News Highlights: US Senate approves Ethiopia sanctions framework, Non-white refugees from Ukraine in detention, ICC holds first Darfur trial

In this week’s News Highlights: Aid trucks still unable to reach Tigray despite the humanitarian truce; US Senate approves Ethiopia Peace and Stabilization Act; UN investigation on human rights violations to go ahead despite Ethiopian protest; Analysts assess truce in Ethiopia; Ethiopia urged to uphold press freedom; Ethiopian Government to repatriate 100,000 nationals from Saudi Arabia; 304 civilian air force-related deaths Tigray and Afar since December; First Darfur trial to be held by the ICC; Economic and security collapse looming in Sudan; Flooding expected to worsen in South Sudan; Drought impact in Somalia; 158 people saved in Mediterranean Sea; Non-white refugees coming from Ukraine held in detention in Poland; One Eritrean refugee dead and three injured on the way to UK; Protecting Ukrainian women and children refugees from sex traffickers; Arrivals by boat from Africa in Spain increasing ; Russia accused by the UN of causing hunger crisis; and Adoption of the Doha Programme with some reservations.

The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Aid trucks still unable to reach Tigray despite the humanitarian truce
Over one week after the unilateral truce declared by the Ethiopian government, no humanitarian aid has been able to reach Tigray, state humanitarian organisations. The UN United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated in their most recent update that the “Semera-Abala-Mekelle route has remained closed for more than 100 days.” A Deutsche Welle source located in Afar region, where the aid trucks are forced to remain, stated “[t]here are still no convoys headed north [to Tigray].”. Airlifts continue as usual, but cover only 4% of the needs of the Tigrayan population, according to OCHA. On 31 March, the US Ambassador to Ethiopia visited Semera, Afar, from where 40 aid trucks were supposed to depart. On the same day, the Ethiopian government stated that 21 of those had departed from Semera, but their arrival has not yet been confirmed. There are currently 5 million people in Tigray who are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance, according to Deutsche Welle. 

Ethiopia/US: US Senate approves Ethiopia Peace and Stabilization Act
On 29 March 2022, S. 3199, the Ethiopia Peace and Stabilization Act, received the United States Senate Committee on Foreign Relations’ bipartisan approval. It provides a tool for imposing sanctions for parties in the conflict guilty of atrocities and the humanitarian crisis. Chairman Bob Menendez stated: “Today, we not only shine a light on the extra-judicial killings, mass sexual and gender-based violence, forced displacement, and civilian humanitarian aid blockades as being used as weapons of this war, but we also take a big step to end these atrocities by setting up a policy framework that calls for a determination by the Secretary of State related to war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, a critical element in holding perpetrators accountable”. Supported by Ethiopian Ambassadors to the US Fitsum Arega and to the UN Taye Atskeselassie, Ethiopian diaspora in the US was encouraged to protest the bill. The Ambassadors were reported by Ethiopian government-owned media Fana broadcasting as saying that the bill had “extremely dangerous contents.”

Ethiopia: UN investigation on human rights violations to go ahead despite Ethiopian protest
On 31 March 2022, the United Nations funded an international committee,the International Commission of Human Rights Experts (ICHRE) on Ethiopia, to investigate human rights violations committed during the current war in Ethiopia. This commission will investigate the actions of all parties involved in the conflict. Ethiopian diplomats tried to pass a text in order to block the funding of this committee, but it did not gather enough votes: 66 member states voted against Ethiopia, 27 in favour, while there were 39 abstentions and 61 non-participants. “Whether it’s in Ethiopia or anywhere else in the world, human rights violations need to be investigated, which is a critical part of the accountability pillar”, said the UN secretary-general’s spokesperson, Stephane Dujarric. Ethiopian diplomat Lemlem Fiseha Mineale said that “Ethiopia does not recognize this mechanism and it will have no access to Ethiopia”.

