News Highlights: 1 million flee Ukraine, UN Commission of Experts to investigate Ethiopia, Humanitarian flight from Libya

In this week’s news highlights: UN Commission of Experts to investigate possible violations of international law in Ethiopia; Medical facilities’ lack of supplies cause patients’ deaths in Tigray; Children severely impacted by drought; Dissolution of the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission; Illicit trade of historical artefacts from Tigray; Teenagers arrested and allegedly tortured following pro-democracy protests in Sudan; Attempted armed attack on a food convoy in South Sudan; Nine people drown as boat capsizes off Tunisia; Humanitarian flight arrives with 99 refugees from Libya; War in Ukraine reveals different treatment of refugees; 1 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their country; Temporary protection to be granted to Ukraine refugees; Wave of Ukraine refugees finds Poland not prepared; A UN resolution demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces, and those opposing it; A war with repercussions for Africa’s food supplies; Event addresses risks for women in the run-up to Women’s Day; Opening of an investigation by the ICC on “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine.

The Great Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/OHCHR: Commission of Experts to investigate possible violations of international law
On 2 March, the President of the UN Human Rights Council appointed three members to the International Commission of Human Rights experts in Ethiopia. The selected members, Fatou Bensouda of Gambia, Kaari Betty Murungi of Kenya and Steven Ratner of the United States will conduct an investigation into alleged violations and abuses of international human rights law, humanitarian law and refugee law of all parties to the conflict in Ethiopia since 3 November 2020, according to the announcement of the appointment. This appointment follows the resolution S-33/1 adopted on 17 December 2021, to establish a Commission of Experts on Human Rights in Ethiopia. The three experts are requested to “establish the facts and circumstances surrounding the alleged violations and abuses, collect and preserve evidence, to identify those responsible, where possible […]” by the UN Human Rights Council. This resolution also expects them to provide recommendations on technical assistance to the Government of Ethiopia and present an oral briefing to the Council in June/July 2022.  

Ethiopia: Medical facilities’ lack of supplies cause patients’ deaths in Tigray
The ongoing conflict in Tigray, since November 2020, is having a serious impact on hospital supplies and causes problematic electricity cuts, says The Guardian. “Patients die. Every day we hear about patients dying because of a lack of oxygen, a lack of this drug, that drug”, said a doctor of the Ayder referral hospital in the capital of the Tigray region, Mekelle. Because of the “de facto blockade”, named as such by the UN, several medical facilities are powerless to do anything to improve the situation and organisations are struggling to provide the necessary resources, reports The Guardian

Ethiopia: Children severely impacted by drought
Drought, caused by a failure of the rainy season for a third time in a row, has become the source of great concern for children’s health, reports RFI. Described as the worst drought since 1981 by the United Nations in a statement on 8 February, it is now threatening to cause severe malnutrition in children. “From March onwards, we are preparing to receive many children. If there is no rain at all in March, the number will increase enormously. For the next month, we will be in an alarming position,” says Abdullahi Mohamaed, a doctor at Gode Hospital, the only facility in reach for more than 500,000 people in the Somali Region of Ethiopia.

Ethiopia: Dissolution of the Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission
The Ethiopian Reconciliation Commission, which was established in 2018 to serve the purpose of peace and national political stability, was dissolved on 1 March, states Addis Standard. It was ordered to hand over its unspent budget and equipment to the new National Dialogue Commission, which was approved by the Ethiopian parliament on 29 December 2021, reports Addis Standard. The Reconciliation Commission had asked the House of People’s Representatives (HoPR) to renew its mandate, which it refused. While it was mandated to reach a lasting solution to internal conflict, its mandate is ending without any significant or visible results, Addis Standard says.

Ethiopia: Illicit trade of historical artefacts from Tigray
In a statement, the Tigray Government denounces the plundering of its historical artefacts, which it states were looted in the ongoing conflict in the region, and announces that it will approach the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organisation (Unesco) to stop the trade, reports News 24. “Today, a number of historic artefacts plundered from Tigray are shamelessly circulating in various countries”, said the Tigray government. Considered one of the oldest civilisations in the world, Tigray has many valuable monuments and historical pieces, which are suspected to be sold on online platforms, according to News 24. The government asserts that a commission has been set up to work with international actors to investigate the damage and disappearance of cultural heritage.

Sudan: Teenagers arrested and allegedly tortured following pro-democracy protests
Two teenagers, aged 17 and 18, were arrested following the death of a police officer during pro-democracy demonstration in Khartoum, Sudan, and are reported to have been subjected to violence and torture, according to The Guardian. Mohamed Adam, one of the two teenagers, was arrested from his hospital bed, injured by a teargas canister during the protest, and the second, Mohamed al-Fateh, was arrested while in a mosque, adds The Guardian. The NGO Amnesty International has called for the rights of these young people to be upheld and for them to be released. Their lawyer, Rana Abdulghafar Abdulraheem, states to have seen cigarette burns on the head of Mohamed al-Fateh, and the mother of Mohamed Adam accuses the authorities of preventing her son from accessing medical care and medication, which he needs due to his blood pressure, says The Guardian. For the moment, the authorities did not make comments about arrests and detainments.

South Sudan/UN: Condemnation of an attempted armed attack on a food convoy
On Monday 1 March, a convoy of 59 vehicles carrying food supplies from the World Food Program (WFP) was attacked by armed gunmen near the town of Gadiang, in the Jonglei state of South Sudan, reports UN News. As the convoy was en route to assist some 95,000 people, it was ambushed and one UN peacekeeper was shot and wounded. The United Nations Mission in South Sudan (UNMISS) and the WFP strongly condemn this attempted ambush in a joint statement. “Continued attacks on humanitarians and the attempted looting of vital relief which millions of vulnerable people depend on to survive are a flagrant violation of international humanitarian law”, stated Meshack Malo, acting Humanitarian Coordinator ad interim for UNMISS. Both organisations called on the South Sudanese government to investigate this attack.  The statement does not indicate whether the convoy was able to continue its mission.

