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Tigray: Hundreds of civilians reported killed in artillery strikes

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

Reports of artillery strikes on civilians and mass killings of non-combatants in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, must be investigated and full access granted to independent investigators, UN rights chief Michelle Bachelet said on Tuesday. 

The appeal by the High Commissioner for Human Rights follows seven weeks of conflict in northern Ethiopia between central Government soldiers and Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) forces that has displaced tens of thousands. 

“Fighting is said to be continuing, particularly in some areas of north, central and southern Tigray”, Ms. Bachelet said in a statement, highlighting how the lack of overall humanitarian access and ongoing communications blackout in many areas had continued to raise concerns about civilians. 

Artillery strikes 

“We have received allegations concerning violations of international humanitarian law and human rights law, including artillery strikes on populated areas, the deliberate targeting of civilians, extrajudicial killings and widespread looting”, the High Commissioner said.  

Although the Government of Ethiopia had repeatedly alleged that the TPLF forces were involved in violations of international law, “without access it remains challenging to verify these allegations”, she added. 

Mass killings 

Citing many alleged atrocities, the UN rights chief pointed to the alleged mass killing of several hundred people, mainly Amharans, in the western Tigray town of Mai Kadra, on 9 November.   

“I urge the authorities to build on the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission’s preliminary findings into what happened in Mai Kadra”, she said, in reference to the panel’s report that a Tigrayan youth militia was responsible, supported by local security forces. “It is essential that there are investigations into allegations of human rights violations there against both Amharans and Tigrayans.” 

The High Commissioner also pointed to multiple reports that the Amhara “Fano” militia had committed human rights abuses, including killing civilians and looting, in addition to unverified allegations that Eritrean troops were present in Tigray and had been involved in the hostilities and serious violations of international law. 

Communication lines coming back  

“While telephone lines are beginning to be restored in some areas, the communications blackout that began on 4 November and restrictions on access raise significant concerns that the human rights and humanitarian situation is even more dire than feared,” Ms. Bachelet said. “These reported allegations are likely only the tip of the iceberg regarding the extent and seriousness of the violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law committed by all parties to the conflict.    

Ms. Bachelet also echoed the concern expressed by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, for the safety and wellbeing of some 96,000 Eritrean refugees registered in four camps in Tigray when fighting started.  

Urgent appeal launched for Tigray emergency  

Meanwhile, UNHCR on Tuesday launched an urgent appeal for $156 million to help 130,000 people affected by the ongoing violence in Tigray. 

Since fighting flared up in Tigray, more than 54,500 refugees have fled the Tigray region into Sudan, spokesperson for UNHCR, Andrej Mahecic, said on Tuesday. 

The number of new arrivals has dropped to around 500 a day but aid agencies have been confronted with a “full-scale humanitarian emergency in a very remote area that has not seen such a large refugee influx in decades”, he told journalists in Geneva. 

“The Regional Refugee Preparedness and Response Plan for the Ethiopia Situation (Tigray) covers the period from November 2020 through to June 2021 and will reach up to 115,000 refugees and 22,000 people from host communities”, he said. “It aims to support the governments of Sudan, Djibouti and Eritrea in maintaining and facilitating access to asylum and providing life-saving assistance to those who have been forced to flee.” 

Mr. Mahecic explained that the requested funds are needed by 30 agencies in total to help Ethiopian refugees in the first half of next year.  

Funding will be used to register new refugees and transfer refugees to new settlements away from crowded border areas.  

Other priorities include providing food, health and education services, with dedicated support for groups with specific needs, such as women and girls at risk, unaccompanied minors, people with disabilities and the elderly.  

The appeal will also help to provide shelter and basic household items for refugees and support for livelihood activities for refugees and host communities.

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Kenya Receives $750 million Boost for COVID-19 Recovery Efforts

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To reinforce Kenya’s resilient, inclusive and green economic recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, the World Bank approved $750 million in development policy financing to support policy reforms that will strengthen transparency and accountability in public procurement and promote efficient public investment spending.

This development policy operation supports measures to improve medium-term fiscal and debt sustainability through greater transparency and efficiency in government spending, building on ongoing World Bank support to enhance public finance management systems. The operation provides for the establishment of an electronic procurement platform for the public sector that seeks to make government purchases of goods and services transparent. This will help increase accountability in public spending and reduce opportunities for corruption. The support also strengthens public investment management by seeking cost-savings and applying rigorous selection and monitoring and evaluation criteria to all projects. Both measures are expected to yield fiscal savings of up to $2.6 billion.

