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Rights experts call for end to violence against women in Tigray conflict

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photo: © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

Experts appointed by the UN Human Rights Council have called for urgent action to end violence against women and girls caught in the Tigray conflict in northern Ethiopia. 

In a statement issued on Friday, they expressed grave concern about the widespread sexual and gender-based violence attributed to Ethiopian, Eritrean, Tigray and Amhara forces, as well as allied militia. 

These incidents constitute some of the most egregious violations of human rights and humanitarian law, according to the experts. 

‘A deliberate strategy’ 

“They appear to have been used as part of a deliberate strategy to terrorize, degrade and humiliate the victims and the ethnic minority group that they belong to with acquiescence of the State and non-State actors’ parties to the conflict,” they said. 

“These brutal acts have devastating physical and psychological impacts on the victims, which are exacerbated by the lack of access to assistance, support and redress for survivors.” 

The UN continues to voice alarm over the war in Tigray, which began just over a year ago.  Last month, the UN Human Rights High Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet, noted that the conflict has been marked by “extreme brutality”

Cases under-reported 

The rights experts said although the exact prevalence of gender-based violence is unknown, estimates are shocking. 

From November 2020 through June of this year, some 2,204 survivors reported sexual violence to health facilities across the Tigray region.

Furthermore, one of the one-stop centres reported that the majority of victims, or 90 per cent, were underage girls, and estimated that visits have quadrupled since the conflict began.  

However, the experts said these figures are an underestimation of the true extent of gender-based violence being committed.  Cases are severely under-reported due to fear, stigma and inability to access health or support centres. 

“Despite the humanitarian situation, proper access to facilities is vital to ensure adequate care, for instance for women and girls at risk of developing life-threatening infections, or to allow for abortion for women and girls who become pregnant as a result of rape,” they stressed. 

Displaced women vulnerable 

The experts reported that the violence occurred in both rural and urban areas, in the victims’ homes or in places where they were sheltering.  

In some cases, women and girls were raped because of their perceived or actual political affiliation, to pressure them to reveal the whereabouts of their male relatives, or as acts of revenge. 

“Internally displaced women and girls in Ethiopia, and Eritrean refugee women and girls living in the Tigray region, have been particularly exposed to sexual violence. Eritrean women and girls, specifically, have been seriously affected by the conflict and doubly victimized,” the experts said.  

“In addition to the grave consequences of sexual violence, most victims have also been harmed in other ways by the conflict including by having close relatives killed.” 

Respect and protect 

The UN experts reminded parties to the conflict of their duty to respect and protect human rights, and to prevent violations in any territory under their control. 

They also urged the sides to implement recommendations contained in a joint report by the Ethiopian Human Rights Office and its UN counterpart. 

Those recommendations include taking immediate measures to protect women and girls from rape and other forms of gender-based violence, providing redress to victims, facilitating immediate access to health care, and ensuring independent and impartial investigation of all incidences of sexual violence. 

Role of UN experts 

The 14 experts who issued the statement receive their mandates from the UN Human Rights Council, which is based in Geneva. 

They monitor specific country situations or thematic issues, such as violence against women, discrimination against women and girls, and the rights of internally displaced persons. 

The experts are independent of the UN and serve in their individual capacity.  As such, they are not UN staff, nor are they paid by the Organization. 

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Africa Today

Lithuanians Pave Way for EU’s Legal Migration Initiatives with Sub-Saharan Africa

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The European Union is facing a shortage of specialists. The reality of demographic characteristics and the labour market dictate that legal migration of talents to the EU is an inevitable need. Still, current pathways of specialist migration are not up to par. Thus, the EU is seeking new ways to connect European companies with foreign labour markets, brimming with young, talented job-seekers, and launched a slew of pilot projects to test the waters. Quite unexpectedly for many, Lithuania was the first to join the initiative and its Digital Explorers became one of the most successful in delivering tangible results.

The main goal of the Digital Explorers—contracted by ICMPD on behalf of the European Commission—was filling vacancies in Lithuanian technology companies with Nigerian ICT talent; consequently, it explored models of international collaboration between business and governments, with a non-governmental organisation as an intermediary. In the light of limited previous engagement between Lithuania and African countries, it has truly been a ground-breaking experience, both participants and partners agree.

While the current European mobility tool for professionals, the Blue Card Initiative, provides a simplified set of legal migration requirements for highly skilled workers from non-EU countries, the numbers of attracted talents are low. A recent revision of the Initiative aims to address this by expanding access to the framework for more qualified young specialists, yet amending the regulation might not be enough. A significant bottleneck is real and perceived risks for the private sector related to hiring talent from outside the EU.