North Africa

Tunisia: Nine people drown as boat capsizes
On Monday, off the coast of Tunisia, nine migrants and refugees drowned as their boat capsized on the way to Europe, according to the Defence Ministry of Tunisia, adding that nine other passengers were rescued. “With the intention of illegally crossing” to Europe, it said the boat had set out on Sunday night from the port city of Sfax, citing survivors.

Libya/Italy: Humanitarian flight arrives with 99 refugees from Libya
On Monday night, 28 February, a group of 99 refugees were evacuated from Libya and taken to Rome, Italy, with a humanitarian flight organised by the Italian Ministries of Interior and Foreign Affairs and the national institute for Migration and poverty (Inmp) in collaboration with the United Nations Refugee Agency. The people evacuated are reportedly from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen. 


Europe: War in Ukraine reveals different treatment of refugees
Since the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army, Europe has seen a mass exodus of civilians seeking to flee the war, warmly welcomed in neighbouring countries. While this hospitality is welcomed by the international community, it also symbolises a radical difference in treatment between Ukrainian refugees and refugees from the Middle East and Africa, says the Associated Press. Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, for example, known for his radical stance against the “Muslim invasion”, opens the doors of his country to Ukrainians, displaying his “unity” with Brussels, says L’Express. “Everyone fleeing Ukraine will find a friend in the Hungarian state,” he said. A little further afield, in Bulgaria, Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said about Ukrainian refugees: “These people are intelligent, they are educated people… This is not the refugee wave we have been used to, people we were not sure about their identity, people with unclear pasts, who could have been even terrorists…”. These words, which are widely reported, can be disturbing and hurtful for other migrants and refugees, Associated Press reports.

Ukraine: 1 million Ukrainian refugees have fled their country
According to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi, in seven days, one million people have already escaped Russia’s war against Ukraine. The UN expects the numbers may reach 4 million in the coming weeks.

EU: Temporary protection to be granted to Ukraine refugees
On Thursday, EU Member States agreed to activate the Directive to immediately assist people fleeing Ukraine. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, called it an “unprecedented” decision that would protect millions of people on the move. The temporary protection is a short-term, emergency mechanism that avoids the need for an individual assessment of people’s protection needs and enables large numbers of people fleeing Ukraine to receive protection without having to file asylum claims. The temporary protection is only valid for those escaping Ukraine, and only for those that fled since the war started.

Poland: Wave of Ukraine refugees finds Poland not prepared
Poland’s government has struggled to rapidly put together an actionable response plan, according to current and past officials tasked with monitoring Poland’s immigration policy and implementation, United States government officials helping to coordinate the effort and multiple heads of local and national NGOs. The response plan includes the need to find adequate resources to respond to what could become the biggest humanitarian crisis facing Europe. Despite multiple meetings in the last week with local, national, and international humanitarian organisations, along with government officials from both Poland and Ukraine, to discuss potential responses to a wide-scale refugee crisis, civil society’s concerns over Poland’s preparedness for Ukraine refugees persist.


UN: A resolution demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces, and those opposing it
The United Nations (UN) General Assembly has adopted a resolution demanding the withdrawal of Russian forces from Ukraine, following the call on Sunday 26 February for an emergency meeting on the situation. The text was adopted by 141 votes in favour, 35 abstentions and 5 votes against (Russia, Belarus, Eritrea, North Korea and Syria), UN News reports. Eritrea was the only African country opposing the resolution. A few days earlier, the UN Security Council had already voted on a resolution to demand a stop to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, which Russia vetoed. The resolution adopted on Wednesday asks for Russia to “immediately, completely and unconditionally withdraw all of its military forces from the territory of Ukraine within its internationally recognized borders”, although it is non-binding.

Africa/Ukraine/Russia: A war with repercussions for Africa’s food supplies
Russia’s invasion of Ukraine could have devastating consequences for the African continent, as both countries have a key role in the heart of the agricultural market, warns Chief Economist of the Agricultural Business Chamber Wandile Sihlobo. Combined, Russia’s and Ukraine’s wheat production is nearly the size of the European Union’s, says Sihlobo. Furthermore, there are several African countries, such as Egypt, Sudan, Nigeria, Tanzania, Algeria, Kenya, and South Africa, who are major importers from the two countries.

Women’s day: Event addresses risks of women
On Monday 7 March 2022, an online event will mark international women’s day by highlighting global risks to women. Organised by UK Parliament Member Brendan O’Hara, the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) on the Yazidis, and the APPG on lawyers and judges, speakers will discuss some of the challenges, barriers, and risks faced by women, which ultimately affect their experiences. March 8 marks the International Women’s Day where the cultural, political, and socioeconomic achievements of women are celebrated.

ICC: Opening of an investigation by the Court on “crimes against humanity” in Ukraine
International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor, Karim A.A. Khan QC, announced in a statement on 28 February that he will open an investigation on the situation in Ukraine since 2013 and onwards. His predecessor, Fatou Bensouda, was the initiator of a preliminary report, issued in December 2020, which mentioned possible war crimes and crimes against humanity, reports Le Monde. “I have reviewed the Office’s conclusions arising from the preliminary examination of the Situation in Ukraine, and have confirmed that there is a reasonable basis to proceed with opening an investigation”, Kharim A.A. Khan QC said about the report. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has confirmed the Prosecutor’s intention to launch this investigation as soon as possible. “I will continue to closely follow developments on the ground in Ukraine, and again call for restraint and strict adherence to the applicable rules of international humanitarian law”, he concluded.

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