Ethiopia: Can the civil war in Ethiopia end through a ‘truce’?
Various analysts have assessed whether the current ceasefire in Ethiopia can lead to a more sustainable peace. According to Zecharias Zelalem, writer for Al Jazeera, conflicting statements and lack of details on the ceasefire continue to make it hard to assess how robust it will be. The Economist notes that while fragile, the current truce does offer hope. However, the lack of agreement on the terms of ceasefire are causing problems. The Economist explains that while Tigray forces expect aid to flow before withdrawing their troops, the Ethiopian Federal government expects troop withdrawal first. Susan Stignant, Director of Africa Programs at the Institute of Peace, emphasises that the next steps to a sustainable negotiation process are complex. It will require a sequence of defined steps, she argued, which “will require follow-up and monitoring by political and military leaders” of the warring parties. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopia urged to uphold press freedom and release reporters
Press freedom advocates urge Ethiopia to release journalists it has imprisoned and to uphold its international commitments to the freedoms of expression and the press. Representatives Adam Schiff of Carlifornia and Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania, US Congress lawmakers, joined press freedom advocates in calling for the immediate release of journalist Amir Amen KIyaro, who has been held for four months without charges for interviewing a member of a group classified as terrorist in Ethiopia. Adam Schiff stated that Ethiopia should honour its international commitments by releasing Kiyaro. AP specifies that Ethiopia has signed and ratified the International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights, which specifies that journalists should not be put in prison for interviewing a member of a terrorist group. 

Ethiopia: Government wants to repatriate 100,000 Ethiopians from Saudi Arabia
Around 100,000 Ethiopians held in captivity in Saudi Arabia should be repatriated in the next 7 to 11 months, according to the Ethiopian government. Also according to the government, the files of 35,000 Ethiopians are already being processed with a view to their return to Ethiopia. The Ethiopian Embassy in Saudi Arabia is currently preparing laissez-passer for their return. Ethiopians in Saudi Arabia live in dire conditions, with many imprisoned for months in prisons and detention centres, says France 24. On 30 March 2022, the first 900 returnees landed in Addis Ababa, including many mothers with young children, according to Africanews. 

Ethiopia: Since December, air force accounts for 304 civilian deaths, 373 injuries in Tigray and Afar
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said between November last year and February this year, at least 300 people, including refugees and displaced persons, have died and more than 350 have been injured in multiple airstrikes carried out by the Ethiopian Air Force (ETAF) in Tigray and the Afar region. Michelle Bachelet, UN High Commissioner for HUman Rights said, “The Office has recorded 304 killings, and injuries to 373 people, resulting from aerial bombardments during the reporting period.” Bachelet added, ” In January 2022, two air raids carried out in Tigray by the ETAF hit the Mai-Aini refugee camp and the Dedebit site for internally displaced people. These attacks killed 60 people and injured 169.”

Sudan: First Darfur trial to be held by International Criminal Court (ICC)
On 5 April 2022, the International Criminal Court will open the trial of Ali Kosheib (or Kushayb), militia leader of the Janjaweed militia. This presents the first opportunity to see a leader face prosecution for large-scale crimes committed in Darfur nearly 20 years ago, said Human Rights Watch. Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said: “Kosheib’s trial is a long-awaited chance for victims and communities terrorized by the notorious Janjaweed militia and government forces in Darfur to see a leader held to account.”

Sudan: Heading towards economic and security collapse 
Volker Perthes, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Sudan, warned on Monday 28 March, during the 9005th meeting of the Security Council Session, that “[u[nless the current trajectory is corrected, Sudan will head towards economic and security collapse as well as significant humanitarian suffering.” Establishing a functional government is key, states the UN Envoy for Sudan; Sudan could lose  billions in external aid without a functional administration. Perthes stated that the UN-led consultation process on establishing a political process with participants from all over Sudan is finding “visible” consensus on issues such as bringing an end to violence and establishing a technocratic government and administration.

South Sudan: Prolonged flooding and displacement expected to worsen in South Sudan
With the wet season beginning in May, United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the UN Refugee Agency, warned on 29 March that prolonged flooding and displacement in South Sudan are expected to worsen. The country experienced its worst flooding on record in 2021. More than 835,000 people were impacted, according to the UN Office for Humanitarian Affairs.

Somalia: Drought impact and growing risk of famine worsens in Somalia 
The United Nations reports that the current drought situation in Somalia is deteriorating, wiping out crop harvests and livestock due to a lack of water and pasture, depriving many pastoral communities of their only source of income. Adam Abdelmoula, the Humanitarian Coordinator for Somalia, says, “[t]he country has seen three consecutive failed rainy seasons. The fourth, which is supposed to start in April and continue through June, is also projected to be below average. If that happens, then we are looking at a risk of famine.” This year an estimated 7.7 million Somalis were in need of humanitarian assistance and protection even before the current drought, stated UN News.

