News Highlights: Report describes crimes against humanity in Western Tigray, Over 90 people drown off Libya, Darfur trial starts

In this week’s News Highlights: NGOs document alleged crimes against humanity in Western Tigray; Tigray remains besieged, Adigrat Bishop states; Drought is killing livestock and rising fertiliser prices in Ethiopia; Diplomats urging for peace negotiation and troop withdrawal in Ethiopia; Opening of the ICC’s first Darfur trial; Rising inflation since the Sudanese coup; More than 90 migrants and refugees dead at sea off Libya, survivors returned; UN investigates reports of mass graves of migrants in Libya; Council of Europe reports on illegal pushbacks; Minors accused of human trafficking in Italy; Germany stops training Libyan coastguard; Young migrant committed suicide in France after illegally housed alone; Migrant drowns while crossing the border between Spain and France; Conflicts, climate change and inflation push Africans towards hunger; European Council on Refugees and Exiles Conference in Brussels; Pope criticises EU-Libya deal; Protest in support of Tigray in Ottawa.

The greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: NGOs document alleged crimes against humanity in Western Tigray
On Wednesday 6 April, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch jointly published a report that speaks of a systematic human rights abuses and ethnic cleansing carried out against Tigrayans by newly-appointed Amhara officials in Western Tigray and security forces from the neighbouring Amhara region, but also with the alleged participation or consent of the Ethiopian federal forces, since the beginning of the conflict in November 2020. Entitled “We Will Erase You from This Land – Crimes Against Humanity and Ethnic Cleansing in Ethiopia’s Western Tigray Zone”, the report is 220 pages long. The two NGOs conducted 427 interviews and list expulsions of Tigrayans by threat, unlawful killings, sexual violence, mass arbitrary detention, looting, forcible transfer, and the denial of humanitarian assistance, Human Rights Watch says. The Ethiopian government issued a press release questioning the validity of the report in terms of the “numerous political matters” it highlighted, but stated that it will carefully examine the contents of the report. It also questioned “ethnic undertones of the report that seem to apportion blame disproportionately while trying to exculpate others”.

Ethiopia: Tigray remains besieged, Adigrat Bishop states
A pastoral letter from Adigrat states that “all the services of basic necessities [are] lacking” in Tigray and that the aid that has arrived since the truce is not enough to divert the famine. In the letter, Msgr. Tesfaselassie Medhin, Bishop of the Catholic eparchy of Adigrat, calls the conflict genocidal. “This devastating crisis is beyond all imagination, genocidal massacres of civilians, rape and gender-based violence, looting, fires, destruction of homes, places of worship, schools, health facilities. Everything has been destroyed.” Msgr. Tesfaselassie stated. In a statement, the Tigray External Affairs Office says that only 26 trucks of aid have arrived since the truce, and states that the “cessation of hostilities agreement is being used to intensify the brutal blockade of Tigray.” It warns of an increasingly dire humanitarian situation. The latest update from the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs on Northern Ethiopia states that 20 trucks of food aid have arrived and that airlifts “cannot fill in the significant gap between the needs on the ground and the supplies delivered.” 

Ethiopia: Drought is killing livestock while farmers are threatened by rising fertiliser prices
Drought is worsening in Ethiopia and killing scores of livestock, particularly in the Somali region, where nearly 80% of livelihoods depend on livestock, reports The New York Post. Farmers, like Mohamed Farah, are forced to use hay from their own roofs to feed the cattle, writes The New York Post. “At the beginning of the drought, we were able to go to a nearby market to sell livestock for food. And now I cannot do it anymore. We can only feed the four sheep that are still alive on the hay from the roof,” Mohamed Farah said. Meanwhile, the ongoing war in Ukraine is adding pressure to the Ethiopian market where prices are two to three times higher than in the rest of the world, according to Addis Standard. In response, on 22 March, representatives of the farmers in East Gojjam Zone of Amhara regional state filed a complaint to the government regarding the shortage and excessive prices of fertiliser in the regions, according to East Gojjam Police Bureau 

