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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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Africa Today

EU to support COVID-19 vaccination strategies and capacity in Africa

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The President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen, has announced today €100 million in humanitarian assistance to support the rollout of vaccination campaigns in Africa, which are spearheaded by the Africa Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (Africa CDC). Subject to the agreement of the budgetary authority, this funding will support the vaccination campaigns in countries with critical humanitarian needs and fragile health systems. The funding will, among others, contribute to ensuring the cold chains, roll-out registration programmes, training of medical and support staff as well as logistics. This sum comes on top of €2.2 billion provided by Team Europe to COVAX.

President of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen said: “We’ve always been clear that the pandemic won’t end until everyone is protected globally. The EU stands ready to support the vaccination strategies in our African partners with experts and deliveries of medical supplies at the request of the African Union. We are also exploring potential support to boost local production capacities of vaccines under licensing arrangements in Africa. This would be the fastest way to ramp up production everywhere to the benefit of those that most need it.”

Janez Lenarčič, Commissioner for Crisis Management, said: “International vaccine solidarity is a must if we are to effectively address the COVID-19 pandemic. We are looking at ways to use our humanitarian aid and civil protection tools to help in the rollout of vaccination campaigns in Africa. Ensuring equitable access to vaccines for vulnerable people, including in hard-to-access areas, is a moral duty. We will build on our valuable experience in delivering humanitarian aid in a challenging environment, for example via the Humanitarian Air Bridge flights.”

Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen, added: “Team Europe has stood by the side of our African partners from the onset of the pandemic and will continue to do so. We have already mobilised more than €8 billion to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic in Africa. We are strengthening health systems and preparedness capacities, which is absolutely key to ensure effective vaccination campaigns. And we are now exploring support through the new NDICI and how to leverage investments in the local production capacities through the External Action Guarantee.”

The EU also has a range of instruments at its disposal, such as the EU Humanitarian Air bridge, the EU Civil Protection Mechanism, and the EU’s humanitarian budget. These tools have been used extensively in the context of COVID-19 to deliver crucial material and logistical assistance to partners in Africa.

The Commission is also currently exploring opportunities to support African countries in the medium term to establish local or regional production capacity of health products, in particular vaccines and protective equipment. This support will come under the new Neighbourhood, Development and International Cooperation Instrument (NDICI) and the European Fund for Sustainable Development plus (EFSD+).

Background

The EU has been scaling up its humanitarian engagement in Africa since the onset COVID-19 crisis. A key of part of these efforts is the EU Humanitarian Air Bridge, which is an integrated set of services enabling the delivery of humanitarian assistance to countries affected by the coronavirus pandemic. The air bridge carries medical equipment, and humanitarian cargo and staff, providing humanitarian assistance for the most vulnerable populations where the pandemic imposes constraints on transport and logistics. The air bridge flights are fully funded by the EU. So far, almost 70 flights have delivered over 1,150 tons of medical equipment as well as nearly 1,700 medical and humanitarian staff and other passengers. Flights to Africa have aided the African Union, Burkina Faso, Central African Republic, Chad, Côte d’Ivoire, Democratic Republic of Congo, Guinea Bissau, Nigeria, São Tomé and Príncipe, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan.

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Africa Today

20th International Economic Forum on Africa

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The global economic recession triggered by COVID-19 is hitting African countries hard. In 2020, 41 African economies experienced a decline in their gross domestic product (GDP). Although situations vary across the continent, this crisis has made clear that post-COVID strategies need to tackle two major obstacles to Africa’s long-term sustainable growth: dependence on external markets, and the incapacity of the formal economic sectors to create enough quality jobs.

The African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), now open for business, provides a platform to accelerate productive transformation, create regional value chains and spur continental integration. Its effective implementation, however, depends on African economies’ capacity to create fiscal space and boost private investment in quality infrastructure and sustainable projects.

What are the key priorities for implementing the AfCFTA and accelerating Africa’s productive transformation? How can African governments strengthen their borrowing capacity and improve their debt management? How can bilateral and multilateral co-operation facilitate the process? The 2021 edition of the Forum will gather all key actors to share their views and solutions for action.

