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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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Africa Today

Mali transition presents opportunity to break ‘vicious circle of political crises’

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UN peacekeepers patrol the Menaka region in northeast Mali. MINUSMA/Harandane Dicko

The current political transition period in Mali offers an opportunity to “break out of the vicious circle of political crises followed by coups d’état”, the UN envoy in the country told the Security Council on Wednesday.  

Following the 18 August mutiny that ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta, Special Representative and Head of the UN Stabilization Mission in Mali (MINUSMA) Mahamat Saleh Annadif, said the country was now four months in, to a planned 18-month transition period, leading to presidential and legislative elections. 

“However, it is never too late to reach a minimum consensus on the essentials of peace and stability, because the future of Mali is at stake”, he stated. 

‘Positive dynamics’ 

Against this backdrop, Mr. Annadif said the UN, African Union, Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and others have always stood ready to support Mali’s institutional transitions. 

He said that several missions and meetings had taken place in Bamako since the August coup and described consultations between the Government and the signatories of the 2015 Agreement on Peace and Reconciliation “encouraging”. 

The Malian Government has been seeking to restore stability and rebuild following a series of setbacks since early 2012 that fractured the country, including a failed coup d’état, renewed fighting between Government forces and Tuareg rebels, and the seizure of its northern territory by radical extremists. The weakening of central institutions, loss of confidence in political actors and the rise of religious leaders demanding change, were among the factors leading up to last August’s events. 

As one positive example of political progress being made, the UN envoy drew particular attention to the “positive dynamics” of key officials who visited the restive city of Kidal to organize a “solemn swearing-in hearing of the new Governor” on 31 December, flagging that “such an event has not taken place in Kidal for almost ten years”. 

Interim parliament at helm 

Mr. Annadif said that despite a hold up in State appointments, the National Transitional Council (CNT) had been established on 3 December, with Transitional President Bah N’Daou having appointed 121 members who are now acting as a de facto government towards restoring full constitutional order. 

Serving as an interim parliament that will vote on political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms, the UN envoy called their role “crucial for the consolidation of democracy and the success of credible elections allowing a return to constitutional order, as provided for in the Transition Charter”. 

Successes and challenges 

While pointing to “successes” of the international force, the MINUSMA chief acknowledged that security in border areas of Mali – which remains the deadliest UN peacekeeping mission of all – and in the country’s centre, remains “worrying and unpredictable”. 

However, he said that MINUSMA continues to “adapt” to these multifaceted challenges and “strengthen its capacity” to better respond. 

Moreover, the missions “adaptation plan” to better protect civilians and promote community reconciliation in central Mali is producing “significant results” with additional temporary bases and the intensification of dedicated joint patrols “to advance the reconciliation processes between communities in local conflict zones”, said Mr. Annadif. 

Foundation laid 

The MINUSMA head lauded the efforts of Malian forces to improve their rights performance and underscored that reforms are a key dimension in ensuring the legitimacy of the next elected government. 

He reassured the Ambassadors that the foundation has been laid for a successful political transition in the country as well as reliable security arrangements for its diverse regions. 

However, he stressed that the transition’s success depends upon “the successful completion of political, institutional, electoral and administrative reforms with the aim of inclusive, credible elections, the results of which will be accepted by the majority of Malians and Malians”.

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Humanitarian crisis looms in Madagascar amid drought and pandemic

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A child undergoes a malnutrition test in Madagascar. WFP/Tsiory Andriantsoarana

In southern Madagascar, “famine-like conditions” have doubled the number of people in need of humanitarian assistance compared with last year, to more than 1.3 million. Successive droughts and a lack of jobs linked to COVID-19 restrictions are to blame, the World Food Programme (WFP) said on Tuesday.

“We have seen the doubling of the numbers of food-insecure between the data we had in July 2020 and November 2020; we moved from 700,000 people food-insecure in the Grand South or Grand Sud of Madagascar, to 1.3 million”, said Lola Castro, WFP Regional director for Southern Africa and Indian Ocean States.

Speaking by video link to journalists during a scheduled briefing in Geneva, Ms. Castro appealed for $35 million.

She insisted that urgent action was needed to stave off a humanitarian crisis, with a third of those in Southern Madagascar struggling to put food on the table.

Climate vulnerable

Part of the current crisis is linked to Madagascar’s vulnerability to climate shocks, a problem it shares with the southern African region, the WFP official said.

“The rains that normally come November-December, we only had one day of rain in December in the whole region. And the thunderstorms have been blasting…and destroying and burying the crops that were there”, she added. “The result is famine-like conditions”, with 1.3 million people food insecure, 135,000 children moderately, severely or acutely malnourished.