“The operation prioritizes reforms in hard hit sectors, such as healthcare, education, and energy, which have been made urgent by the impacts of the COVID-19 crisis,” said Keith Hansen, World Bank Country Director for Kenya. “In recognition of the severity of the crisis and need for a comprehensive response, we are supporting the government’s post-COVID-19 Economic Recovery Strategy, which is designed to mitigate the adverse socioeconomic effects of the pandemic and accelerate economic recovery and attain higher and sustained economic growth.”

The policy operation also prioritizes energy sector reforms to improve electricity access and ensure that Kenyans benefit from least-cost, clean energy sources. Further, the new policy framework will help strengthen Kenya Power and Lighting Company’s (KPLC’s) finances with a new competitive pricing regime.

Kenyans will also benefit from better healthcare and disease prevention, especially for the poorest and most vulnerable households, through National Hospital Insurance Fund (NHIF) governance reforms and the establishment of the Kenya Center for Disease Control (KCDC) to strengthen disease prevention, detection, and response. Reforms will further seek to provide Kenyans with more equitable access to higher education, through a performance-based funding method to reduce the imbalances and inefficiencies created by the existing funding model for universities.

“Stabilizing the debt trajectory and reducing high debt costs is a top priority,” said Alex Sienaert, Senior Economist and Task Team Leader, World Bank Kenya. “This policy operation supports measures to reduce the budget deficit over time, such as by making public spending more efficient, whilst minimizing debt costs by helping to meet the government’s current financing requirements on concessional terms.”

DPOs are used by the World Bank to support a country’s policy and institutional reform agenda to help to accelerate inclusive growth and poverty reduction. The negative impacts of the COVID-19 crisis have made reforms that improve governance and service delivery, including those covered by this operation for Kenya, even more critical because they create better conditions for Kenya to inclusively and sustainably recover from it. Financing provided by the World Bank is offered on concessional terms, making it significantly lower than commercial loans. The total annual interest and service cost of the Kenya DPO is 3.1%.

* The World Bank’s International Development Association (IDA), established in 1960, helps the world’s poorest countries by providing grants and low to zero-interest loans for projects and programs that boost economic growth, reduce poverty, and improve poor people’s lives. IDA is one of the largest sources of assistance for the world’s 76 poorest countries, 39 of which are in Africa. Resources from IDA bring positive change to the 1.6 billion people who live in IDA countries. Since 1960, IDA has supported development work in 113 countries. Annual commitments have averaged about $21 billion over the last three years, with about 61 percent going to Africa.

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Risk of COVID-19 surge threatens Africa’s health facilities

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Health workers on Bwama Island on Lake Bunyonyi in Uganda prepare to administer COVID-19 vaccines. © UNICEF/Catherine Ntabadde

Critical health facilities across Africa risk being overwhelmed by surging COVID-19 infections, the UN health agency said on Thursday.

The appeal to the continent’s authorities to boost lifesaving facilities comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) warned that vaccine shipments were at “a near halt”.

“The threat of a third wave in Africa is real and rising”, said Dr Matshidiso Moeti, WHO Regional Director for Africa. “Our priority is clear – it’s crucial that we swiftly get vaccines into the arms of Africans at high risk of falling seriously ill and dying of COVID-19.”

20% uptick in cases

As the continent struggles with vaccine shortages, the care of critically ill COVID-19 patients has lagged behind other parts of the world. While Africa has 2.9 per cent of cases globally, it accounts for 3.7 per cent of deaths.

Weak observance of preventive measures likely contributed to the crisis, along with increased population movement and interaction, and the arrival of winter in southern Africa.

In the last two weeks, the continent has recorded a 20 per cent increase in coronavirus infections, compared to the previous fortnight. “The pandemic is trending upwards in 14 countries and in the past week alone (and) eight countries witnessed an abrupt rise of over 30 per cent in cases,” WHO said in a statement.

Intensive care filling up

South Africa has seen “a sustained increase in cases”, while Uganda reported a 131 per cent week-on-week rise last week “with infection clusters in schools, rising cases among health workers and isolation centres and intensive care units filling up”.

