News Highlights: Eritrean forces continue to kill in Tigray, Transitional framework agreement signed in Sudan; European politicians accused of pushback on refugees

In this week’s news highlights: Ethiopian guards massacred Tigrayan prisoners in 2021; Eritrean forces continue killing civilians; TDF fighters redeploy away from front line; Eritrea’s jailed journalists remembered in UK parliament exhibition; Transitional framework agreement signed in Sudan; Sudanese anti-corruption leader freed on eve of transitional framework signature; Declaration of famine delayed in Somalia; Somalia, not just a story of violence and state failure; Somali military retakes key town; UN human rights expert to assess human trafficking in South Sudan; Salva Kiir to run for election; Conflict in Upper Nile region displaces thousands; European politicians accused of conspiring with Libyan coast guard to push back refugees; European Parliament to vote for dangerous EURODAC expansion; 7000 repatriations from Cyprus since January; Italy continues work on a new migration decree; EU prepares measures to curb undocumented migration in Western Balkans; Violence against migrants rising at EU border; No majority found for instrumentalisation regulation; A new approach to tackling hunger in Africa.

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Ethiopian guards massacred Tigrayan prisoners in November 2021
The Washington Post reported that Ethiopian guards killed at least 83 Tigrayan prisoners in November 2021 at a prison camp near Mirab Abaya, one of the woredas (districts) in the Gamo Gofa Zone of in the Southern Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples’ Region of Ethiopia. The article based on witness testimonies states that the killings were ethnically motivated. Attacks on Tigrayan prisoners also took place in Garbassa training centre, the headquarters of the 13th Division in Jigjiga; in prisons in Wondotika and Toga near the city of Hawassa; in the southern area of Didessa; and at the Bilate training centre among others, says the Washington Post. According to Katharine Houreld, the WP East Africa chief, the Mirab Abaya camp commander tried to stop the killings, but failed. The Washington Post has been unable to verify whether the Ethiopian government prosecuted the soldiers responsible for the killings. The Washington Post could not pinpoint where the decision to kill the Tigrayan prisoners originated from.

Ethiopia: TDF fighters redeploy away from front line
Tadesse Wereda, commander-in-chief of the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF) stated that 65% of TDF fighters had left the frontline as of 03 December. Forces were maintained in certain locations (that were not specified) where the general stated their presence was required due to “the problems they [‘anti-peace forces’] are creating for our people, but we have even reduced numbers of our forces in those places”. Al Jazeera states that particularly Eritrean troops have continued to loot, arrest and kill civilians as well as displacing thousands from a disputed part of Tigray in spite of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed in Pretoria in November 2022. The retreat of TDF coincides with progressive resumption of services to the region. As of 06 December power has been restored to Tigray capital’s Mekelle, after a year of being cut off from the national power grid, says Reuters citing state affiliated media. However as Al Jazeera reports the World Health Organisation has stated that they have yet to obtain full and unfettered access to the region to provide humanitarian aid.

Ethiopia: Eritrean forces continue killing civilians
According to a report seen by the Associated Press, Eritrean troops have continued killing civilians in the Tigray region as well as committing other abuses weeks after the signature of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. According to information compiled by the Tigray Emergency Center, 111 civilians were killed and 103 injured in the eastern zone of Tigray between 17 and 25 November. 39 kidnappings, destruction of property and widespread looting were also reported. Reports indicate that Eritrea may be scaling up its military presence in the Tigray region with sources stating that 80-90 trucks of Eritrean troops moved on 05 December towards Axum and Adwa from Eritrea after passing by Shire. This news comes as numerous reports of atrocities by Eritrean troops continue to come in.

Eritrea: Eritrea’s jailed journalists remembered in UK parliament exhibition 
Eritrea’s jailed journalists were remembered on 06 December at the UK parliament in an event celebrating the opening of the exhibition dedicated to them opened by Vice Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea, Patrick Grady, says Eritrea Hub. Speakers at the event included Dr Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Eritrea, Lord David Alton, Lyn Brown MP, Labour Shadow Africa Minister and Awet Fissehaye of PEN Eritrea. These independent journalists jailed in 2001 indefinitely and without trial were the central subject to the speakers who also discussed human rights in the country in general as well as the need for accountability for Tigrayan victims of abuses by Eritrean troops, says Eritrean Hub. 

Sudan: Transitional framework agreement signed
Sudanese military administration leaders and the leaders of the Forces of Democracy and Change signed an agreement on 05 December establishing a civilian-led transitional government. Key players have sat out of the deal and a deadline for the transition to begin has yet to be set, says AP News. This has not prevented UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, from welcoming the agreement on a framework and calling for international support for it. This sentiment is shared by UN General Secretary, António Guterres, who stated his support and that of the UN via the continued involvement of the Trilateral Mechanism (UN mission in Sudan, the African Union (AU), and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD)). US Secretary of State Blinken threatened any actor going against the deal of being placed under travel bans, reports AP News. Al Jazeera reports that loyalists to former leader al-Bashir but also anti-military protest groups have opposed the agreement. Protests are expected to continue, says Al Jazeera.

