Horn Highlights: Foundation announces legal action on Eritrea, Witnesses say Amhara forces are hiding atrocity evidence, Prisoners tortured in Sudan

In this week’s Horn Highlights: Foundation announces legal action on Eritrea in 10 May press conference; Amhara security forces hiding evidence of ethnic cleansing, say witnesses; Aid flow to Tigray remains trickle; CPJ calls for the release of journalists in Ethiopia who could face death penalty; UN’s Bachelet condemns religious violence in Ethiopia; Civilian casualties in Oromia; Eritrea-Tigray rivalry role in famine; Analysts warn resumption of Ethiopia conflict imminent; Rock-hewn churches at risk; Tigrayans call for release of prisoners; GERD cyberattack; Lawyers accuse Sudanese authorities of torturing prisoners; Sudan opposition group refuses to participate in UN-led dialogue; Eritrean Press Agency claims Russia sent drones to Eritrea in exchange for naval base; Eritrean asylum seeker challenges Swiss return of Eritreans with torture story; Somalia set to elect president of 15 May; and Pope to visit South Sudan in July. 

Greater Horn of Africa

Eritrea/EU: Foundation announces legal action against EU over inaction against atrocities
The Foundation Human Rights for Eritreans (FHRE) said that it will hold a press conference on 10 May, where it will announce the start of legal proceedings against the European Union (EU) and other international bodies for failing to address the crimes committed by Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and his accomplices in Eritrea and Tigray, Libya and Sinai (Egypt). The Foundation asserts it will use “all legal means necessary to demonstrate discriminatory neglect” of the international bodies. The Foundation will hold a press conference on Tuesday 10 May at 5pm CEST, which will be held in hybrid form, in Brussels and online.

Ethiopia: Organised campaign to hide evidence of ethnic cleansing in Tigray
Security forces from the Amhara region are currently leading a campaign to hide evidence of ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans, according to eyewitnesses interviewed by the BBC. Security forces are reportedly digging up mass graves, burning corpses and transporting the remains outside the region. An eyewitness from the Welkyat ethnic group said: “On 4 April, the Amhara militias and the Fano [militia] youth group exhumed the remains. They gathered wood, sprayed something we never saw before and burned the remains they collected. The remains crumbled and turned into ash”. Recently, multiple reports provided indications that ethnic cleansing was perpetrated against the people of Tigray. The eyewitness accounts BBC collected of the alleged cover-up come ahead of a possible visit by a UN independent investigation team to investigate such crimes. 

Ethiopia: Aid flow to Tigray remains a trickle
The United Nations reports that the fourth convoy of aid has arrived in Tigray since the ceasefire at the end of March 2022. In total 169 trucks carrying 4.300 tons of supplies have arrived. However the UN spokesperson said that while the aid had expanded, “[t]he rate at which aid is arriving into Tigray […] remains a small fraction of what is needed. Essential services including electricity, communications networks and banking services, remain largely cut off”. The World Food Programme (WFP) says that another convoy of 64 trucks is on its way. The United Nations Office for Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA) says that the fuel that has arrived in the last few weeks is allowing the expansion of humanitarian operations. In many areas operations were brought to a halt due to lack of supplies. The UN organisation adds that Tigray also urgently needs 60,000 MT of fertilisers and 50,000 MT of improved crop seeds to ensure that farming can start again ahead of the summer harvest. UNOCHA also warns that malnutrition rates in Amhara are rising, and that more aid is needed there. 

Ethiopia: CPJ calls for the release of journalists who could face death penalty
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) warns that two Ethiopian journalists that were arrested on 18 November 2021 are facing anywhere between 3 years in prison or the death penalty, according to the Ethiopian criminal code. CPJ is reporting that prosecutors invoked article 258, which reportedly obliges the court to issue the death penalty for offences committed in times of civil war or with the support of foreign actors. CPJ’s Africa program coordinator, Angela Quintal, said that the charges are clearly retaliatory, and that both journalists should be released immediately. In an opinion article, journalist Lucy Kassa, working from exile, underwrites the dangers journalists face when reporting about war.

