News Highlights: Violence increases in Oromia, Food situation dire in Somalia, Rights groups state EU complicit in Libya’s migrant abuse

In this week’s news highlights: Violence increases in Oromia; Meta sued for 2 billion USD over violence in Ethiopia; UNHCR increases assistance in North Ethiopia as peace returns; Accountability compromised in CoH Agreement, says Dr Mehari; WHO Director General says uncle “murdered” by Eritrean troops; 27 Ethiopian migrants found dead in Zambia; Famine momentarily averted but people continue dying in Somalia; Somali government accuses al-Shabaab of displacing civilians; As Eritrea continues fighting in Tigray the suffering is also felt at home; Violence in Upper Nile State of South Sudan causes overcrowding at UN camp; Sudanese transitional framework fails to address justice reforms, says HRW; Sudan and Emirati group to develop port on the Red Sea; Traumatised migrants and refugees continue arriving from Libya; Asylum seekers look to the UN to reclaim human rights; UN experts to assess violence against women and girls in Libya; Rights groups state EU complicit in Libya’s migrant abuse; EU’s new plan on migration with African partners; Italy’s anti civilian rescue policy raises tensions in the Mediterranean; and The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit.

Horn of Africa

Ethiopia: Violence increases in Oromia
Conflict is intensifying in Oromia, Ethiopia’s most populated region, says AP News. The fighting has seen numerous civilian casualties, including in drone strikes. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission found that Oromo civilians were victims of grave human rights violations by federal security forces and in clashes between armed groups. So far calls for the Ethiopian federal government to settle the conflict in a peaceful manner have fallen on deaf ears. 80 members of the Ethiopian parliament from the Oromia region submitted a letter to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed demanding the government to peacefully settle the conflict. Both the Oromo and Amhara witnesses told AP News are alleging that civilians are being targeted by the other’s armed groups. Oromia has also been coming under increased attack from federal security forces. Telecommunication networks are often cut and victims who speak out fear retaliation, keeping the true toll of this conflict unknown, says AP. So far the Ethiopian federal government has declined to comment on the situation. Ethiopian forces have been fighting against the Oromo Liberation Army. 

Ethiopia: Meta sued for 2 billion USD over violence in Ethiopia
According to the BBC, Meta is being sued in Kenya’s High Court for 2 billion USD by the campaign group Foxglobe to cover damages and to change their algorithm over the killing of an Ethiopian Professor of Tigray ethnic origin on 3 November 2021 after hate posts on Facebook. Despite complaints, Facebook failed to promptly remove hateful posts about him. The 2 billion USD would make up a fund for victims of hate on Facebook, says the BBC. Facebook representatives argue that hate speech goes against their company policy and that they have been dedicating increased resources to collaborate with local civil society organisations and international institutions to better control its spread on their platform.

Ethiopia: UNHCR increases assistance in North Ethiopia as peace returns
The UN Refugee Agency stated they will step up assistance to conflict-affected populations in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray, Afar and Amhara regions. The signing of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement has allowed for a large uptick of humanitarian aid provision to Tigray, says the UNHCR. They have been able to reactivate teams that had remained in Mekelle and Shire during the war and are as of the 09 December able to deliver to Maichew, Adigrat and Abi Adi. The UNHCR was also able to participate in the relocation of thousands of Eritrean refugees. However, as highlighted by the latest report of The Tigray Emergency Coordination Center, humanitarian distribution remains hampered by the inaccessibility of certain North Tigray Woredas along the border with Eritrea, lack of fuel, communications issues, reduced rations and lack of cash. As of 08 December, round two of distribution has so far failed to address the food needs of 69% of the target population. The shortage of food is unlikely to change until humanitarian access is improved as the 2022 harvest will not meet those food needs.

Ethiopia: Accountability must not be compromised in the name of a peace deal
Prof. Mehari Taddele Maru stated that the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement between Tigray and Ethiopia should not come at the expense of justice for the victims of the war in Tigray. He criticised the agreement for its vague legal provision which may fail to hold Ethiopian authorities accountable, the agreement only stating that the government would adopt “a comprehensive national transitional justice policy aimed at accountability, ascertaining the truth, redress for victims, reconciliation, and healing, consistent with the Constitution [of Ethiopia] and the African Union Transitional Justice Policy Framework”. According to him, “there have already been early signs that there is no political will to seek accountability,” referring to the impeding of Ethiopian authorities on the work of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia when investigating atrocity crimes in Tigray. 

