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Reported Ethiopia massacre: UN rights chief warns of spiralling situation, war crimes

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A girl stands outside her home in the Tigray Region, Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Tanya Bindra

Disturbing reports of an alleged massacre have surfaced in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, amid fighting between national and regional forces that may become impossible to control, the UN human rights chief warned on Friday. 

Reacting to emerging details of mass killings involving scores of victims in the town of Mai-Kadra, Michelle Bachelet said that “if the Tigray national (and) regional forces and Ethiopian Government forces continue down the path they are on, there is a risk this situation will spiral totally out of control”. 

This risked “heavy casualties and destruction, as well as mass displacement within Ethiopia itself and across borders”, her spokesperson, Rupert Colville, told journalists at a press briefing in Geneva. 

Equally worrying were “ethnically and religiously motivated hate speech, incitement to violence”, arbitrary arrests, killings, mass displacement and destruction in various parts of the country, said senior UN prevention of genocide special adviser Pramila Patten, and the UN’s Responsibility to Protect senior adviser Karen Smith

Such ethnically motivated attacks and reportedly ethnic profiling of citizens heightened the risk of genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, the UN senior officials added. 

War crimes 

Although the UN rights chief noted that the details of the alleged atrocity reported by Amnesty International in southwest Tigray “have not yet been fully verified”, she urged a full inquiry.  

“If confirmed as having been deliberately carried out by a party to the current fighting, these killings of civilians would of course amount to war crimes”, she said.   

The High Commissioner repeated her call to “stop the fighting and prevent any further atrocities from taking place”, before highlighting the devastating military power being brought to bear in the conflict. 

“Despite the severing of communications with Tigray making it difficult to verify the extent of the damage so far, we’ve received reports from a variety of sources suggesting increased airstrikes by Government forces as well as fierce ground fighting between the opposing forces”, she said. 

Cuts to water, electricity 

Cuts to essential services for vulnerable populations as well as a communications blackout and access problems “by road and by air” for relief agencies were also deeply worrying, Ms. Bachelet added.  

Regional and political tensions have risen since 2018, when newly-elected Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed merged several ethnically based regional parties into a single national force, amid an ambitious reform programme.   

Violence erupted at the start of the month in Tigray involving federal and local forces, following the reported takeover of an army base in the Tigrayan capital, Mekelle, which prompted the Prime Minister to order a military offensive.   

Prior to the Tigray escalation, dozens of people in western Oromia region were killed and injured in attacks.  

Refugee alert 

In a new alert over the safety of civilians in Tigray, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, reiterated concerns for the safety of more than 96,000 Eritreans living in four refugee camps, and host communities living alongside them.  

They are in addition to the 100,000 people in Tigray who were already internally displaced at the start of the conflict.  

“Fighting in Tigray yesterday moved closer to Shimelba refugee camp – which hosts 6,500 Eritrean refugees – raising concerns of mass displacement from the camp itself”, said Babar Baloch, UNHCR spokesperson. “UNHCR is making preparations to receive refugees who have already begun arriving at another refugee camp, Hitsats, 50 kilometres away, and is considering further relocation options in the region.” 

Refugees from Ethiopia continue to flee into neighbouring Sudan “increasingly rapidly”, Mr. Baloch said, “with over 4,000 crossing the border in just one day”. 

Inside Sudan, those arriving from Ethiopia have been offered temporary shelter in transit centres near the border entry points of Ludgi in Gederef and Hamdayet in Kassala state.  

They receive water and meals, while UNHCR and local authorities jointly screen and register the men, women and children seeking safety.  

“The transit centre at Hamdayet border crossing has a capacity to accommodate only 300 refugees, but is already overwhelmed with 6,000 people”, Mr. Baloch explained. “Sanitation facilities are insufficient, impacting hygiene.” 

No winners from conflict 

Reiterating her 6 November appeal for talks and resolve differences “without delay” and an immediate cessation of hostilities, UN Human Rights chief Bachelet insisted that both sides should understand that fighting would produce “no winner”. 

A protracted internal conflict “will inflict devastating damage on both Tigray and Ethiopia as a whole, undoing years of vital development progress,” she said. “It could, in addition, all too easily spill across borders, potentially destabilizing the whole sub-region.” 

In a statement condemning reports of targeted attacks against civilians based on their ethnicity or religion, UN Special Advisers Patten and Smith said that ethnic violence in Ethiopia had reached an alarming level over the past two years.  