Sudan: Sudanese anti-corruption politician freed on eve of transitional framework signature
Leftist politician Wagdi Salih was freed on 04 December, a day before the signature of the transitional framework agreement, in the Sudanese capital, says Al Jazeera. He was at the forefront of an anti corruption committee set up after the removal of former ruler Omar al-Bashir in 2019, says Al Jazeera. The committee had come under fire from generals that had been part of the transitional power sharing mechanism alongside their civilian counterparts of the Forces of Freedom and Change; his arrest had been deemed as purely political by the FFC at the time, says Al Jazeera.  

Somalia: Declaration of famine continues to be delayed
Somali president Hassan Sheikh Mohamud has so far avoided declaring a famine in Somalia. Millions of Somali people are suffering from hunger, as the harvest has failed for the fifth time in 5 rainy seasons. International organisations predicted the declaration of a famine would occur in November or December, but this has not happened yet. Somalia wants to avoid the declaration. The President said it would create more problems by increasing foreign interference, and scaring investments away. The United Nations wants to declare a famine to gain attention for the drought and hunger in the region. Currently only 50% of the required funding is being met. 

Somalia: Somalia, not just a story of violence and state failure
Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud wants Somalia to be seen not just through a prism of a history of violence and state failure but for its strengths. While not denying the issues salient in Somalia, he speaks in The Guardian of the complexity of getting the international narrative around his country to shift towards the many development projects and avenues open to it and away from the darkness and violence that dominate it currently.  

Somalia: Somali military retakes key town
Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud said Somali troops supported by local militia took the town of Adan Yabal from Al Shabaab without a fight on 06 December. The town had been a base of operations for the islamist group in the Middle Shabelle region since 2016, says Voice of America. According to Matt Bryden, chairman of Sahan Research, a security and policy think tank focusing on the Horn of Africa, the recapture of the town is important in that it “demonstrates that the combination of government forces, the special forces, the SNA and Ma’awisley, or Community Defense Forces, is working not just in Hiiraan region, it’s working in Middle Shabelle.” He however warns against excessive enthusiasm at the security force’s progress as “There are very legitimate concerns about the government’s ability to hold on to the territory that it is recovering from al-Shabab (…)  it seems that the operational tempo militarily is getting ahead of the planning and of force generation, and that is that there are insufficient holding forces to take these territories after the clearing forces have secured them”.

South Sudan: UN human rights expert to assess human trafficking 
UN Special Rapporteur Siobhán Mullally will assess the situation of trafficking in persons during an official visit to South Sudan from 05 to 14 December. She will be examining trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, forced labour, child and forced marriage, says the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner. She will also be assessing links between climate change, climate related displacement and risks of trafficking. A full report will be presented to the UN Human Rights Council in June 2023.

South Sudan: Salva Kiir to run for election
South Sudan’s current President Salva Kiir  will run for president in elections due to be held in about two years, said his party the  Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM). The party endorsed him as chairman, effectively naming him their candidate for the 2024 election, says Reuters. Kiir accepted the nomination, stating that “I promise you that never again will this country go back to war”.

South Sudan: Conflict in Upper Nile region displaces thousands
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is alarmed at the worsening situation in the Upper Nile region of South Sudan where escalating conflict has displaced 20.000 people since August. The ruthless fighting where civilians are subject to killings, injuries, gender-based violence, abductions, extortion, looting and burning of properties inducing visible trauma on many is spreading further “in [the] Upper Nile, northern parts of Jonglei and Unity states”. Women and children reportedly make up most of those displaced.


EU: European politicians accused of conspiring with Libyan coast guard to push back refugees
High-profile European politicians, including the EU’s former foreign policy chief, Federica Mogherini, former executive director of European border agency Frontex Fabrice Leggeri, Italy’s current and former interior ministers, Marco Minniti, Matteo Salvini and Matteo Piantedosi, and the current and former prime ministers of Malta, Joseph Muscat and Robert Abela, have all been named as suspects of a criminal complaint an NGO submitted to the International Criminal Court. The NGO alleges that they conspired with the Libyan coast guard to illegally push back refugees attempting to cross the Mediterranean, says The Guardian. The complaint was submitted by German NGO European Centre for Constitutional and Human Rights and accuses the officials of “crimes against humanity in the form of the severe deprivation of physical liberty” between 2018 and 2021 caused by systematically intercepting and returning to detention in Libya boats from the Mediterranean. While officials of EU agencies usually are granted immunity for actions performed in their quality of EU officials, this can be waived in certain circumstances and they could be summoned to The Hague if the ICC were to accept the complaint. 