Angola and Namibia have also witnessed a resurgence in cases, WHO said, noting that 48.6 million doses have been received in Africa and 31.4 million doses have been administered in 50 countries on the continent.

Poor treatment

Only around two per cent of the population has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, compared with the 24 per cent global figure.

“While many countries outside Africa have now vaccinated their high-priority groups and are able to even consider vaccinating their children, African countries are unable to even follow up with second doses for high-risk groups,” said Dr. Moeti. “I’m urging countries that have reached a significant vaccination coverage to release doses and keep the most vulnerable Africans out of critical care.”

Globally, as of 3 June 2021, there have been 171,222,477 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 3,686,142 deaths, reported to WHO. As of 2 June, a total of 1,581,509,628 vaccine doses have been administered.

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Mali: Military must ‘scrupulously’ respect human rights and free civilian leaders

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The UN peacekeeping mission in Mali, MINUSMA, has supported peace and reconciliation efforts in the country. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

A UN independent human rights expert said on Wednesday that Mali’s new military authorities should “scrupulously respect human rights” and release all leaders detained in last week’s coup. 

Alioune Tine, independent expert for human rights in Mali, said that contrary to news reports, President Bah N’Daw and former Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were not freed by the military on 27 May, but instead moved to house arrest. 

The development follows Mali’s second coup in less than a year. 

The ousted President and Prime Minister were initially held on Monday 24 May at Kati military camp near the capital, Bamako, with five other top civilian and military officials.  

Only two of the five officials have been released to date, Mr. Tine said, before endorsing the call of West African bloc ECOWAS for new presidential elections in February 2022. 

Last Friday, Mali’s constitutional court declared Colonel Assimi Goita, who led the military coup in August, to be the new interim president. 

 “I call upon Malian transitional authorities to immediately end the house arrest of these two men and to release three senior military officials from arbitrary detention,” he said

Restore rule of law 

“I call upon all Malian transitional authorities to scrupulously respect human rights and fundamental freedoms, and to restore the rule of law.” 

“Malian authorities must lift the house arrest of these two individuals and allow the remaining detainees to communicate with their families and lawyers and to receive visits”, underscored the UN expert.  

He also maintained that Mali must allow human rights officers from the UN mission MINUSMA, as well as representatives of national human rights institutions and organizations, to visit them. 

Regional implications 

The independent expert said Mali must form an inclusive government to move the country – now suspended from ECOWAS institutions – back to constitutional order and rule of law. 

The African Union (AU) has also reportedly suspended the country’s membership.  

After two coups in Mali within 10 months, Mr. Tine called for national and international actors to strengthen State institutions and the rule of law to avoid repeated crises and to ensure respect for all human rights. 

However, he said the main responsibility lies with Malians themselves.  

“I call on political, military and civil society leaders to exercise restraint and to engage in an in-depth dialogue in order to restore lasting peace, stability and respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms in Mali”. 

UN under attack 

Meanwhile, the premises of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSMA, were targeted on Tuesday by unidentified assailants in Aguelhok, in the Kidal region.  

Preliminary reports describe a complex attack involving indirect mortar and small arms fire against a number of MINUSMA locations there. 

“UN peacekeepers retaliated, forcing the assailants to flee. No casualties or material damage have been reported on the UN side”, according to UN Spokesperson Stéphane Dujaric.  

Unwavering support 

At the same time, MINUSMA continues to closely monitor political developments in the country and reiterated its commitment to work with ECOWAS and the AU towards a return to constitutional order through free and transparent elections.  

MINUSMA joined ECOWAS in stressing that the transition timetable be respected and concluded within the agreed to18-month deadline. 

“To achieve this goal, the Mission says it is important that the new government, headed by a civilian prime minister, be inclusive and enjoy the broadest possible support”, said Mr. Dujarric.  

The UN peacekeeping mission also reiterated the demand that house arrest measures be immediately lifted and for the “immediate and unconditional release” of aides and staff. 

“We will continue to support the people of Mali, unwavering support, [as it] continues to pursue its efforts to combat insecurity, support the implementation of the Peace and Reconciliation Agreement, and help stabilize the country, in line with the UN peacekeeping mission’s mandate in the country”, said the Spokesperson.

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