Ethiopia/World: Diplomats are urging for peace negotiation and troops withdrawal
Justin Trudeau, the Prime Minister of Canada, met with the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, on 6 April, to discuss the importance of the humanitarian truce to the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia. On 24 March, the Ethiopian government announced an indefinite humanitarian truce, and Justin Trudeau reiterated Canada’s support for a peaceful resolution to the conflict, according to a statement published on the Canadian Prime Minister’s website. The truce was also welcomed by six former US ambassadors and chargés d’affaires to Ethiopia, and they urged parties to follow up and “[…] enter an ongoing process of dialogue to address the outstanding issues which contributed to the conflict”. In a statement, they also called on “armed groups – including Eritrean armed forces – to expeditiously return to their home territories.”

Sudan: Opening of the ICC’s first Darfur trial
The first trial for crimes committed during the Darfur conflict in Sudan opened on 5 April at the International Criminal Court (ICC), against an alleged former leader of the pro-government Janjaweed militia, says the BBC. Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman has been charged with 31 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity committed during the conflict between 2003 and 2008, which the United Nations (UN) estimates caused the deaths of 300,000 people. Ali Muhammad Ali Abd-al-Rahman denies the charges and pleads not guilty. Human rights activists hail the trial as historic, says the Associated Press. “[The 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,” said Elise Keppler, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. 

Sudan: Dangerous and rising inflation since the coup
Inflation is getting worse every day in Sudan, making it almost impossible for many citizens to live, the Associated Press reports. People such as Ikhlas Zakaria, a single mother of six, can sometimes provide only one meal a day for her children, two of whom have dropped out of school to work in the fields. Since the military coup in October 2021, and more recently Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, Sudan’s economy has plummeted and the currency has lost value, says the Associated Press. “The situation has become impossible,” said Zakaria, who lives in the war-affected region of Darfur. Volker Perthes, the UN envoy to Sudan, had already warned in March 2022 that the situation was critical and the country would risk not being able to meet World Bank and International Monetary Fund deadlines.

North Africa

Libya: More than 90 migrants and refugees dead at sea
On 2 April 2022, the 4 only survivors of a  rubber boat carrying around 100 people were found by a tanker, according to the NGO Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The rubber boat left Libya a week prior, but ran into trouble at some undetermined time, according to MSF head of mission Juan Matias Gil. The tanker returned the 4 rescued people to Libya where they will probably face abuse and ill-treatment in detention centres, according to Juan Matias Gil.

Libya/UN: UN investigates reports of mass graves of migrants in Libya
On 28 March, the UN started to investigate the existence of mass graves in the desert surrounding the town of Bani Walid in Libya. The investigation was launched after the publication of the report of the UN Human Right Council’s Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Libya on the human rights situation for migrants and refugees in Libya, which eight witnesses had told them of such graves. The number of people potentially buried in these mass graves is still undetermined, and a legal expert has been commissioned to answer this question, says member of the UN mission Chaloka Beyani. According to several testimonies gathered by InfoMigrants and other organisations, the city of Bani Walid contains many places where human traffickers illegally detain, torture, rape and kill migrants.


Europe: Council of Europe report denounces pushbacks of migrants and refugees
The Council of Europe’s Commissioner for Human Rights, Dunja Mijatovic, published a report on Thursday 6 April on the widespread refoulement of migrants and refugees at Europe’s gates. The report points the finger at 13 countries in particular, including Greece, Turkey, Poland, France and Spain, reports InfoMigrants. Dunja Mijatovic stresses the importance of the recommendations it provides in the context of the current crisis within Europe itself. “Yet, as this document shows, the warm and welcoming response to Ukrainians stands in sharp contrast to the widespread human rights violations committed against refugees, asylum seekers and migrants coming from other parts of the world in many Council of Europe member states over several years, especially by subjecting them to pushbacks,” the report notes. The document draws on reports from several NGOs complemented with new information, and strongly urges member states to “respect their legal obligations” towards migrants and refugees seeking protection, says InfoMigrants.

