News Highlights Horn: UN aircraft forced to turn back, Military coup in Sudan, Facebook knew of hate speech problems in Ethiopia

In this week news highlights on the situation in the Horn of Africa: United Nations aircraft forced to turn around due to airstrike; Military coup in Sudan and state of emergency declared; Humanitarian situation worsens; Severe fuel shortages in Tigray; Clashes near Dessie; Facebook documents show the company knew about hate speech problems in Ethiopia; UN investigation to be published on Monday; Ethiopian Air campaign continues; US House Foreign Affairs Committee passes resolution.

United Nations aircraft forced to turn around due to airstrike
On Friday, an Ethiopian government airstrike on Mekelle forced a United Nations shuttle plane, bringing in 11 staff, to abort its landing. The UN says that it had received prior clearance from the Ethiopian government to land but was not informed about the air strike taking place. It has also suspended any future flights to Mekelle. Martin Griffiths, the UN Humanitarian aid chief, said that it raised serious concerns about the safety of aid workers. He added that “[u]nder international humanitarian law, all parties to the conflict must take constant care to spare civilians and civilian objects from harm, including humanitarian personnel and assets. ” Questions have been raised as to why Ethiopia would launch airstrikes at the same time as a UN plane’s planned landing. The Tigrayan spokesperson accused the government of trying to put the plane in a crossfire, hoping that Tigrayan anti air defences would shoot the plane down. An Ethiopian government spokesperson said that it was “no deliberate or intended act”. The suspension of humanitarian flights will likely slow humanitarian aid deployment in the region. The episode further strains the relationship between Ethiopia and the UN. On Friday, a spokesperson for UN Secretary General Guterres said that Ethiopia still had not provided any evidence to justify the expulsion of 7 senior UN staff members from Ethiopia last September. 

Sudan: Military coup in Sudan and state of emergency declared
On Monday the Sudanese military arrested Sudanese Prime Minister Abdallah Hamdok and other political leaders as they dissolved the government and declared a state of emergency. The coup is being led by General al-Burhan, the former chair of the Sovereign Council. Following the announcement of the coup, thousands of civilians flocked to the streets to demand the return to civilian rule. Troops and security forces were used to disperse the crowds. Soldiers opened fire on civilians, killing at least 10 people and wounding a further 140. Protests continue on Tuesday, with protestors setting up barricades. The US, EU and European governments, the African Union, and the United Nations have condemned the coup and called for an immediate release of PM Hamdok. US secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US “firmly reject the dissolution of the civilian-led transitional government and its associated institutions and call for their immediate restoration.” The US also suspended 700 million dollars in ‘economic support funds’. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Norway, the United States, Estonia and France requested a United Nations Security Council meeting, which is due to take place on Tuesday.

Humanitarian situation worsens
The humanitarian situation in Tigray is further deteriorating. A new UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) report, published on Friday, reports that  between 7 and 13 October, only 52.000 people were reached with food aid. That is two-thirds down from the week before between 30 September-6 October when 145.000 people were reached. OCHA estimates that it needs to reach 870.000 a week to provide proper coverage to the 5.2 million people in need of assistance. It also reports that between 13 and 19 October 215 trucks of humanitarian supplies arrived. This remains an insufficient amount to meet the needs and as a result, many humanitarian partners in Tigray have halted or significantly reduced their programmes due to lack of supplies and funding. Since July 1.111 trucks, or 15% of what is needed, have entered Tigray. An estimated 100 trucks a day are required to provide sufficient supplies. Insecurity insight predicts that the Ethiopian government will likely “constrain humanitarian activity will increase, especially if the TDF appear to be gaining strategically.”

Severe fuel shortages in Tigray
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) warns  that fuel shortages are hampering proper humanitarian aid rollout in Tigray. The third round of aid distribution, originally planned for July, has not started yet due to fuel shortages. The screening of children has also severely diminished in the last weeks due to the shortages. Only 63.000 children were screened for Severe Acute Malnutrition last week, down from 105.000 the week before. OCHA is further warning that the lack of fuel is not only hampering the deployment and delivery of food supplies, but also preventing information from being gathered about the emergency in more remote rural areas.  

Clashes near Dessie
There have been heavy clashes between the Tigrayan Defence Force (TDF) and the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) near Dessie and Kombolcha in Amhara. The TDF has been making slow progress against the city, which is seen as an important hub in the region. It has many connecting roads, and is one of the important junctures between Addis Ababa and Djibouti. Many ENDF-allied fighters remain in the area, and have been fighting fiercely with the TDF. With fighting nearing, many civilians have started to flee. The regional airport has also been closed due to the fighting. 

Facebook documents show the company knew about hate speech problems in Ethiopia
Facebook documents seen by CNN show that a Facebook team repeatedly warned that the platform was being used by “problematic actors” to spread hate speech and content inciting violence in Ethiopia. The team wrote a report which was entitled ‘Coordinated Social Harm’ and warned that armed groups in Ethiopia were using Facebook to incite violence against ethnic minorities. One of the groups specifically highlighted by the report is “FANO”, an Amhara militia that has been linked to severe human rights abuses against Tigrayans. The report suggested that Fano-related networks should be taken down. It also warned that current mitigation strategies are not enough. The documents also show that the company took no measures to scale up staff or increase local language resources, and failed to build automated systems, called classifiers, to detect misinformation or hate speech in Oromo or Amharic. Facebook whistle-blower Haugen says that she has only found evidence of Facebook setting up “slight language support” in two native Ethiopian languages. Experts are warning that if nothing is done, a situation similar to what took place in Myanmar could happen in Ethiopia.

UN investigation to be published on Monday
The UN led joint investigation of the situation in Tigray is expected to be published next Monday. Michelle Bachelet, the UN human rights chief, briefed the Human Rights Council in September and said that the government and its allies continued to be implicated in allegations of human rights violations. She also added that “incitement to hatred and discrimination were also documented targeting people of Tigrayan ethnicity” and many “people of Tigrayan ethnicity have been profiled and detained by law enforcement officials on ethnic grounds”. There have been concerns regarding the investigation as it was conducted jointly with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a Ethiopian government appointed body. Among others, the investigation did not reach key sites where human rights abuses have been reported, such as Aksum.  

Ethiopian air campaign continues
The air campaign that the Ethiopian government has started against Tigray last week, continues. The Ethiopian air force conducted three more attacks since Friday. No information on casualties was reported. The strikes took place in Mai Tsebri, Adwa, and the region’s capital of Mekelle. The Ethiopian government says that it is targeting military installations, while the Tigrayan spokesperson says that the strike hit in the neighbourhood of a hospital. 

US House Foreign Affairs Committee passes resolution
The House Foreign Affairs Committee passed an amended version of H.Res. 445, condemning all violence and human rights abuses in Ethiopia and calling for all combatants in the conflict in Northern Ethiopia to cease all hostilities. It was sponsored by Rep. Bass, Karen [D-CA-37], who said “I led this resolution because I want to see a peaceful, negotiated solution to this multifaceted conflict that is complicated by ethnicity, politics, and history”. The resolution will next be voted and debated in the full chamber.