“Pathways of legal migration for young specialists into the Union can solve multiple problems, including the shortage of talents in the EU, the lack of opportunities for young specialists in non-EU countries, and address the unknowns faced by the private sector. They could also help building mutually beneficial partnerships with third countries on overall migration management. We are looking for ways to facilitate the process together with EU member states, in line with the New Pact on Migration and Asylum” says Magdalena Jagiello, Deputy Head, of the Legal Pathways and Integration Unit, Directorate-General for Migration and Home Affairs (DG HOME).

A success story to build upon

Even though EU-based companies willing to hire abroad are inevitable initiators of personnel migration, mobility projects act as catalyzers by providing a missing link between participating countries as well as between business and the public sector.

“While private companies at first were sceptical that this unexpected connection can work, we spoke their language—one that is close to the heart of ICT companies. People in our team had diverse ICT and law backgrounds and firsthand knowledge of the African tech market. Therefore, we managed to address concerns of hiring companies and had answers to key questions, including recruitment and matching strategies, and potential skill level,” says Mantė Makauskaitė, project lead of Digital Explorers.

“We also had a long-term vision that the project will give us the means to build further mutually beneficial connections between Baltic and African ICT markets, and stakeholders were excited about that path forward,” she continues.

Thanks to the Digital Explorers pathway, 26 young men and women have relocated from Nigeria to Lithuania through two mobility models: 1-year employment and 6-months paid traineeship. They joined 13 companies working in ICT, engineering, fintech, and data science markets. Both sides were supported throughout the program—Nigerians went through technical and soft skills training to further enhance their career prospects, while companies were consulted on integrating internationals and diversity management practices. After the program, 18 participants were retained by Lithuanian ICT companies, while others continue their careers in Nigeria, making it a win-win initiative.

“Lithuanian ICT sector is rapidly growing and the shortage of specialists is difficult to address by depending on local talent only. We were willing to hire talents outside of the EU, but needed help at establishing contacts, aligning with prospective employees from third countries, and facilitating the paperwork,” says Vaidas Laužeckas, CEO of Metasite Data Insights.

With help from Digital Explorers, Metasite Data Insights initially welcomed one junior data scientist; after the programme, the company has hired another one. Both of the Explorers started as junior specialists in internship positions and ended up as mid-level specialists in the span of 6 months.

Another Lithuanian company that benefited from a connection to Nigeria, Telesoftas, was deeply impressed by new possibilities offered by the African IT talent market and has made a strategic decision to create a Nigerian branch and opened an office in Abuja with the aims to hire at least 30 engineers by the end of 2022 and up to 100 in 2023. “The potential offered by Nigeria is just too big to ignore. A subsidiary on the spot might act not only as our key delivery center but also as a connection, allowing Lithuanian teams to search for talents to fill their ranks and create new business opportunities” says Algirdas Stonys, CEO of Telesoftas.

Way forward

A collaboration between Lithuania and Nigeria has established itself as an excellent example demonstrating the importance and mutual benefits stemming from legal migration. Drawing on lessons learned from the Digital Explorers and other projects, the EU is working towards establishing Talent Partnerships. “The Digital Explorers have demonstrated a successful way of internationally connecting business, employees, and governments, and may become an example for future cooperation. Better matching of skills from outside of the EU with labour market needs within the EU is direly needed and benefits every stakeholder in multiple ways. It would be the key aspect of Talent Partnerships that would enhance legal pathways to the EU, while engaging partner countries strategically on migration management,” Jagiello says.

A collaboration between Lithuania and Nigeria has established itself as a go-to example for larger scale projects in Talent Partnerships. “The Digital Explorers have demonstrated a successful way of internationally connecting business, employees, and governments, and may become an example for future projects. Better matching of skills from outside of the EU with labour market needs within the EU is direly needed and benefits every stakeholder in multiple ways,” Jagiello says.

According to Makauskaitė who is already exploring ways to expand Digital Explorers from Lithuanian to Baltic scale, including other African countries, such partnerships could create even more European value-added if our legal systems were more harmonized and scaling across borders would not require understanding a completely different regulation. However, for now, at least in-depth knowledge of matching the existing talent pool with business needs can be used by other European countries.

“The match might not be perfect straight away, but it’s important to know ways for perfecting it,” the leader of Digital Explorers concludes.