North Africa

Libya: 158 migrants and refugees saved in rough seas over a week by private rescue ship
On 22 March, 30 migrants and refugees were rescued from their inflatable boat by the private rescue ship Ocean Viking, and on 27 March, 128 other migrants and refugees were saved from another crowded inflatable boat by the same ship. The Ocean Viking is one of the largest private humanitarian ships, chartered by the NGO SOS Méditerranée since 2019. InfoMigrants reports that the ship has been repeatedly confiscated by authorities on the ground, making its mission more difficult. The number of migrants trying to leave Libya to reach the European coast is increasing, states the Italian Interior Ministry.


Ukraine/Poland: Non-white refugees held in detention
The Independent, Lighthouse Reports and other media partners have revealed in an investigation that non-white students have been placed in closed facilities in Poland while fleeing Ukraine. Polish Border authorities have reportedly been placing them in closed facilities for several weeks now, according to The Independent. One such student, currently detained in Lesznowola, Poland, said he was stopped by officials, forced to sign a document he did not understand, and then taken to the long-term detainment camp, The Independent reported. “International students in Ukraine, as well as Ukrainians, are at risk and risking their lives in the country. Detention, deportation or any other measure that does not grant them protection is not acceptable”, said Maria Arena, chair of the EU parliament’s subcommittee on human rights. A witness stated that they were made to hand in their phones before being detained. 

France: One Eritrean refugee dead and three injured on their journey to England
An Eritrean refugee died from electrocution and three others were injured after being struck by an electric arc while trying to take the train illegally to Calais in Valenciennes, reports the Echos Judiciaires Girondins. Many Eritreans seek to reach England via Calais, says a volunteer from the NGO BXL Refugees. In Calais, the refugee community paid a silent tribute to the person that passed away, reports RailFreight

Ukraine: Urgent need to protect women and children refugees from sex traffickers
BBC journalists collected the testimonies of refugees who were almost kidnapped by sex traffickers in their flight out of Ukraine. According to those testimonies, women and children crossing the border to Poland and Romania are especially targeted by abductors, promising to take them to safer destinations. Karolina Wierzbińska, coordinator at the NGO Homo Faber stated that “We’ve registered the first cases of [suspected] pimps preying on Ukrainian women near refugee shelter points in Lublin”. The Council of Europe’s Lanzarote Committee called upon the 48 Parties to the Council of Europe Convention on the protection of children against sexual exploitation and sexual abuse to  “take measures to address the specific risk of exposure to sexual exploitation and sexual abuse of migrant and refugee children.” Human Trafficking was already a notorious problem in Ukraine before the war started, with an estimate of 46,000 victims between 2019 and 2021, states United Nations in Ukraine.

Spain: Number of people arriving by boat from Africa increases significantly
Between 25 and 28 March 2022, 289 migrants and refugees arrived in different boats in several islands of the Spanish Canary Archipelago, reported InfoMigrants. The trip from North Africa to Canary Island is dangerous, and, according to the NGO Camminando Frontieras, 4,400 people died attempting to cross the sea to reach Spain in 2021, twice as many as in 2020. Arrivals in Spain have increased by more than 75% since this time last year, according to Camminando Frontieras.


UN: Russia is accused of worsening the situation in the Horn of Africa
On 29 March, during the UN Security Council meeting, French Ambassador to the UN Nicolas de Rivière and Deputy Secretary of State of the US Wendy Sherman accused Russia of triggering a global food crisis. UN Assistant Secretary General for Humanitarian Affairs Joyce Msuya stressed that the conflict in Ukraine would aggravate the situation in Yemen, Afghanistan and the Horn of Africa. The Russian ambassador to the UN Vassily Nebenzia replied that the turbulence in the market was due to “the uncontrolled hysteria of the sanctions launched by the West against Moscow”. David Beasley, Director of the World Food Program, underlined during this same meeting the devastating impacts that the crisis would have on the operations of his organisation.

UN: Adoption of the Doha Programme not without reservations
After two consecutive cancellations in 2019 and 2022, the new generation of the Doha Development Agenda for the Least Developed Countries for the Decade 2022 – 2031 (DDA) was adopted by the Fifth United Nations Conference on the Least Developed Countries (LDC5) on 17 March 2022, at UN headquarters in New York, reports Social Watch.  Held “exceptionally” in two parts, the first part aimed to adopt the Doha Development Agenda without further delay, according to Social Watch. While it was done by consensus, some member states, like China and Russia, announced that they will dissociate from certain paragraphs, with regard to the concept of human security – which they deem undefined – or debt relief, says Social Watch. The second part of the Programme, which aims to adopt the political Doha Declaration as well as take stock of the implementation, will now be held from 5 to 9 March 2023, says Social Watch

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