urgently.

On 11 September 2022, the Ethiopian New Year, the Tigray government expressed its readiness to resume negotiations mediated by the African Union, effectively putting the ball in the court of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. Proactive mediation is now needed to prevent the entire region from being sucked into a greater abyss, saving tens of thousands of lives and alleviating the suffering of millions.

Negotiations between the governments of Ethiopia and Tigray will determine the future of both the region and the country. In the Horn of Africa there are already 66 million people affected by drought. The stakes for the international community are very high. What can then be done to revive the truce and build a permanent ceasefire? What must be done to ensure the success of the mediation?

Understanding the military realities

On one side of the war are the Ethiopian, Amhara and Eritrean forces deploying the resources of a population of over 120 million with two sovereign states and their foreign allies providing military-grade drones. On the other side are the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) which represent the popular resistance of less than eight million Tigray people. Their war of attrition will reach its two-year milestone on November 4, 2022.

The success of mediation efforts largely depends on the military realities on the ground, the political will of the warring parties and the determination of the international community to end the war, as demonstrated by the diplomatic, financial and other resources it deploys.

Furthermore, the success of mediation also depends on the mediators and their strategies. This in turn will determine the process, structure and agenda of the talks, the priority of the different issues at stake and other key ingredients for the negotiations. In this case, the AU, as the lead mediator in consultation with other envoys, has yet to develop a clear strategy. This could be dangerous because discredited mediation leaves conflicts even more convoluted than before and reduces confidence in the usefulness of such efforts.

We need an impartial mediator

Following Tigray’s reservations about the current African Union (AU) envoy, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, it is imperative that the organization appoint other mediators acceptable to both sides.

Impartiality is the cornerstone of proactive mediation. Former Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, who engaged both sides, was appointed by his successor, William Ruto, to serve as his country’s envoy to Ethiopia and the Great Lakes. The US, the EU and others have done it approved Kenyatta’s appointment. The AU should consider quickly appointing Kenyatta as its envoy to Ethiopia as well, while Obasanjo remains the envoy for the Horn.

Crucial next steps

To achieve military disengagement, it is essential to cease hostilities. This will allow for a return to peaceful negotiations towards a ceasefire and a transitional security agreement. Unlike a simple truce, a ceasefire requires a comprehensive agreement on the political agenda for the points of the peace negotiations.

This agenda must include confidence-building measures, including unhindered access to humanitarian aid and the immediate resumption of civilian transport, electricity, telecommunications, banking, salary payments, fuel deliveries and other essential elements for the survival of millions of people in Tigray. These are the prerequisites for negotiations. Another confidence-building measure would be the release of prisoners of war and politicians, including members of the Ethiopian army and security sector Tigrinya.

To start the process and pave the way for substantial and intricate political-military negotiations, a declaration of principles – setting the parameters for the talks – should be made to guide the mediation process.

None of this will be easy. There are several thorny issues involved. They include requests from Tigray to withdraw all non-TDF forces from all territories in the region, effectively returning to pre-war military positions. Ethiopia needs to recognize the TDF as the sole security provider for Tigray and respect the wishes of the people of the region, including their right to hold a referendum within an agreed deadline. Finally, there is a need for legal accountability before an International Atrocity Tribunal established by the recent report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts (ICHRE) on Ethiopia.

Involvement of the international community

Finding agreement on these issues and overcoming differences in a way anchored in respect for human rights will require unified international support for mediation.

Effective mediation, in turn, requires robust and coercive compliance mechanisms and enforcement measures against offenders, including provisions for sanctions on selected individuals, regional travel bans, asset freezes and exclusion from political office in future governance arrangements. .

The war on Tigray has resumed in part due to the inability of the Pan-African and international community to take concrete measures to end Ethiopia’s siege of the region. The war in Ukraine has diverted the resources, leadership and attention of the international community from the catastrophic war in Ethiopia and has laid bare some obvious double standards.

After all, in terms of humanitarian scale and consequences, the conflict in Ukraine, while horrific, pales in comparison to the ongoing battles of attrition in Tigray, which have already claimed more than 500,000 lives.

The UN Security Council and the UN General Assembly must urgently discuss the situation in Ethiopia and deliberate on the report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, presented this week to the Human Rights Council in Geneva.

Only a small fraction of what the Western world has spent so far in support of Ukraine’s resistance to the Russian invasion could have stopped the war in the Horn of Africa, ending the suffering of hundreds of millions of people.

For peace to really take hold in the region, the world needs to wake up.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial position of Al Jazeera.