Ethiopia: UN human rights chief condemns religious violence
The UN human rights chief, Michelle Bachelet, has condemned the violence taking place between Muslim and Orthodox Christian populations in Ethiopia. Over the last few weeks violence between both communities has been escalating with 20 Muslims being killed in Gondar on 26 April, and 2 Christians that were burned to death in apparent retaliation in the southwest of Ethiopia. Violence has also been spreading between both denominations in other cities. Bachelet also decried the burning of 2 mosques and five churches and called on the Ethiopian authorities to hold an “independent and transparent” investigation and hold the perpetrators accountable. She added that “Individual accountability of perpetrators is essential to prevent further violence.” 

Ethiopia: Dozens of civilian casualties in Oromia as government increases military operations
According to a report by the Addis Standard (AS) several extrajudicial and summary killings, as well as civilian casualties of airstrikes, have been reported in the Oromia regional state in the last weeks. After the regional government promised to take measures against Shanee, referring to the Oromo Liberation Front (OLA), civilians are being targeted by government forces, AS reported. Several witnesses told the AS that executions, looting and burning of houses were retaliatory measures taken by government forces after they suffered losses in the fighting with the OLA. “The executions were led by the son of police officer Kassa Reta who was killed in armed combat,” said a resident of Warra Jarso woreda. According to Umar, who is a resident of the woreda, a total of 18 people were arrested on the night of 01 and 02 May. “The detainees, including the elderly, were taken by local militia and were executed a day after their arrest,” he said. He added that bodies of victims were not collected and families who tried to collect the bodies of loved ones were also arrested.  Another resident of Abuna Gindeberet woreda said that about 20 people were killed by drone strikes were carried out in the woreda on 22 April 22 while 7 people died after falling into trenches trying to escape.

Ethiopia: The role of Eritrea-Tigray rivalry in famine
Martin Plaut writes in The Conversation that the long-running rivalry between Eritreans and Tigrayans is at the root of the famine currently taking place in Tigray. In the 1980s, both Eritrean and Tigrayan rebel movements had been established to fight against the Ethiopian Derg, explains Plaut. Both movements established supply lines through Sudan to access the necessary supplies to feed their populations and continue their war effort. However, tensions started to rise between both movements. Both groups fought each other in a war between 1998-2000 and have been hostile towards each other since. Of especial importance in the current war is Western Tigray, which is currently occupied by Amhara. The region is crucial for the Tigrayans that want to use it to get supplies from Sudan, notes Plaut. 

Ethiopia: Resumption of conflict imminent, according to analysts
Ahmed Hassen and Simon Rynn write for RUSI, a British-based defence and security think tank, that a peace between Tigray and Ethiopia is unsustainable and that an increase in tensions between both sides can be expected soon, potentially with a Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) strike south, coordinated with other groups. Hundreds of thousands of people have already been killed as a result of the conflict and such a strike would be costly, and prolong the economic crisis Ethiopia is facing, say the analysts. Although success is not assured, the authors write that the anti-government coalition is “looking increasingly broad-based.” They suggest three options to avoid a continuation of the cycle. The first is incentives and negotiation support; using the threat of sanctions, as well as diplomatic pressure and the reward of economic aid, for continued negotiations. The second option they put forward is military aid to Ethiopia, although they warn that this will likely result in war crimes “likely at scale”. The last option they suggest is to “allow the anti-government coalition to contest the current government militarily and politically, on a more even playing field.” They argue that it is not too late for a negotiated solution, if there is a willingness by major powers to act.

Ethiopia: Rock-hewn churches under threat, says researcher
In an article for The Conversation, researcher Hagos Abrha Abay writes that many Ethiopian rock-hewn churches are under threat of destruction. There are over 150 of these churches in Ethiopia, and many of them date back thousands of years. They are recognised as world heritage sites, and are spiritual heavens for pilgrims, explains Hagos. However over the last two years, many of them suffered attacks. One church in Wukro was shelled in November 2020, the Monastery of Abunä Abraham was bombed, and  Abubä Yǝmʿatta was the site of a massacre of 19 people, states Hagos. A coordinator for culture in Hawzen, Eastern Tigray, says that 31 churches have been heavily damaged since the start of the war. Other places have been looted by soldiers and militias. Many of these religious sites remain places of important symbolism for the inhabitants of the region. 