The Forum hosts Europe’s largest annual conversation on Africa’s ongoing, formidable transformation. It invites African and OECD policy makers, investors, academics, civil society and international organisations to share their views, and discuss how better policies can improve development outcomes for Africans and the world.

To host the Forum, the Government of Senegal, is teaming up with the Development Centre of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development; and the African Union, along with partners Casa Africa, le Cercle des Economistes, the French Development Agency (AFD) and the Sahel and West Africa Club (SWAC).

The debates will build on the findings of the recently launched Africa’s Development Dynamics 2021, a report by the African Union Commission, produced in collaboration with the OECD Development Centre.

Honourable speakers include:

  • Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal
  • Andry Rajoelina, President of the Republic of Madagascar
  • Toshimitsu Motegi, Minister for Foreign Affairs of Japan
  • Angel Gurría, Secretary-General, Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development
  • Moussa Faki Mahamat, President, African Union Commission
  • Ibrahim A. Mayaki, Chief Executive Officer, African Union Development Agency (AUDA/NEPAD)
  • Arkebe Oqubay, Senior Minister and Special Adviser to the Prime Minister of Ethiopia
  • Wamkele Mene, Secretary-General, AfCFTA Secretariat
  • Jean Hervé Lorenzi, President, Cercle des Economistes
  • Rémy Rioux, Director-General, Agence Française de Développement

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Africa Today

DR Congo: Lives and futures of three million children at risk

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Internally displaced persons, including children, collect water from a broken water main in Uvira, South Kivu, DRC. Waterborne diseases such as cholera are a major threat to displaced populations. UNICEF/Patrick Brown

The United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), on Friday, highlighted the dire situation of some three million displaced children in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) who face brutal militia violence and extreme hunger. 

 Whole villages have been set ablaze, health centres and schools ransacked, and entire families – including children – hacked to death, in a series of merciless attacks in eastern DRC by fighters using machetes and heavy weapons, UNICEF said in a news release. Communities have been forced to flee with only the barest of possessions. 

“Displaced children know nothing but fear, poverty, and violence. Generation after generation can think only of survival”, Edouard Beigbeder, UNICEF Representative for the DRC, said.

“Yet the world seems increasingly indifferent to their fate. We need the resources to continue helping these children have a better future.”

There are some 5.2 million displaced people in the DRC, about half of whom were displaced in the last twelve months, according to UN data. The overall figure includes about three million children. 

Families forced from their homes and villages are compelled to live in crowded settlements lacking safe water, health care and other basic services. Others are taken in by impoverished local communities. In the most violence-afflicted provinces of Ituri, North Kivu, South Kivu and Tanganyika, more than 8 million people are acutely food insecure.

Sharp rise in violations against children

UNICEF’s report Fear and Flight: An uprooted generation of children at risk in the DRC, released on Friday, underscores the gravity of the crisis. 

The report recounted testimony of children who have been recruited as militia fighters, subjected to sexual assault, and suffered other grave violations of their rights – abuses that registered a 16 per cent increase in the first six months of 2020 compared to the previous year.

However, delivering relief assistance to populations who have been displaced is complex, and often hampered by insecurity and a weak transport infrastructure. 

A rapid response programme directed by UNICEF with partner NGOs offers a temporary solution, providing tarpaulins, cooking utensils, jerrycans and other essentials to nearly 500,000 people in 2020, said the UN agency.

According to Typhaine Gendron, the Chief of Emergency for UNICEF in DRC, such emergency distributions help deal with the “immediate shock” of being displaced. They are also part of an integrated response that looks to address a family’s broader needs in health, nutrition, protection, water and sanitation (WASH), or education, she added.

Additional funds desperately needed

While the volatile security situation is a major concern for aid workers and UNICEF personnel engaged in the humanitarian response, additional funds are also desperately needed. UNICEF’s 2021 humanitarian appeal for the country, amounting to about $384.4 million is only 11 per cent funded.

Without timely and adequate funding, UNICEF and its partners will not be able to provide critical services addressing the acute humanitarian needs of almost three million Congolese children and their families and protect and promote their rights, the agency warned. 

UNICEF Representative Beigbeder stressed the urgency, “without sustained humanitarian intervention, thousands of children will die from malnutrition or disease, and displaced populations will not receive the basic lifesaving services they depend on.” 

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