European Parliament: EP set to vote on expansion of the EURODAC
The Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice and Home Affairs of the European Parliament is set to vote coming Monday, 12 December, on expansion of the EURODAC database. The database manages asylum applications in Europe. However, NGOs warn that the expansion threatens to transform the EURODAC into an extreme surveillance tool against refugees and migrants. Among other concerns, the NGOs point out that children as young as 6 can be included in the database, together with detailed biometrics such as face scans. Such data can endanger the privacy and protection of refugees and migrants, and goes against their fundamental rights.

Cyprus: 7000 repatriations since January
Cypriot authorities have stated that they have repatriated nearly 7.000 migrants since January 2022. They believe this equates to about half of those who entered the country without papers over the year and places Cyprus as the country with the highest repatriation per capita of the year, says Info Migrants. Cyprus’ government warned multiple times that it was becoming overwhelmed, mainly by population movements originating from the Turkish part of the island. In the inability to reduce migration, Cyprus has turned increasingly to repatriation strategies.

Italy: Italy continues work on a new migration decree
Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi announced that the Italian government will soon be publishing its first decree on migration. The new decree would reportedly tie the number of migrants allowed to work in Italy to the willingness of their home country to limit irregular migration and facilitate repatriations, and seek to assess the quantity of people already present in the country in order to measure the number for those who could be employed and allowed into the country, says Ansa. An employer “who wishes to hire a foreigner who resides abroad, either with a fixed term contract or indefinitely, [will be required] to document the lack of availability of workers already present on national territory,” said the interior minister. The Italian government has also seized the opportunity to call for increased European solidarity on what Meloni called “the southern front”. She stated that repatriations should be handled at a European level and touted the importance of the central mediterranean route on the Commission’s agenda as a victory, says Ansa.

EU: EU prepares support measures to curb undocumented migration in Western Balkans
On the eve of the EU-Western Balkan summit held on 06 December, the European Commission presented an action plan seeking to tackle the rise of refugees and migrants entering the EU via the region, says Euractiv. The proposal is based around five pillars: strengthening border management along the routes; swift asylum procedures and support reception capacity; fighting migrant smuggling; enhancing readmission cooperation and returns and achieving visa policy alignment. This could include Frontex personnel being deployed in the region, says Euractiv. The plan would also provide for visa policy alignments between Western Balkan countries and the EU, says Euractiv.

EU: Violence against migrants rising at EU border
A report  compiled by the Border Violence Monitoring Network, a coalition of NGOs that has gathered testimony from 15 countries along the EU’s external border exposing thousands of alleged illegal expulsions at the EU border, exposes the increasingly brutal border control methods exercised by EU member states and agencies. The report is an update of the 2020 edition of The Black Book of Pushbacks, offering a total compilation of 1,633 individuals telling of illegal expulsions affecting nearly 25,000 people since 2017, says The Guardian. The findings of the report indicate that only 5% of interviewees had not witnessed use of excessive force while being expelled from Europe. The pandemic only worsened the situation by diminishing oversight and the report alledges that border guards in 13 countries implemented “deterrence tactics” such as “prolonged beatings, shaving of heads, forced undressing, sexual assaults and dog attacks, among others.” This in spite of EU and international law enshrining the rights to claim asylum. Amnesty International, working on the basis of a report by Lighthouse Reports, a collaborative journalism NGO, describes how European authorities deliberately detain people near the EU’s external border to facilitate pushbacks. These unofficial detention sites, often in isolated areas, are hotbeds of abuses, says Amnesty. Amnesty states that “[t]he authorities are intentionally operating sites outside of formal systems of detention or accommodation to avoid scrutiny. Today’s (08 December) announcement that Croatia is joining the Schengen area shows that the EU condones, and even rewards these illegal practices, and is willing to sacrifice human rights to prevent people from entering the EU”.

EU: No majority found for instrumentalisation regulation
The European Council has failed to find a majority on the instrumentalisation regulation. The regulation sought to “create(s) a mechanism that would allow Member States to deviate from standards related to asylum procedures, reception and return in any situation they believe to be “instrumentalisation” says the European Council on Refugees and Exiles. The version of the proposal voted on on 08 December went even further than that initially proposed by the Commission, lowering the threshold for what could be termed instrumentalisation. It remains to be seen what happens with the regulation going forward and which directions the following Council presidencies take with asylum reform in the future, says the ECRE. 


Africa: A new approach to tackling hunger in Africa
The President of Ivory Coast, Alassane Ouattara, has called for a “new approach” to tackle hunger in Africa. A fifth of the continent, 1.3 billion people, are currently facing hunger. According to him, this hunger and malnutrition threatens the future of the continent due to its influence on cognitive and physical development it can have on those that suffer from it. He stated they are caused by a multitude of issues, including political instability, the climate crisis, and the pandemic. He called for closer cooperation between African countries to identify and address the causes of hunger; The Malabo declaration objectives for 2030 are crucial to be met, he stated. He calls for the creation of an African “holistic” approach focusing on “sustainable institutional, political, legal and financial environment in terms of food security and nutrition, by coordinating efforts – at national, regional and continental levels”. Among the initiatives to develop these new approaches is the AU summit on malnutrition and food security that was held on 8 December.