With markets closed because of COVID-19 restrictions and people forced to sell their possessions to survive, the UN agency warned that drought conditions are set to persist well into 2021, with many forced to leave their homes in search of food and work. 

“In 2020 the population of the South relies on casual labour and goes to urban areas or to the fields to really have additional funds that will allow them to survive during the lean season, that is normally between November and April every year”, Ms. Castro explained. “But this year there was no labour, they moved around without finding any labour anywhere, both in urban areas or in the rural areas, due to the drought and due to the COVID lockdown.” 

Eating mud, roots and leaves

The situation has forced people to eat “whatever they can find”, Ms. Castro continued. “Cactus mixed with mud, roots, whatever they can find, leaves, seeds, whatever is available. And the situation really is more dramatic because this year also the funds have not arrived enough on time to really be able to procure food or to provide cash transfers to these people.” 

Children have been worst affected by the food crisis, WFP warned, with global acute malnutrition (GAM) in children under five, in the three most affected regions (Androy, Anôsy and Atsimo Andrefana), faced by 10.7 per cent of youngsters.

“This is the second highest rate in the East and Southern Africa region. The most recent projections put the number of children likely to suffer from acute malnutrition at more than 135,000, with more than 27,000 of these classified as severe”, the agency said in a statement.

75 per cent ‘foraging for food’

“Children have abandoned schools. 75 per cent of the children in this area are either begging or foraging for food”, Ms. Castro said, before highlighting the extraordinary nature of the current emergency.

“What we are saying here is that the situation we’re facing in southern Madagascar is not normal. It’s very different to any normal year of crisis and that we really need to act immediately; 300,000 people need at the moment safe-living support.” 

In a bid to promote resilience among the most vulnerable communities, WFP and partners have worked with women’s groups “to change, diversify the food they produce, try to produce different type of nutrients for the children”, Ms. Castro said, noting that it cost around $45 a month to feed a family of five. “But we haven’t reach everybody and it’s not enough.” 

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Food for Mozambicans struggling amidst violence and COVID-19

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Displaced people queue for water at Metuge, Cabo Delgado Province, Mozambique. UNICEF/Mauricio Bisol

Despite increased insecurity and limited funding, the UN food relief agency is continuing to supply food for hundreds of thousands of people affected by conflict in northern Mozambique.

Since 2017, some half a million people have fled the gas and mineral rich province of Cabo Delgado, as violence and COVID-19 continue to increase.  

The World Food Programme (WFP) is currently assisting up to 400,000 people in Cabo Delgado, Nampula and Niassa provinces, with a monthly family food basket of cereals, oil, dried beans and lentils, according to a statement released on Wednesday. 

The baskets provide least 81 per cent of the daily kilocalorie needs of displaced families and contribute to preventing already traumatized and vulnerable families from falling victim to exploitation or employing negative coping mechanisms for survival.  

WFP is also providing cash-based assistance for families to shop for basic items in local markets by redeeming vouchers equivalent to about $50 per month.  

Survival under threat 

Citing resource shortages, the UN agency noted that over the next three months, it may be forced to reduce or halt vital assistance to conflict-affected people, raising concerns over food and health supplies, as well as tensions within host communities. 

“Internally displaced persons are especially vulnerable to the spread of COVID-19 because they are crowded together in camps, host families’ backyards and outdoors with no or inadequate shelter, health services and access to clean water and sanitation”, said Antonella D’Aprile, WFP Country Representative in Mozambique. 

“Thousands of children and adolescents who lost their parents and close family need our protection and care”, she added. 

Resources run short 

The Government pointed out that thousands in Cabo Delgado alone risk serious hunger and malnutrition.  

And as some 565,000 people have fled their homes, humanitarian operations face shortages amounting to $108 million. 

WFP currently requires $10.5 million each month to provide food assistance to 500,000 internally displaced people (IDPs) and 250,000 to host communities affected by the conflict in northern Mozambique.  

While WFP needs $132.4 million to ensure humanitarian food assistance for the next 12 months, as of late December, only $24.4 million has been secured.  

“Without sufficient funding, the food supply will be compromised”, the UN food relief agency spelled out. 

Against this backdrop, Ms. D’Aprile said that “it is incredibly timely to join efforts now and protect the food and nutrition security and livelihood of Mozambicans…impacted by armed attacks, Cyclone Kenneth and the COVID-19 pandemic”. 

Bringing relief 

With sufficient resources and access, WFP would be able to deploy humanitarian aid by road, sea and air, to deliver life-saving assistance assist each month to some 750,000 IDPs and people in the host community. 

WFP is the world’s largest humanitarian organization and was awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize for its role in saving lives during emergencies and using food assistance to build a pathway to peace, stability and prosperity for people recovering from conflict and disasters.

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