Debevoise, Legal Action Worldwide, and the Pan-African Lawyers Union Secure Provisional Measures Relief in Landmark Case Against Ethiopia for Human Rights Violations in Tigray

19 October 2022

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP, in partnership with Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) and the Pan-African Lawyers Union (PALU), has secured urgent provisional measures aimed at protecting Tigrayan civilians from the risk of irreparable harm by Ethiopia before the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the “African Commission”).

On October 14, 2022, the African Commission announced its decision to seize itself of a case against Ethiopia for serious and massive human rights violations against Tigrayan civilians in the ongoing Ethiopian civil war and issued provisional measures urging Ethiopia to cease all violations and ensure humanitarian access in Tigray. The decision comes following Debevoise, LAW and PALU submitting a landmark complaint against Ethiopia before the African Commission in February, 2022.

The African Commission is the first regional human rights body to consider claims arising out of the ongoing armed conflict and humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia. The decision also marks the first time in more than a decade that the African Commission has seized itself of a case concerning widespread violations in the context of a large-scale armed conflict.

In issuing these provisional measures, the African Commission recognizes that the situation in Tigray, and elsewhere in Ethiopia, remains critical. Since the case was filed last February, evidence of human rights violations against Tigrayan civilians has continued to mount, with new reports of extrajudicial killings, mass arbitrary detentions, and forced displacement, among other violations. Meanwhile, according to the United Nations, approximately 5.2 million civilians—90% of the civilian population—are in urgent need of food assistance as a result of Ethiopia’s humanitarian blockade. The situation for many Tigrayans remains extremely dire, as access to aid remains highly restricted in most of Tigray, and hospitals in the region have had to suspend operations due to shortages of medicine, medical supplies, fuel, and electricity.

While reports suggest that a number of parties to the conflict have committed violations and abuses against civilians of different ethnicities, this case focuses on the Tigrayan community as the overwhelming victims of the conflict, and the violations committed by the state of Ethiopia, as the party with primary responsibility for its citizens. This includes both the responsibility not to commit violations against civilians, and the responsibility to prevent violations and abuses committed by other parties against civilians in its territory.

Catherine Amirfar, Co-Chair of Debevoise’s International Dispute Resolution and Public International Law Groups, said: “The African Commission’s decision on the seizure of this case and provisional measures is a profound testament to the rule of law, but much work remains to be done to secure the security of the Tigrayan victims. We will continue this fundamental work toward holding Ethiopia responsible for its breaches of international law.”

The Debevoise team is led by partner Catherine Amirfar and counsel Floriane Lavaud and includes associates Christel Tham, Duncan Pickard, Michael Pizzi, Federico Wynter and Rawda Fawaz.