Ethiopia: WHO Director General says uncle “murdered” by Eritrean troops
World Health Organisation Director General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, stated that his uncle had been “murdered” by Eritrean troops in Tigray. He added that 50 other people were killed in the same incident. Eritrean Information Minister Yemane Gebremeskel has so far not provided a response, nor were Ethiopian authorities available for comments, says  Al Jazeera

Etiopia: 27 Ethiopian migrants found dead in Zambia
Zambian Police discovered the bodies of 27 Ethiopian people believed to be migrating to South Africa in the outskirts of Lusaka. They are suspected to have died of hunger and exhaustion, according to authorities. Voice of America reports that the sole survivor was rushed to hospital while those that succumbed were taken to a mortuary for identification and post mortems. 

Somalia: Famine momentarily averted but people continue dying
The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) stated on 13 December that “famine had been avoided because host communities and relief teams had helped those in most need” in Somalia. They do caution however that food security remains “catastrophic”. They estimate that between now and June the number of those in need is expected to triple from 214.000 to 727.000 as drought, violence and displacement continue to worsen the crisis. 7.8 million Somalians remain badly food insecure, OCHA says. According to a report by the UN, the “most likely scenario” is that 700.000 people will find themselves in a situation of famine between April and June 2023 as the sixth straight rainy season is expected to fail. AP News defines famine as “extreme lack of food and a significant death rate from outright starvation or malnutrition combined with diseases like cholera. A formal famine declaration means data shows more than a fifth of households have extreme food gaps, more than 30% of children are acutely malnourished and over two people out of 10,000 are dying every day”.

Somalia: Somali government accuses al-Shabaab of displacing civilians
The Somali military has accused al-Shabaab of deliberately displacing civilians away from areas captured by government forces. They believe al-Shabaab’s strategy is to prevent collaboration with the government; there have been reports of the group kidnapping relatives of those serving in government-aligned militias as retaliation, says Voice of America. Brigadier General Abdullahi Ali Anod, spokesperson for the Somali military stated “[w]e are fighting over territory and over the people”. al-Shabaab’s shadow government has refuted the claims. Yusuf Isse Kabakutukade, shadow governor for the Middle Shabelle region, stated “no one can kidnap 10,000 humans”. 

Eritrea: As Eritrea continues fighting in Tigray the suffering is also felt at home
The Eritrean authorities have been aggressively rounding up people to support their war effort in Tigray, says Gedab News. Eritreans have described the situation as “reminiscent of Eritrea’s previous occupiers”. Families who fail to report youth to join the military are evicted and their homes sealed for all to see, with breaking the seal inducing severe punishment. Special forces were brought into the cities to do house to house searches for any would-be draft dodgers. There are reports of families refusing to continue suffering in silence. Previously evicted parents said to Gedab News, “the insecurity of the people has become unbearable, and we are not afraid of any consequences anymore”. Rural communities are hit hardest. Their reliance on youthful hands to work the fields and take care of herds has left them extremely vulnerable, especially as hiding proves more challenging than in urban areas, says Gedab News. 

South Sudan: Violence in Upper Nile State causes overcrowding at UN camp
The Malakal camp, protected by UN forces, is experiencing a large influx of internally displaced civilians following violence in the Upper Nile State of South Sudan, says Voice of America. The site, designed to host 12.000 people, now has more than 37.000 occupants with thousands more arriving. The situation is made worse by the ongoing flood episodes in the country, worsening conditions, complicating supply logistics and increasing displacements. Those who cannot be housed in the camp are forced to flee to Sudan, a country struggling with an influx of refugees, says Voice of America. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Volker Türk, called on 14 December to end the violence and human rights violations. “It is important that the Government of South Sudan conducts a prompt, thorough and impartial investigation into the violence and brings all those responsible to account in accordance with international law,” he added. UN Human rights experts are also calling for South Sudan to increase efforts to combat human trafficking as “Conflict-related sexual violence including trafficking, remains a serious concern” stated Siobhán Mullaly, Special Rapporteur on trafficking in persons.

