Spotlight: ISS helps set a path towards reconciliation in Ethiopia


Complex political transitions must inevitably confront past legacies, many of which are tainted by gross human rights violations, marginalisation and a culture of impunity. Transitional justice mechanisms can help by easing the burden of the past and contributing to a new chapter in state-society relations.

Ethiopia chose to deal with its difficult past by, among other measures, establishing the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission (ERC) in February 2018. The commission faces a complex task considering the country’s deep societal divisions, diverging views on its political history, episodes of communal violence and most recently, the long shadow of conflict in Tigray.

In March 2020, the ERC asked the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) to explore key challenges facing the commission and draw lessons from international practice that could be adapted to enhance current processes. The research aimed to identify specific obstacles that prevent the commission from effectively delivering on its mandate.

The findings of the ISS investigation were documented for the ERC and published in an ISS report released in May. The ISS recommended that the commission narrow its broad temporal and material mandate, revisit its institutional setup and member composition, and enhance its powers, capabilities and independence.

Executive Director of the ERC Secretariat, Seble Hailu, praised the ISS for its high-quality research

Executive Director of the ERC Secretariat, Seble Hailu, praised the ISS for its high-quality research. She asked that the partnership with ISS be extended to enable ‘reconciliation work which has a national impact.’

The ISS works closely with stakeholders in Ethiopia to find ways to deal with the country’s fast-changing political dynamics and remedy its peace and security challenges. ISS’ recommendations on the ERC were widely discussed with the commission’s leadership and other relevant stakeholders. The ERC aims to use the findings for an ongoing review of its legal framework. Concrete action steps drawn from the report will be presented to the government for consideration.

Through this research, the ISS reinforced the value of transitional justice mechanisms even as the country faced ongoing internal conflict and political strife. Hiwot Alemayehu, former executive director of the ERC’s Secretariat, encouraged the ISS to serve as an anchor for Ethiopia’s reconciliation process. ‘The recommendations from the report should be earnestly considered for policy discussions and debates,’ she said.

For more information contact:

Dawit Yohannes, ISS: [email protected]; +251 911627075 

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