Italy: Minors accused of human trafficking
According to testimonies gathered by BBC News and the NGO Arci Porco Rosso, Italy is holding minor migrants and refugees in detention who are wrongfully accused of human trafficking due to activities such as captaining the boat they crossed in. Hundreds of young migrants and refugees who are reportedly innocent are currently locked up awaiting the end of their legal process, according to Maria Giulia Fava, paralegal for the NGO Arci Porco Rosso. Italian authorities are using anti-trafficking laws to criminalise migrants, according to Maria Giulia Fava. In Italy, aiding or encouraging illegal immigration can lead to up to 20 years in prison.

Germany/Libya: Germany stops training Libyan coastguard
On 30 March, the German government announced a stop to their training of Libyan coastguards because of the ill-treatment inflicted on migrants in Libya. “The German government cannot currently justify the training of Libyan coastguards by German soldiers in view of the repeated unacceptable behaviour of individual coastguards towards refugees and migrants, and also towards non-governmental organisations” said spokesperson of the German foreign ministry Andrea Sasse. In July 2021, the NGO SeaWatch filmed Libyan coast guards firing live ammunition around a migrant boat in the Mediterranean.

France: Migrant committed suicide in a public park
On 30 March 2022, French police announced that a young migrant in the town of Pamiers had died as a result of suicide by hanging. The migrant, presumed to be 17 at the time by the French government, was illegally placed by the authorities in a hotel in the town of Pamiers, according to La Dépêche.  According to French law, unaccompanied minors cannot be placed alone in a hotel. The director of the shelter in Pamiers said: “he was a vulnerable kid on a long migratory journey with a heavy addiction to hard drugs. We had asked for a psychiatrist but there was no room”.

France/Spain : Migrant drowns while crossing the border
On 31 March, the body of a drowned person was found on the bank of a river marking the border between France and Spain.  Recently, people are taking more risks to enter France due to increased border controls, according to Franceinfo. In 2021, the number of people rejected at the Franco-Spanish border of the Pyrénées Atlantiques increased by 120%, according to the Atlantic Pyrenees prefecture.


Africa: Conflicts, climate change and inflation push Africans towards hunger
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) said on Tuesday 5 April that conflicts, climate change and inflation are pushing about a quarter of Africans into hunger. While in 2021 about 286 million people in Africa were facing hunger, in 2022 about 346 million are already suffering from it, reports Reuters. Conflict in the Tigray region, insurgencies in West Africa and severe climate change consequences in Sudan and Somalia are pushing people into near-starvation conditions and an unprecedented food crisis, Reuters said. “Our call today really is that the attention on the plight of the people in Ukraine – which is of course terrible – should not prevent the world from looking at other crises,” said Dominik Stillhart, ICRC’s global operations director.

Brussels: European Council on Refugees and Exiles in Brussels
The European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) Annual General Conference takes place on 27-28 June 2022 in Brussels, Belgium. It will include sessions on Ukraine, Afghanistan, EU agencies, the EU Pact on Migration and Asylum. Registration is possible via the link below, and must be done before 6 June 2022.

Vatican/Malta: Pope criticises EU-Libya deal in MaltaMalta’s migration policy
On his visit to Malta, the Pope denounced the European deal with the Libyan coastguard to enhance returns of refugees and migrants, stating the EU should promote solidarity. On 3 April, the Pope visited a refugee centre in Malta and made appeals towards “global and shared responses”. On the question of migration, the pope said: “It is not possible for some countries to take on the whole problem in the indifference of others,” In addition, on 6 April in Malta, the Pope firmly condemned Russian massacres in Ukraine and called the UN to action to help the situation in Ukraine, according to multiple sources.

Canada: Protest in support of Tigray in Ottawa
On 2 April, dozens of protesters marched through Ottawa’s ByWard Market to show their support to the people of Tigray, according to CTV News. “We’re calling for an end to the blockades around Tigray and for more media attention on the dire humanitarian crisis. Even the World Health Organization has said nowhere on Earth are people more at risk than Tigray” said protest organiser Azeb Gebrehiwot.

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