Ethiopia: Tigrayans protest, calling for the release of political prisoners
According to Addis Standard (AS), Tigrayans who attended the funeral of Major General Gebremedhin Fekadu, who died in prison earlier this week, have called for the release of other Tigrayan prisoners. The general was the Head Defense Communication and Electronics Cyber ​​Department at the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) before he was arrested in November 2020 following the outbreak of the Tigray conflict. The funeral was attended by Abune Mathias, Patriarch of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahdo Church. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front has accused the Ethiopian government of being responsible for the death of the general.

Ethiopia: Authorities claim cyberattack perpetrated against the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
On 3 May, the Ethiopian authorities stated they foiled a cyberattack against the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) and some financial institutions. Shumete Gizaw, the director-general of Ethiopian Information Network Security Agency (INSA), claimed the attack was coming from an organisation sponsored by countries that “envy peace and development endeavours of Ethiopia”. In June 2020, INSA also claimed that they successfully foiled a cyberattack aiming to pressurise GERD’s construction, allegedly orchestrated by Egyptian hackers. According to Al-Monitor, the negotiations between Ethiopian, Sudan and Egypt on the GERD are stalled for years and Ethiopia recently took the unilateral decision to continue to build the middle corridor of the GERD.

Sudan: Lawyers accuse Sudanese military government of torture
Sudanese lawyers reported in a press conference on Sunday 8 May that 88 protestors and other political activists are still being detained by the Sudanese government. They were arrested following the coup on 25 October 2021, and are being detained in various cities across Sudan. The lawyers also accused the Sudanese government of using torture and other forms of cruel punishment on those detained. According to them, 4 prisoners suffer from third degree burns, while others are not able to speak anymore. The lawyers are accusing the military government of creating a paralysis in the legal system, and preventing due process to the political detainees. 

Sudan: Opposition group refuses to take part in dialogue next week
The Sudanese Congress Party says that it will not participate in a UN-facilitated dialogue that is due to take place next week with the Sudanese military government to resolve the crisis Sudan has been facing since the military took over in a coup in October 2021. The Sudanese Congress Party insists any solution must aim to “end the coup and its consequences, and to restore the path of civil democratic transition through a full civil authority”. It does not want to take part in the UN dialogue as they believe it will not achieve any transition and that it will allow the military to try and justify the coup. 

Eritrea: Eritrean Press Agency claims Russia has sent drones in exchange for naval base
According to the Eritrean government-affiliated Eritrean Press Agency, Russia has provided Eritrea with drones in exchange for the possibility of establishing a naval base in Afabet, 40km away from the port of Massawa. The drones are allegedly the Zala K.Y.B, which can last 30 minutes in the air and can launch strikes against land targets. The exchange has not been confirmed, but there have been reports in the past that Russia was interested in establishing a naval base in Eritrea. 

Eritrea/Switzerland: Swiss claims about “safe returns” to Eritrea challenged
Eritrean refugees who are sent back are at high risk of being tortured and imprisoned, according to Republik. Republik interviewed Yonas [alias], an Eritrean asylum seeker who was voluntarily returned from Switzerland to Eritrea after his case became deadlocked and he fell into severe depression. There, he was tortured and imprisoned, then escaped and came all the way back to Switzerland through Turkey and Greece. Swiss authorities are arguing that there is not enough evidence to automatically assume that  asylum seekers returning to Eritrea will be tortured, and are treating the cases on a one by one basis. Between 2021 and 2022, the UN Committee Against Torture (CAT) came  to the conclusion in two judgments that Switzerland had violated the UN Convention on the Prevention of Torture by expelling asylum-seekers to Eritrea.

Somalia: Election of new president on 15 May
The Somali government announced that the election of a new president will take place on 15 May. This would end months of political deadlock in Somalia, as both sides were unable to come to an agreement. The President of Somalia tried to extend his mandate by two years in 2021, but was stopped by Parliament. The president will be elected by 275 members of the Somali lower house.  Somalia has until 17 May to appoint a new government in order to continue to receive International Monetary Fund (IMF) budgetary support, worth 400 million USD a year. The country has requested an extension until 17 August, but the IMF has not yet communicated an extension. 

South Sudan: Pope to visit, despite knee problems
The papacy announced that the Pope would still visit South Sudan from 5 to 7 July, despite suffering from knee problems. The visit will take place with the Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby and the moderator of the Church of Scotland Jim Wallace. The visit is meant to help South Sudan move towards peace, after years of political infighting. 

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