The stigmatization of certain ethnic groups – including the Tigray, Amhara, Somali and Oromo – has significantly contributed to ethnic intolerance in the country, they insisted.  

Genocide risk 

“We strongly urge the Ethiopian authorities to take urgent measures to protect its population from further violence and strongly encourage them to seek assistance from the international community”, the Special Advisers said.  

The need to de-escalate rising tensions in the country was especially important ahead of forthcoming elections”, the Special Advisers stated, in reference to the national poll that was suspended in August because of the COVID-19 crisis for nine to 12 months, to give the authorities sufficient time to get the pandemic under control. 

They warned that if these urgent measures are not immediately taken, the risk of atrocity crimes in Ethiopia remains high. 

Children under fire 

The UN Children’s Fund has also been voicing fears that the most vulnerable civilians, will suffer the most: “UNICEF is deeply concerned about the safety and wellbeing of children affected by ongoing military operations in the Tigray Region of Ethiopia”, said UNICEF Regional Director for Eastern and Southern Africa, Mohamed Malick Fall.  

“UNICEF calls on all parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and to protect children from harm. UNICEF also calls on all parties to ensure that humanitarian actors have unconditional and sustained access on the ground to reach civilians in need, and to preserve children’s access to basic social services.”

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DR Congo: Lack of sufficient funding means tough choices for humanitarians

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Female peacekeepers from Tanzania interact with women and children in Beni, DRC. TANZBATT 7/Ibrahim Mayambua

Conflict in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and a lack of funding, are leaving humanitarians with a stark choice over who to assist, the  UN Humanitarian Coordinator in the country warned on Friday. 

The conflict in the DRC is on “such a massive scale”, that the country has the highest number of internally displaced in Africa, a large refugee population of 500,000, and is experiencing multiple crises, including in education, funding and healthcare, said David McLachlan-Karr, UN Resident and Humanitarian Coordinator for DRC. 

He added that this had led to “repeated epidemics of cholera, measles and malaria — indicative of weak health system”. Reporting on the humanitarian situation in DRC, the top UN official said it was time to put the country back on the “global map of need”.  

26 million food insecure 

https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=UN_News_Centre&dnt=false&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3NwYWNlX2NhcmQiOnsiYnVja2V0Ijoib2ZmIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1446544673405689856&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fnews.un.org%2Fen%2Fstory%2F2021%2F10%2F1102632&sessionId=a1a97e024e4bc6e8ce7e439035ca578c656cb62d&siteScreenName=UN_News_Centre&theme=light&widgetsVersion=fcb1942%3A1632982954711&width=550px DRC is suffering a “food insecurity crisis with 26.7 million Congolese food insecure, he pointed out. 

Peoples’ “day to day” lives are “precarious, with inadequate nutritional intake,” leaving them in a “weakened condition and prone to disease” he said. 

According to the Humanitarian Coordinator, there is a “protracted protection crisis,” with “inter-ethnic conflict over natural resources in both North and South Kivu and in other eastern provinces” which “require urgent humanitarian assistance; healthcare, food, shelter water sanitation, education for populations they are unable to access”. 

The funding situation is also “very concerning,” Mr. McLachlan-Karr added. “We are over a quarter funded and it’s a year we’ve really suffered a decrease in funding, leaving us with a stark choice – who to prioritize?” 

‘No repeat’ of abuse – pledge 

Noting the recent report on sexual abuse and exploitation allegedly carried out by World Health Organization (WHO) staff during the UN health agency’s response to an Ebola outbreak in 2020, Mr. McLachlan-Karr said the UN Country Team’s work around gender violence sexual exploitation and abuse, “points to major problems and a need for the community to step up and to scale up our prevention capacities and support to survivors in this unacceptable situation”. 

He reiterated WHO’s pledge that “every case and allegation will be investigated, and justice will be served”. 

There will be “no repetition of what happened in the tenth Ebola crisis. We work to the highest ethical standards and will stamp out this abuse,” he added.  

‘Funding on the decline’ 

According to Mr. McLachlan-Karr, 9.6 million people are in need in the country, but due to COVID-19 and other crises like the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, there is a need to “draw global attention to problems in DRC which are on the scale of Yemen and Syria”. 

Warning that civilians are being increased “directly targeted” with “gender-based violence he called for additional funding, to fight the scourge. 

“Funding trends are on the decline,” he added. “We’ve been funding closer to 50 per cent mark in the past 35 past years. 

“Often donors make decisions in the last quarter of the year, so we could see an increase in our funding beyond 27 per cent,”, however, he warned, “we need funding for 12 months of the year to plan our programme”.  

Emphasizing the difficulties of “working on a shoestring when you get funding at the end of the year” he noted that they have still assisted over 3.2 million people, 4 million with food assistance; 1.7 million with water and sanitation assistance and, 1.2 million with emergency cash transfers to access land to guarantee food security. 

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Let us change the narrative on Africa in the United States -AfDB President

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African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi A. Adesina has said that a concerted effort to change the narrative on Africa in the United States is necessary to attract increased investments into the continent.

He said the need for advocacy in the United States made having an African Development Bank office in Washington a matter of importance, and that he would be pursuing approval with the Board of the African Development Bank Group.

Meeting with African ambassadors at the chancery of the Embassy of the Republic of Congo in Washington on 1 October, Dr Adesina said: “We are a responsive and solutions bank at the heart of Africa’s development, and at the core of our work as a multilateral development bank, there is a very clear strategy to fast-track Africa’s development.”

In a comprehensive tour d’horizon of the Bank’s priority agenda, Dr Adesina began by thanking the ambassadors for their strong support for his re-election to a second consecutive five-year term last year under the leadership of their Dean, Ambassador Serge Mombouli of the Republic of Congo.

Speaking to the Bank’s core objectives, he drew the ambassadors’ attention to the UNDP’s assessment, which showed that if Africa achieved the Bank’s High 5 priorities, it would have achieved 90% of both the African Union’s Agenda 2063 and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Promising results at scale

The African Development Bank chief told the ambassadors that the results already spoke for themselves. In the past five years, he explained, the Bank, through its High 5s, had positively impacted the lives of 335 million people. He said that 21 million people had gained access to electricity, 76 million people to agricultural technologies to ensure their food security, and 12 million people had gained access to finance through the investee companies the Bank itself had invested in. He also revealed that 69 million people had benefitted from improved transport infrastructure, while 50 million people had benefitted from improved water and sanitation.

“This is the kind of scale on which we work,” Dr Adesina said, explaining that the desired level of development will not come about by small projects but by those of scale. 

Countering Covid

The Bank chief said the Covid-19 pandemic had made the challenge of development tougher, with 5 million Africans infected by the virus and more than 200,000 lives lost. The Bank, he explained, had moved quickly, launching a $10 billion crisis response facility to provide fiscal support to countries, and going to the international capital markets to launch a $3 billion fight Covid-19 social bond – the largest social bond denominated in US dollars ever done in the world.

Dr Adesina decried the vaccine nationalism by developed countries. He said Africa had only fully vaccinated 24 million people, a mere 2% of its population. “In Africa we have 4.4% of the population receiving one dose, and 1.8 % of the population receiving the second dose. Compare this to 70% in Europe and 56% right here in the United States, respectively,” he said. “So, while developed countries are moving to booster shots, Africa is still struggling to just get basic shots.”

An African healthcare defense system

The African Development Bank president said Africa must learn some critical lessons from this experience. “Africa cannot, and Africa must not, outsource the health security of its 1.3 billion people to the generosity and the benevolence of others,” he stressed. “Africa must ensure health security for its people with a good healthcare defense system. Another virus will come, and we cannot be in this situation where we are not able to respond or where we are the last to be able to get access to vaccines.”

Dr Adesina said Africa must develop its indigenous pharmaceutical manufacturing capacity. He said this was important not only for Covid-19, but also for other viruses to come after Covid-19. As part of efforts to revamp Africa’s quality healthcare infrastructure, the African Development Bank is investing $3 billion dollars to support pharmaceutical and vaccine production on the continent.

Debt management

The issue of debt sustainability also had resonance. The Bank president and the envoys agreed that the75% rise in Africa’s debt to GDP and the continent’s quantum $845 billion of debt was a matter of grave concern. The share of Africa’s debt from private and commercial debt has risen from 17% in 2002 to 40% today. Most of this is high yield short-term debt. 

SDRs

Dr Adesina said the recent issuance of $650 billion special drawing rights (SDRs) by the IMF offered a unique opportunity to support countries going forward. He commended IMF Managing Director Kristalina Georgieva for her role in making this possible, as well as support from US President Joe Biden and US Treasury Janet Yellen.

While Africa is the least resourced region to tackle the continual effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, the continent only stands to receive $31 billion out of $650 billion in SDRs. Dr Adesina advocated a reallocation of SDRs by developed countries to developing countries, and to Africa in particular. He commended French President Emmanuel Macron for his leadership by example in recently announcing France’s donation of 2% of its own allocation of SDRs to Africa.

Climate

The group learned that the Bank was spearheading efforts to help Africa tackle climate change; and that it had doubled its allocation for climate finance to $25 billion by 2025 with 40% of its total financing going to climate finance. While Africa contributes less than 4% of greenhouse gases, it does suffer from it and has been found – by the International Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change – to be heating up faster than the rest of the world – 10 years faster than originally projected.

“This is why the Bank is responding. We are increasingly applying more of our resources to climate adaptation,” Dr Adesina said. “Today, 67% of all our climate finance is in adaptation, which is the highest of any international financial institution in the world.” He quoted UN Secretary-General António Guterres’ recent commendation of the Bank’s leadership when he said at the UN General Assembly: “The African Development Bank has set the bar in 2019 by allocating half of all its climate finance to climate adaptation. Some donors have followed their lead. All must do so.”

Dr Adesina also spoke about the Bank’s collaboration with the Global Center on Adaptation to mobilize $25 billion for African climate adaptation.

Energy

Outlining the Bank’s efforts to light up and power Africa, Dr Adesina spoke about how the institution was harnessing the extensive sources of solar, hydro, wind and geothermal power. He highlighted the Desert to Power project, a $20 billion investment by the Bank and its partners to create the world’s largest solar zone in the Sahel. It will help to develop 10,000 megawatts of electricity and provide electric power to 250 million people.

Environment

On the environment, the Bank president spoke of efforts to protect very fragile and vulnerable regions of the continent from the impact of climate change. He talked about the Great Green Wall initiative launched by the Bank and the African Union, designed to provide an environmental defence shield in the Sahel and the Sahara against desertification.

Trade and investment

On trade, Dr Adesina said the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) represented a huge opportunity to transform Africa with a combined GDP of $3.3 trillion, the largest free trade zone in the world. He said the size of consumer and business expenditures in Africa would rise to $6.7 trillion by 2030. “Africa is no longer a continent that can be ignored,” he said. “And if you are not investing in Africa, the question I would ask is: where in the world are you investing?”

Infrastructure

The ambassadors were presented with several examples of Bank-financed infrastructure projects that were impacting development across the continent. The Bank has invested over $40 billion in infrastructure, working closely with the African Union’s New Partnership for Africa’s Development.

“The African Development Bank is the largest financier of infrastructure in Africa – far above the World Bank and far above any institution that you can find,” Dr Adesina told his audience. 

Investment opportunities

Dr Adesina said Africa’s massive infrastructure needs presented viable economic investment opportunities for institutional investors in Africa and those from the United States.

“This is the time to change the investment narrative on Africa in the United States,” he stressed. “The African Development Bank is developing strategic alliances and partnerships, taking advantage of the new outlook of new US administration.

“We are working closely now that the US Development Finance Corporation, The Millennium Challenge Corporation, the Corporate Council on Africa, the United States Trade Development Agency, USAID, and of course, the Department of Energy, PROSPER Africa, and the US Exim Bank to launch a new approach of working together to massively direct US capital investments to infrastructure in Africa.”

The African Development Bank president applauded the US government’s Build Back Better World launched by President Biden. He enjoined the ambassadors as African diplomatic envoys in Washington to help to make this initiative a huge success, describing it as a unique opportunity for Africa. “It is time to expand US investments in Africa at scale,” he stressed.

Africa Investment Forum

While on the subject shoring up US investments in Africa, Dr Adesina spoke about the forthcoming Africa Investment Forum, an annual forum organized by the African Development Bank, which has become Africa’s premier investment marketplace. He said it presented the perfect opportunity to attract greater US investment in Africa.

The ambassadors learned that the maiden edition of the forum in 2018 mobilized $30.7 billion of investment commitment interests to Africa – and this in less than 72 hours.

The Bank president said: “Some people used to think that Africa was not bankable, I know Africa is bankable. I just don’t know where your bank is. You should bring your bank to Africa.”

He said that in 2019 the African Development Bank mobilized $40 billion in investment interest – again, in less than 72 hours. This included a $24 billion transaction for liquefied natural gas in Mozambique and will make Mozambique the third-largest producer of liquified natural gas in the world. 

The African Development Fund 16th Replenishment

The African Development Bank president called on the ambassadors to support the 16th replenishment of the African Development Fund, the Bank’s concessional lending window, which it uses to support low-income and fragile states. He said it was desirable that the African Development Fund be allowed by donors to go to the capital market, just like the World Bank Group’s International Development Association (IDA) had gone to the capital market.