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Africa Today

Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry, UNIDO sign €2m agreement

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Ethiopia’s Ministry of Industry and the United Nations Industrial Development Organization (UNIDO) have signed a €2m agreement to support Integrated Agro-Industrial Parks (IAIPs), funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation. Thes agreement will contribute to the development of the agro-industrial sector and the creation of decent jobs and economic opportunities in the rural areas of Ethiopia. The objective of the new project is to support the inclusive and sustainable development of four pilot IAIPs. Project activities will concentrate on increasing private sector involvement in agro-industry, improving food quality, safety and traceability, and promoting social inclusion and environmental sustainability.

With the support of UNIDO, the Government of Ethiopia has prioritized the establishment of the IAIPs as a primary tool to achieve agricultural modernization and rural industrialization in the country. To this end, the Government of Ethiopia has mobilized various funding sources and development partners for the implementation of IAIPs. The current project is for the development of the four pilot IAIPs, located in Oromia (Bulbula), Sidama (Yirgalem), Amhara (Bure) and Tigray (Beaker). The project is funded by the Italian Agency for Development and Cooperation, in alignment with the Italian strategy outlined in the Ethio-Italian country framework 2017 – 2019 which encourages sustainable and inclusive economic growth to ensure full employment and decent work for all, especially in rural areas, as well as promoting partnerships between Italian and Ethiopian institutions to ensure continuity of investment and transfer of technologies.

The signature ceremony was attended by Shisema Gebreselassie, State Minister of the Ministry of Industry, Aurelia Patrizia Calabrò, UNIDO Representative and Director of the Regional Office Hub, and Isabella Lucaferri, Head of the AICS Addis Ababa Office.  

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Africa Today

Sudan: Looting in Darfur, leaves 730,000 without enough to eat

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UN Photo/Albert Gonzalez Farran. UN Photo/Albert González Farran

The UN chief condemned on Wednesday the looting and attacks against United Nations facilities, equipment and supplies gifted to the Sudanese authorities for civilian in El Fasher, Darfur. 

Last Tuesday evening, a World Food Programme (WFPwarehouse located in the Borsa area of El Fasher town, the capital of North Darfur State, came under attack from unknown armed groups. 

Over 1,900 metric tons of food commodities that were meant to feed 730,000 vulnerable people for a month were stolen. 

The incident followed the looting and reported violence last week at the former UN-African Union Hybrid Operation (UNAMID) base in El Fasher. 

Restore order 

In his statementSecretary-General António Guterres called upon the Government of Sudan to restore order.  

He stressed that the authorities must ensure that former UNAMID property and assets are strictly used for civilians – in conformity with the Framework Agreement the Government signed in March.  

The UN chief also asked the Sudanese authorities to facilitate the safe working environment and passage for remaining UN operations in the region. 

He concluded by thanking the UN civilian and uniformed personnel who remain on the ground under “challenging” circumstances. 

WFP cuts off aid

WFP chief David Beasley tweeted his outrage over the “senseless attacks” in El Fasher and strongly condemned the continued looting and destruction of the agency’s assets.  

“As a result, we have been forced to suspend WFP operations in North Darfur, effective immediately”, said Mr. Beasly.

The theft has robbed nearly two million Sudanese of the food and nutritional support they so desperately need.  

“Not only is this a tremendous setback to WFP operations, but it endangers our staff and jeopardizes our ability to meet the needs of the most vulnerable families”, he added.

Humanitarian crisis 

The Humanitarian Coordinator in Sudan, Khardiata Lo N’diaye, also condemned the looting.  

“This was food assistance meant for Sudan’s most vulnerable people. Humanitarian assistance should never be a target”, she underscored. 

Currently, one in three people in Sudan needs humanitarian assistance – equivalent to an estimated 14.3 million individuals.  

According to the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan, 25 per cent of those people require food security and livelihoods support. 

An attack like this, the coordinator explained, severely impedes the ability to deliver to the people who need it the most. 

“We urgently ask all parties to adhere to humanitarian principles and allow the safe delivery of life-saving assistance”, Ms. N’diaye stated. 

WFP currently faces “unprecedented” funding shortfalls, estimated at $358 million. 

Violence 

Earlier in the month, thousands of people took to the streets to mark the third anniversary of the uprising that led to the April 2019 overthrow of President Omar al-Bashir, who had ruled for three decades.  

Demonstrators who made for the presidential palace were also protesting October’s military coup and the political agreement signed later on 21 November.  

UN officials and agencies expressed deep concern at the time over credible reports of serious human rights violations, including the use of rape and gang rape of women and girls, employed to disperse protesters.  

As of 29 December, the security situation had been restored, according to State authorities.  

Ms. N’diaye thanked the local authorities for preventing the situation from worsening but called upon the Government to step up efforts to protect and safeguard humanitarian premises and assets. 

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