Sudan: Transitional framework fails to address justice reforms, says HRW
Human Rights Watch warns that the newly signed transitional agreement between the military authorities of Sudan and the Forces of Freedom and Change does not provide any time frame or details for justice and security sector reforms. The agreement provides for the creation of a transitional government built by and under civilian leadership and “reiterates commitments to promote freedoms and rights and accountability, and to reform security forces” but remains very vague on their nature, deferring clarification to later negotiations. Protest groups and resistance committees have rejected the agreement. Human Rights Watch calls for Sudanese political actors to ensure that progress on human rights and accountability for serious human rights violations are central to any new transition.They ask International supporters, especially the United States, United Kingdom, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and the United Nations, to pressure Sudanese authorities into upholding human rights norms and not allowing any form of impunity for those who have committed or overseen serious crimes. 

Sudan: Sudan and Emirati group to develop port on the Red Sea
Sudan has inked a deal with the UAE’s AD Ports Group and Invictus Investment to build and operate the Abu Amama port and economic zone on the Red Sea with a $6-billion investment, says Reuters. The deal signed on 13 December will allow for the construction of an economic zone, an airport and an agricultural zone of 415,000 acres about 200 km north of Port Sudan. It will  be linked by road to the agricultural area of Abu Hamad in the Nile River state. The port would seek to compete with Port Sudan that has suffered from stoppages linked with political turmoil. The Sudanese state would be entitled to 35% of the profits of the joint venture, said Sudan’s Finance Minister Jibril Ibrahim.

North Africa

Mediterranean: Traumatised migrants and refugees continue arriving from Libya
On 11 December, the boat Geo Barents arrived in Salerno, Italy, delivering 258 people. On the same day, in Bari, Italy, the boat Humanity 1 disembarked 261. Aboard Humanity 1, many survivors bore signs of torture and sexual abuse inflicted upon them in Libya, states ANSA. The conditions of detention left many at the mercy of malnourishment and dehydration. Aboard the Geo Barents, ANSA recounts the story of Condé, a ten year old boy from Guinea, who left one year ago with his older brother, who is still stranded in Libya, and other stories of survivors. 

Libya: Asylum seekers look to the UN to reclaim human rights
Human Rights Day, 10 December, marked the second day of a sit-in at the UN’s refugee agency headquarters in Geneva. Civil society organisations alongside asylum seekers are demanding that the human rights recognised by the United Nations 74 years ago be made a reality, says Al Jazeera. Their objective is to make sure the rights of those enduring the inhumane conditions of detention in Libya are respected. David Yambio, an asylum seeker who arrived in Libya in 2018 before reaching Italy last June, told Al Jazeera: “their rights have been violated and the UNHCR has been watching passively”. The UNHCR stated that it “stands in solidarity with asylum seekers and refugees who live under extremely difficult conditions in Libya” but that “Libya is not a safe place for refugees and asylum seekers” and “emphasises that States have the primary responsibility of protecting these people (refugees)”. UNHCR representatives have met with demonstrators to discuss their concerns while emphasising the limitations of the institution’s mandate.

Libya: UN experts to assess violence against women and girls
UN Special Rapporteur on violence against women and girls, Reem Alsalem, will visit Libya from 14 to 19 December at the invitation of the Libyan Government of National Unity. She will be focusing on systemic causes of gender-based violence and the situations faced by those women and girls that encounter “multiple and intersecting” forms of discrimination. The main population targeted will be “nationals of Libya, stateless, refugee, asylum seeker and other migrant women and girls of different backgrounds”. She will review the implementation of Libya’s commitment to international legal, institutional and policy frameworks while visiting Tripoli and Benghazi to meet with representatives of the government, International Organizations, civil society and survivors of violence. Her preliminary findings will be shared in a conference on 19 December, the full report will be presented to the UN Human Rights council in June 2023.