“We have equity in the African Development Fund of $26 billion. But we can go to the capital market and raise an additional $33 billion that we can use to scale up support for African economies, especially low-income countries,” Dr Adesina told the ambassadors. “Your advocacy with donor countries, especially the United States Treasury, and the mobilization of strong support for this is crucial.”

A physical presence in Washington

Finally, the African Development Bank chief said the need for advocacy and for changing the narrative on Africa in the United States made having an African Development Bank office in Washington a matter of importance, and he would be pursuing approval of this with the African Development Bank Board. “It is very important that Africa’s voice be heard. It is very important to have the mindset on Africa change,” he said.

Dr Adesina concluded by emphasizing that “Africa was not begging for help. Africa is an investment destination for the United States, and it must be respected by all, as the frontier of investment in the world.”

Enthusiastic support

The African ambassadors showed enthusiastic support for the Bank’s agenda and commended Dr Adesina for his leadership. They decried the imposition of vaccine passports by developed countries, which was found to be discriminatory against travellers from Africa. They agreed on the need to change the mindset of Africa as a welfare continent that only received but rather one that had a lot to offer.

The ambassadors thanked Dr Adesina for his guidance and welcomed the continued technical support of the Bank, which they felt would make up for the technical expertise that they did not necessarily have in the areas of the Bank’s comparative advantage. There was broad agreement that a Bank office in Washington was timely.

The group said they were engaging with the new administration in Washington and found that there was a new mood in Washington – an interest in doing business with Africa. 

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UNHCR recommends the end of refugee status for Ivorians by June

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Refugees from Côte d’Ivoire await registration in Liberia in October 2020. © UNHCR/Roland Tuley

Following an in-depth analysis of the situation in Côte d’Ivoire, the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, recommended on Thursday that countries hosting Ivorians end their refugee status, and help them to voluntarily repatriate, obtain permanent residency or began the naturalization process to remain.

“In light of the fundamental and durable changes in Côte d’Ivoire, I am pleased to recommend a general cessation of refugee status for Ivorian refugees to take effect on 30 June 2022”, said UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi.

Tens of thousands in waiting

According to data available to UNHCR, there are approximately 91,000 Ivorian refugees and asylum seekers around the world.

Some 51,000 live in West Africa, with 33,000 in Liberia alone, and a further 22,000 in Europe.

Since 2011, some 290,000 Ivoirian refugees living in West Africa have voluntarily returned to Côte d’Ivoire and a UNHCR survey in the region revealed that 60 per cent of those remaining intend to repatriate, while 30 per cent are still undecided and 10 per cent will stay in their host country.

Definite steps

The cessation of refugee status recommendation comes with concrete measures to promote durable solutions for Ivorian refugees that will facilitate their voluntary return and reintegration, and the opportunity to seek permanent residency or naturalization where they are, including notably for those who have formed strong ties to host countries.

“I am grateful for the example set by the Government of Côte d’Ivoire as well as those of Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania and Togo, which have demonstrated political will to implement a comprehensive roadmap for solutions for Ivorian refugees, some of whom have been displaced for decades”, Mr. Grandi told the annual session of UNHCR’s Executive Committee.

Exceptions allowed

UNHCR welcomed this week, commitments made by States as part of the Comprehensive Solutions Strategy for Ivorian refugees, which include the entitlement for those with ongoing international protection needs to request an exemption from cessation through international law safeguards procedures.

UNHCR is organizing weekly transportation from Liberia to help Ivorians wishing to return home.

Since late August, some 5,000 refugees have been reunited with family members, some of whom they have not seen in decades. UNHCR is also providing financial support to returning refugees to facilitate their reintegration.

“This regional effort deserves the applause of the entire international community”, said the High Commissioner.

Fleeing turmoil

Ivorians fled two civil wars, first between 2002 and 2007 then later from 2011 to 2012.

Thousands also fled to neighbouring countries in 2020, fearing violence linked to presidential and parliamentary elections.

UNHCR remains committed to assisting Côte d’Ivoire and host countries implement the cessation recommendation and continues to advocate for States to provide refugees with civil, identity and travel documents.

In Côte d’Ivoire, this includes issuing birth certificates, which help ensure people can enrol in school, get national identity cards and vote.

“It is critical that States and other actors provide full support to these solutions in a timely and concerted manner to facilitate social inclusion and reduce the risk of Statelessness”, the UN refugee agency said. 

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