News Highlights: UN commission finds crimes against humanity committed in Tigray, Court appeal for transparency of EU funds in Libya, Hunger crisis deepens

In this week’s News Highlights: UN commission says crimes against humanity in Tigray committed by federal government;  Eritrea and Ethiopia start offensive against Tigray; Causes of discontinued peace talks in Ethiopia; Eritrean government calls up all reservists under 55; Next months crucial for South Sudan peace process; Alleged sexual abuse by aid workers in UN camp in South Sudan; Sudan’s ruling general will not run for election, he says; UNHCR updates guidance on protection of Somali refugees; Somali military frees strategic town in Hiran region; Italian journalist appeals to ECHR for transparency on use of EU funds by Libyan forces intercepting migrants; Migrants and refugees rescued from boats in Mediterranean; MEPs on visit to assess conflict in Ethiopia, democratic transition in Sudan; Upcoming reform of the Common European Asylum System; Greek minister calls for increased European solidarity; NGOs denounce Berlin’s admission programme for Afghans; Global hunger crisis deepens as one dies of hunger every four seconds; UN debate on the promotion of all human rights.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: UN commission reports on crimes against humanity in Tigray committed by federal government
On 19 September, UN experts warned in their first report that there are reasonable grounds to believe the Ethiopian government has committed war crimes and crimes against humanity in the Tigray region. The International commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) fears that with the renewal of the conflict after 5 months of ceasefire, the civilian population will be affected, including beyond the region of Tigray as the fighting spills over into other regions of Ethiopia, potentially endangering peace in the whole Horn of Africa. They also fear for further atrocities. The denial of basic services in Tigray combined with the denial of access of aid to areas suffering food, fuel and medicine amounts to starvation as a weapon of war, according to ICHREE. Most of the victims are women and children, state the UN experts. In a statement, the Commission chair, Kaari Betty Murungi, stated that there are “reasonable grounds to believe that the Federal Government is using starvation as a method of warfare”. These accusations have been denied by the Ethiopian government as of 21 September. 

Ethiopia/Eritrea: Eritrea and Ethiopia start offensive against Tigray
On 20 September, spokesperson for the Tigrayan authorities, Getachew Reda, stated that Eritrea had launched a full scale offensive along the northern Ethiopian border from Tekeze to Irob. A statement by the Tigray military central command stated that the Ethiopian federal government mobilised the Eastern Command, parts of North-Western Command and three commando divisions, accompanied by Amhara forces and Eritrean troops. Tigray Defense Force (TDF) was reported to have encircled or recaptured Addi Arkay, a town in theNorth Gondar Zone of Amhara region bordering Tigray. The Eritrean troops are fighting alongside Ethiopian federal units and Getachew claims Tigrayan troops are holding their positions. The Telegraph states that it spoke to an Ethiopian Airlines employee who said the airline has been ferrying weapons and Ethiopian soldiers to the front in Tigray. Flight data shows an uptick in flights in the direction of Lalibela, a key logistics hub for the Ethiopian army. Obtaining a statement from Eritrean or Ethiopian authorities has so far not been possible, states AP News

Ethiopia: Why were the peace talks discontinued?
24 August saw a 5 months long cease fire between the Ethiopian federal government and the Tigray People Liberation Front be broken. Calls to dialogue by the UN were ignored as fighting intensified and both parties lay the blame on each other, says Al Jazeera. The fighting has so far resulted in tens if not hundreds of thousands of dead in the last 22 months of fighting and millions were displaced and are now threatened by famine, according to Al Jazeera and AP News.  According to Al Jazeera, this contrasts with the hopes of the diplomatic community in the March ceasefire and the apparent end of the 8 months block on humanitarian aid going to Tigray by Ethiopia’s government. A critical sticking point, according to Al Jazeera, appears to be the restoration of services and uncontrolled access of humanitarians to the Tigray region. This is only worsened by the aggressive posturing of Eritrean president Isaias Afwerki who has ordered all reservists up to 55 years old to be called up, indicating he may be attempting to veto any peace talks according to Al Jazeera. 

Eritrea: Government calls up all reservists under 55 
The Eritrean government launched a mobilisation of all reservists up to 55 years old (or 60 according to Reuters) on 15 September to bolster the army positioned on the Tigrayan border, says the BBC. Roundups have been conducted throughout the country by security forces and sources indicate that the call affects all with no exception, state sources. Reservists have already made their way to the border, some after only a few hours of their return to service, says the BBC.  While the Eritrean authorities have threatened severe consequences for draft dodgers, including the confiscation of homes, according to Reuters, there are still reports of some ignoring the call, says BBC. Eritrean troops fighting alongside Ethiopians since 2020 in Tigray have been accused of committing atrocities, claims Eritrea denies. 

South Sudan: Extended roadmap for lasting peace deal is a part of the process, not its end goal
On 16 September, UN special representative Nicholas Haysom stressed that the extension of South Sudan’s provisional peace agreement by a further 24 months, achieved in August, is necessary, but not an end goal. He warned that the next few months will be crucial for parties to prove their dedication to the process. In a speech, Haysom emphasised the importance of inclusive political processes, civic spaces and competitive electoral processes for the success of ongoing procedures. While violence continues in the country on a regional level, Haysom assured that the United Nations Mission in South Sudan had been able to support the political process and proactively deploy in areas of violence in order to protect civilians. On a humanitarian level he acknowledges that food security is decreasing, with 8.3 million in need, highlighting that the Humanitarian Response Plan is only 44.6% funded as donors fail to fulfil their commitments. 

South Sudan: Alleged sexual abuse by aid workers in UN camp
A joint investigation by Al Jazeera and The New Humanitarian highlights the continuation of alleged sexual abuse by aid workers in a UN camp in South Sudan. Allegations in the camp of Malakal in South Sudan first surfaced in 2015, two years after the beginning of the country’s civil war. Al Jazeera and The New Humanitarian find that, 7 years later, the situation has gotten worse. Their investigation finds that, despite a UN-led task force, the incidence of sexual abuse and exploitation (SEA) has gone unchecked. The UN Population Fund report sent to humanitarian agencies in 2020 states that SEA is experienced “on a daily basis”, mostly at the hands of aid workers from NGOs, the UN and UN peacekeepers located in a base close to the camp. Al Jazeera denounces the pervasive culture of impunity in the camp that, allied with the patriarchal culture of South Sudan, places women and girls at the mercy of aid workers who they are often dependent on for a matter of survival. Antonio Guterrez, United Nations secretary-general, demanded an “urgent report” in order to ensure accountability.

Sudan: Ruling general will not run for election
On 22 September, General Abdel-Fattah Burhan told AP News in an interview at the United Nations summit that he would not run in the upcoming elections. The general rose to power after a coup two years ago. He has however offered no timeline for when said elections might take place. In the same interview he claimed that “[n]o one killed protesters in the way that’s being depicted” stating that “protestors clashed with the police, and the police dealt with them according to the law to protect public property”. 

Somalia: UN Refugee Agency updates guidance on protection of Somali refugees
On 20 September the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees released new guidance on eligibility of Somali nationals for refugee status, asserting that Somali refugees must be allowed to seek safety. A combination of ongoing conflicts, human rights violations and the humanitarian crisis in the country that has been facing its worst drought in 40 years have been pushing many to flee their homes. The ”new guidelines assert that States must allow people fleeing Somalia to seek safety, and that their refugee claims be assessed according to international law. Those found to be fleeing violence, human rights abuses and persecution would meet the criteria for refugee status under the 1951 Refugee Convention, or under regional instruments, or UNHCR’s broader mandate” says the UNHCR.

Somalia: Military frees strategic town in Hiran region
The Somali military claims to have recaptured the town of Booco in the central Hiran region from al-Shabab militants with the support of US aircrafts on 20 September, reports Voice of America. This is a part of the continued offensive started by President Hassn Sheikh Mohamud as a response to the siege of a hotel in Mogadishu last month, killing 20 and injuring a 100. The “total war” he promised against the terrorist group is the most recent development of a 15 year long conflict, and according to Hiran governor, Ali Jeyte Osman, the capture of Booco is significant in that it deprives the group of a base for their “shadow court” and of a base to extort funds from locals. 

North Africa

Libya: Italian journalist appeals to ECHR for transparency on use of EU funds to intercept migrants
On 19 September Italian journalist Sara Creta filed an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights regarding transparency surrounding the use of EU funds to intercept and return migrants and refugees in Libyan waters. This came after Italy’s higher court dismissed her request to obtain detailed information on the way Italian and European union funds given to Libyan authorities are being used. The funds in question are meant to bolster Libya’s ability to close its land and maritime borders, says Info Migrants. They also state that these funds are effectively used to stop migrants and refugees from crossing the Mediterranean. Creta argues that given the human rights records of Libya, having clarity on the uses made of these funds is paramount, as Libyan authorities continue to deny accusations of human rights violations levelled against them by the United Nations says Info Migrants.


Mediterranean: Migrants and refugees  rescued from boats in Mediterranean
Over the weekend, NGOs Open arms and Sea-Watch have rescued 800 migrants and refugees in the Mediterranean Sea. Open Arms rescued 372 people attempting to cross the mediterranean. The boat Open Arms Uno performed 3 rescues in 24 hours, picking up 294 mostly Egyptian people. A further 59 were picked up from an oil platform; they had been sent at sea with the body of a fellow migrant shot by smugglers, says AP. As of 19 September the ship of Open Arms has asked permission to disembark in Malta twice. On 18 September 428 migrants were allowed to disembark in Italy after a dozen requests from the Search and Rescue ship Sea-Watch 3. Onboard Humanity 1, 398 migrants are still waiting to be allowed to disembark and conditions aboard the ship are deteriorating, according to SOS Humanity. The operator organisation states that water and foodstuffs aboard are running out and infectious diseases are spreading. 

Europe: MEPs on visit to assess conflict in Ethiopia, democratic transition in Sudan
Between 20 to 22 September members of the European parliament visited Ethiopia and Sudan to discuss the conflict in Tigray and the struggle for democracy in Sudan. The delegation was led by Members of the European Parliament David McAllister and Robert Biedroń. According to the timetable published by the Parliament the first delegation began its tour in Addis Ababa with the objective of following up on the Strategic report on the Horn of Africa. The delegation met with authorities as well as civil society to discuss the conflict in Tigray and matters of global and regional stability. Ultimately they spoke at the Africa Union headquarters, following up on the European Union – African Union summit held in Brussels in February 2022. Once in Sudan on the 22nd the delegation showed support for the ongoing struggle for democracy and met Sudanese authorities as well as civil society representatives to discuss the transition of power from General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, current chair of the “so-called Transitional Sovereignty Council” , says a Parliament report. According to the European Parliament, the second delegation focused on gender based violence related to “harmful traditional practices and of the armed conflict” as well as the as the assessment of the Regional UNFPA-UNICEF Joint Programme on the Elimination of Female Genital Mutilation.

Europe:  Upcoming reform of the Common European Asylum System
The signature of the Joint Roadmap on Asylum and Migration by the European Parliament and Council on 7 September formalised the legislative trajectory of the projected reforms to the Common European Asylum System. However, due to time constraints it becomes increasingly likely that instead of a holistic reform package, smaller more consensual pieces of legislation will be passed instead, says EU Observer. An EEPA article assesses what this means for the EU asylum system. Activists warn that among these pieces of legislation are some that could be deeply detrimental to the European and global asylum system such as the instrumentalisation legislation currently pushed by the Czech presidency of the Council, warns the European Council on Refugees and Exiles.

Greece: Migration and asylum minister calls for increased European solidarity
On 19 September, Notis Mitarachi, Greek minister of migration and asylum, addressed the Committee on Migration, Refugees and Displaced Persons of the Parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, asserting that a European solution was needed to combat human smuggling, reports Info Migrants. In his speech he states that the vast majority of migrants would not be arriving directly from countries at risk; instead the smuggling networks would be making fortunes selecting those who make it to Europe. This comes as Greece continues to be accused of pushing back migrants at sea (such as an alleged 19 September pushback of 35 migrants in Rhodes) , says info migrants. The Greek government denies this, stating it is merely protecting its border and accusing Turkey of pushing migrants towards Greece. 

Germany: NGOs denounce Berlin’s admission programme for Afghans
Humanitarian organisations, including Amnesty International and Reporters sans Frontières, have sent a letter to German Chancellor Olaf Scholz denouncing the poor organisation and lengthy procedures of Berlin’s admission programme for Afghan refugees. “In the form envisaged so far, we consider the federal admission program to be extremely questionable in terms of organisation and content,” wrote the letter, obtained by AFP on Monday 19 September. The admission programme was designed after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan in August 2021, to accommodate vulnerable groups such as human rights defenders, journalists and people employed by public institutions, writes InfoMigrants. However, humanitarian organisations say the programme can only be effective if Germany continues to issue humanitarian visas and speed up family reunification processes, as thousands of people are still waiting for a visa appointment, InfoMigrants adds. The organisations are threatening to pull out of the process if no reforms are made. 


World: Hunger crisis deepens as one dies of hunger every four seconds
On 20 September, a collective of over 200 NGOs addressed an open letter to the world leaders gathered for the United Nations General assembly in New York, says Al Jazeera. In this letter they call for decisive international action to “end the spiralling global hunger crisis”. According to the NGOs, “a staggering 345 million people are now experiencing acute hunger, a number that has more than doubled since 2019,(…) despite promises from world leaders to never allow famine again in the 21st century, famine is once more imminent in Somalia. Around the world, 50 million people are on the brink of starvation in 45 countries”. The open letter accuses “deadly mix of poverty, social injustice, gender inequality, conflict, climate change, and economic shocks” for the global hunger crisis and points out the negative impact of the coronavirus pandemic and Ukraine war on the increasing food prices.

UNHCR: A debate on the promotion of all human rights
The UN Secretary-General and the High Commissioner for Human Rights submitted thematic reports to the UN Human Rights Council on 21 September on the promotion and protection of human rights. Among the topics discussed during the debates, speakers stressed the importance of upholding “civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights, including the right to development”. Several speakers called for the right to development to be integrated into the UN system by the adoption of the draft convention on the right to development, the press release said. In addition, several speakers denounced the pressure and surveillance experienced by journalists and human rights defenders around the world, and called for a promotion of “the greater involvement of civil society in public affairs, and ensure that civil society organisations could carry out their activities in a protective environment”.