European Union: Rights groups state EU complicit in Libya’s migrant abuse
Human Rights Watch has accused Frontex of being complicit to migrant abuse in Libya by facilitating the interception of migrant ships by Libyan coast guards. Following a data-based investigation, tracing Frontex drones surveilling the Migration routes from Libya, they concluded that Frontex has been using its aerial surveillance technology to assist Libya in locating said ships instead of conducting search and rescue operations. This assistance to Libya is done by Frontex in the knowledge that those intercepted will be returned to inhumane conditions of detention in Libya, says Human Rights Watch. According to HRW, the use of Frontex’s surveillance technology to inform Libyan coast guards as to the whereabouts of ships, and not NGO search and rescue operations also present in the area, indicates that Frontex’s mission is to prevent people reaching Europe, not ensure their safety. The European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights had previously filed a complaint on 29 November 2022 before the International Criminal Court, holding the European Union partly responsible for the actions committed against migrants and refugees in Libya.

European Union: EU working in coordination with African partners on migration
The European Union and African partners have launched two Team Europe Initiatives, focused on the Atlantic/Western Mediterranean and the Central Mediterranean migratory routes, announced the European Commission. It stated this was a shared priority for both continents in line with the EU-AU Joint Vision for 2030. The initiatives are reportedly focused on ensuring joint EU member states efforts in addressing migration challenges due to an increased flows and abuses perpetrated by “smuggling networks”. In both cases the partners aim to build on the five pillars of the Joint Valletta plan; prevention of irregular migration, countering smuggling and trafficking in human beings, legal migration and mobility, protection of the migrants and asylum seekers, return, readmission and sustainable reintegration and migration and development. The Commission also reiterated its commitment to assisting all member states facing challenges in the area of migration. 

Mediterranean: ECRE warns of policy direction of stopping arrivals instead of saving lives
The European Council for Refugees and Exiles (ECRE) warns that, while lives at sea continue to be in danger, the EU and member states still pursue a policy focused on limiting arrivals with the Commission “recycling […] old mistakes”. On 25 November the Commission’s action plan to “address the immediate challenges along the Central Mediterranean migratory route” was endorsed by EU Interior Ministers. This plan focuses on reducing irregular and unsafe migration, providing solutions in the area of search and rescue and reinforcing solidarity between member states, states ECRE. The introduction of this plan coincides with the Italian Prime Minister Meloni’s  continued focus on stopping arrivals to Italy and campaign to see migratory pressure taken off her country’s shoulders. As this takes place, Italian and Libyan authorities continue their policy of complicating civil society efforts to rescue those at sea, says the ECRE. The largest case launched in connection with Italy’s crackdown on civilian rescuers has been postponed for a third time in five years and Libyan coast guards continue to harass civil rescue boats in the Mediterranean. On 04 December the ship Louise Michel reported being approached by 2 Libyan vessels ordering them to leave Libyan waters while being in international waters. The Humanity 1 reported on 06 December that they carried out “an extremely dangerous interception manoeuvre, during which 6 people went overboard & brought the rest forcibly back to Libya”. 


US-Africa: The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit
The US-Africa Leaders’ Summit began in Washington DC on 13 December and will end today, 16 December, focusing on the climate crisis, good governance, food security and global health and bolstering US-Africa trade and investment opportunities, says Al Jazeera. 49 African Leaders and the head of the African Union were conveyed according to US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan. He stated that “The summit … is rooted in the recognition that Africa is a key geopolitical player”. Biden has sought to rebuild relationships with other countries after Trump’s America first approach to foreign policy and as a part of this optic has committed 55 billion USD to Africa in the coming 3 years, says Al Jazeera. The summit was also a way for the US to keep competing with China but also Russia’s growing influence on the continent; especially around the question of Ukraine where Russia has been seeking allies on the continent, says Al Jazeera. Some have however questioned the approach of the White house to the continent, calling for the US to stop associating with autocrats on the continent; the presence of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy has notably raised eyebrows, as Biden stated he was not invited, but the invitation was passed onto him by Ethiopia’s President. In the periphery of the summit, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is reportedly seeking US help as he met with Secretary of State Antony Blinken to pressure Ethiopia into an agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam.