News Highlights: Dialogue on Eritrea in the UN HRC, Proposed UK bill would violate international law, warns EU, Sudan sanctions extended

In this week’s news highlights: UN High Commissioner calls for full implementation of CoH Agreement; Tigray government says interim administration not yet formed; UNHCR assessment in Eastern Tigray reveals widespread abuses; Witnesses speak on Eritrean massacre in October 2022; Effects of Tigray blockade linger; Interactive dialogue on Eritrea in the HRC; Concern over Eritrean information centre in Uganda; Victims of clashes in Somalia need aid; UNSC extends Sudan sanctions; South Sudanese ministers dismissed; UN HRC hears of impunity for abuses in South Sudan; 14 people drown off Tunisian coast, as racist attacks spike; EU pledges further support to Libya in letter; UK’s proposed bill would violate international law, says EU Commissioner; France/UK leaders meet to discuss migration; Hungary continues blocking extension Contonou Agreement; Justice and Home Affairs Council EU discusses migration; Belgium announces increase in reception capacity; and Italy accuses Greece of turning away boats.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/Eritrea: UN High Commissioner calls for full implementation of the CoH Agreement
At the 52nd UN Human Rights Council session, Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, called for the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement between Ethiopia and Tigray to be fully effected, including the element of transitional justice. He expressed concern over the continued presence in Tigray of Amhara Regional Forces and Fano militia, as well as Eritrean forces, who have “reportedly perpetrated very serious violations.” He calls for “tangible progress on accountability regarding conflict-related violations and abuses […]”. During the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) 52nd Interactive Dialogue on the situation in Eritrea the Council stated that the withdrawal of the Eritrean army from Ethiopia’s Tigray region remains slow. Mrs. Nada Al-Nashif, UN’s Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, described it as: “very slow and largely incomplete”. The withdrawal is required under the CoH agreement. The UN HRC emphasised the importance of monitoring and reporting of the withdrawal of all Eritrean troops from Tigray. Representatives of the HRC called for immediate withdrawal of all Eritrean forces. Meanwhile, Human Rights Watch urges the EU to consider a benchmarked approach in its rapprochement with Ethiopia with “specific, measurable, and ambitious recommendations and indicators”. According to Foreign Policy, the US is also considering restarting support to Ethiopia. 

Tigray: Interim administration not yet formed, says Tigray government
Referring to the news that a Tigray Interim Regional Administration (IRA) was established over the weekend, the spokesperson for the Tigray government, Getachew Reda, states that the “Tigray Interim Administration will be established only after mutual consultations between the parties to the Pretoria Agreement.” The spokesperson and negotiator of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement said: “Reports of the IRA having been established in Tigray without Addis’ involvement flies in the face of the reality. Tigray is only trying to do its part.”

Tigray: UNHCR assessment reveals widespread violations by Eritrean troops in Eastern Tigray
A UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) report on displacement in Eastern Tigray finds large-scale destruction; almost 3000 houses are fully destroyed. 95% of primary schools and 86% of high schools, 94% of health clinics, 100% of civil registration offices, 85% of marketplaces and 63% of water points have been fully destroyed. The rates of sexual and gender based violence are assessed as “very high”. The village of Kokob Tsibah with a population of over 10.000, which served as a stronghold for Eritrean forces, was fully displaced and is now returning. The villagers buried 34 dead on the day that UNHCR visited. UNHCR also identified 1 person kidnapped from the village, 11 persons tortured by Eritrean forces, and 150 survivors of sexual violence in this village alone. Eritrean forces were observed in the village on 13 February 2023. In the observed villages, there is widespread destruction, unexploded ordinances that make farming impossible, destruction and looting of all livestock and crops, acute food shortages, no access to healthcare, no functioning schools or administration offices, and most people lost their livelihoods. Sheba Leather Industries, one of Ethiopia’s leading leather manufacturers, is destroyed as a consequence of the war in Tigray, finds the Confederation of Ethiopian Trade Union after conducting an assessment on the situation.

Tigray: Further information on massacre by Eritrean troops
DW interviewed a witness whose husband, a priest, and son were killed by Eritrean troops just before the CoH Agreement was signed. She was denied burial in the Church graveyard by Eritrean soldiers. A social worker told DW that the victims of the massacre committed by Eritrean soldiers ranged from 2 to 92 years old. They were reportedly massacred and mutilated as revenge for an Eritrean loss on the battlefield. Eritrean soldiers massacred at least 300 recorded civilians over the course of one week in various villages just before the CoH Agreement, according to the Adwa administration. 

Tigray: Effects of blockade linger
Despite the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, trauma and lack of cash and aid continue to impact on civilians in Tigray. Some Internally Displaced Persons in Mekelle state that they have not received aid in three months. They also report inadequate shelter. Reports show lack of cash in the Tigray region. 5 billion birr which was sent by the National Bank of Ethiopia was withdrawn and fully depleted after one week. Aksum University published a bank account number to which the financial help of the national and international community is invited to contribute to institutional rehabilitation. Witness stories from Tigray illustrate the severe trauma in Tigray through witness accounts of massacres and rape, reported by the Neue Zürger Zeitung (NZZ). Children in Tigray face extensive war trauma and should receive treatment for this, states VoA. Children continue to face issues such as fear of planes, due to airstrikes and drone attacks. 

Eritrea: Interactive dialogue at the human rights council
The UN Human Rights Council (HRC) held an interactive dialogue on human rights in Eritrea. Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, Special Rapporteur for the situation of human rights in Eritrea, said that no progress has been observed in the enhancement of human rights in the country.  He added that witnesses confirmed increased forced conscription by the military. Volker Türk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, expressed concern over the increased “use of forced and prolonged conscription, a practice that is akin to enslavement and the main driver of refugee outflows.” The UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights,Nada Al-Nashif, stated that there is no sign of improvement with regards to the human rights situation in Eritrea and Eritrea “has not taken any step to establish accountability mechanisms for violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed by its army in the context of the Tigray conflict.” She also stated that perpetrators in the Eritrean army are allowed to act with impunity. Nada Al-Nashif added that in Eritrea “there is no genuine prospect that the domestic judicial system will hold perpetrators to account”. The UN HRC considered the persistent human rights violations in Eritrea, described as: “dire”. The UN HRC considered that the situation in Eritrea continues to be characterized by serious human rights violations, including torture, arbitrary detention, enforced disappearances and restrictions of the rights to freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly. Nada Al-Nashif expressed concern that “these human rights violations were committed in the context of complete impunity” in Eritrea, according to a statement of the UN HRC. Human Rights Watch stated its concern over ongoing collective punishment of relatives and family members in Eritrea. The Eritrean delegation rejected all the accusations and stated these were motivated by foreign desires to intervene in the country. 

Eritrea/Uganda: Concern over information centre for Eritreans
The Ugandan Government pledged to establish an Information Centre for Eritreans living in Uganda to support bilateral relations between the two countries. Concern is expressed that the Eritrean Information Centre will expose refugees from Eritrea to persecution in Uganda. The Eritrean government is allegedly keeping a firm hold on the Eritrean diaspora in other countries and this includes refugees who try to escape from the dire human rights situation in the country. Concern was raised that the proposed Information Centre may give the Government of Eritrea greater leeway in pursuing refugees from the country in Uganda.

Somalia: Victims of clashes need aid
In a statement, the UN relief official in Somalia appealed for unhindered humanitarian access to all those in need as clashes between security forces and clan leaders in Laascaanood in northern Somalia intensified. OCHA reports heavy fighting on the outskirts of the town since 6 March. According to the statement, at least 80 people were killed in the violence in the disputed Sool Region, with 451 injuries among those not fighting, including medical personnel. At least 200,000 people have been displaced following month-long clashes in Laascaanood town of Northern Somalia. A traditional leader told VoA that there is no chance of a ceasefire as long as Somaliland troops are within shooting range. UN OCHA states the humanitarian response is limited due to insecurity. The UN also appeals for aid for the estimated 100,000 displaced persons who fled to Ethiopia. 

Sudan: UNSC extends sanctions
The UN Security Council extended sanctions on Sudan – an arms embargo and targeted sanctions in relation to Darfur – for another year. China and Russia abstained from voting. Negotiations over the draft resolution were heated, and some text was dropped from the initial version, notes the Security Council Report; this includes language of concern over aggressive recruiting campaigns of Rapid Support Forces (RSF), Sudan Armed Forces (SAF) and Darfurian armed movements.Meanwhile, 700 new recruits of the RSF have been transferred from Darfur to Khartoum for training, reported a senior RSF officer to the Sudan Tribune. The RSF officer denied allegations that it was done in reaction to the escalating relationship between the RSF commander Mohamed Dagalo ‘Hemedti’ and Chief of the National Army, Abdel Fattah al-Burhan.

South Sudan: Ministers dismissed without explanation
In South Sudan, President Salva Kiir dismissed the Foreign Minister on 8 March. Earlier, the Minister of Defense and the Minister of Interior were relieved from duties. These changes are considered as a potential challenge to the peace process and disrupting the balances between the main parties. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement, who had delivered the Minister of Defense, protested the move. Peace activist Edmund Yakani expressed concern that this may disrupt the peace process in South Sudan and called on IGAD to mediate. Strengthening relations with Russia may be associated with the evolving situation which could disrupt the process of preparing elections in South Sudan by the end of the year.

South Sudan: UN HRC hears of impunity in South Sudan
The UN Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan presented its report to the UN Human Rights Council in its 52nd session. The Commission warned that state actors continue to be involved in gross human rights violations. This includes attacks against civilians, sexual violence and extrajudicial killings sponsored by the state. Announced investigations have not led to any reports or accountability. The civic space that is required for meaningful preparation towards elections has all but disappeared, states the Commission. The UN notes that Human Rights Division documented 714 violent incidents affecting 3,469 civilians in 2022; around 1,600 were killed, 988 injured, and 501 abducted.

North Africa

Tunisia: 14 drown off the coast of Sfax as racist attacks surge
14 people from Sub-Saharan Africa have drowned off the Tunisian coast at Sfax. Tunisian authorities state that 54 were rescued. The causes for the sinking of the boat were not reported. Advocacy groups have recorded an increase in racist attacks in Tunisia against Sub-Saharan migrants and refugees after the President stated migrants are a plot to change the national identity. Many, including migrants that came to the country legally, are afraid to go outside. European Commissioner for Home Affairs Ylva Johansson stated that the President’s comments were ‘worrying’ but indicated that the EU will continue cooperating with Tunisia on stopping migration.

Libya: EU to further support Libya in stopping migration
In a letter seen by EUObserver, the European Commission indicates that it means to give “further support to Libya’s maritime border management and search-and-rescue capacities.” The letter was sent to Italy’s prime minister Georgia Meloni. The letter indicates that the EU wants to build further cooperation with Tunisia and Egypt as well. The International Organization for Migration denounced the treatment of refugees and migrants in Libya on Wednesday. It noted that 5,000 refugees and migrants are currently in detention, but these are just the tip of the iceberg. The UNHCR noted in its weekly Libya update that on 26 February, five unidentified dead bodies washed ashore near Shat Al Badin. 


UK: EU criticises UK “Illegal Migration Bill”
The European Commissioner of Home Affairs, Ylva Johansson, said that the UK “Illegal Migration Bill” would violate international law. She added that every refugee has a right to ask for asylum and that the UK should attempt to make their system faster, as it is presently very slow. The bill, proposed by the UK government,  would detain anyone arriving via boats for 28 days and send them back to their country of origin or to a third country such as Rwanda. Anyone removed from the UK will receive a lifetime entry ban, and anti-slavery laws cannot be used to stop the deportation. UNHCR stated that the UK’s bill would amount to an “asylum ban”. Meanwhile, preparations are ongoing in Rwanda to accept the first group of asylum seekers from the UK. 

France/UK: Leaders meet to discuss migration
British Prime Minister Sunak and French President Macron are meeting today to discuss, among others, migration. The meeting is the first bilateral summit in five years. Sunak has been pushing France to do more to stop refugees and migrants from crossing the Channel. The Times stated that an announcement will be made that the UK will invest in French police, security and intelligence to reach this goal. In a letter sent ahead of the meeting, Medecins Sans Frontieres criticised the countries for “relentless intimidation, violence and degrading treatment perpetrated in the name of ‘border enforcement’”. 

Hungary: EU and ACP lawmakers urge Hungary to lift veto on Cotonou Agreement
EU and African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) lawmakers have urged Hungary to lift its veto on the Cotonou Agreement, which has been extended several times, says Euractiv. Hungary has not yet approved the latest renewal of the agreement because the provisions on the repatriation of migrants are “too weak”. This poses problems for the EU as the treaty covers political and economic relations with the ACP (79 members), and the delay is considered a show of bad faith by the EU. The current extension is set to end in June 2023, and the delay is threatening to cause a legal gap. 

EU: Justice and Home Affairs council discusses migration
During the Justice and Home Affairs Council on 9 and 10 March, internal and external aspects of migration were discussed. The ministers announced that they plan to agree on a common position on key aspects of the Immigration and Asylum Pact by June 2023. The ministers urged the EU to step up the action plans on different routes, discussed implementation on the Dublin roadmap and noted the relaunch of the European contact group on search and rescue. Several countries also stressed that the current Dublin rules, stipulating that asylum claims should be assessed in the first country of entry, should be respected. Italy suspended the rule temporarily in December, citing overstretched reception centers. Ahead of the meeting, the ministers in charge of the migration policies of Cyprus, Greece, Italy, Malta and Spain met in Velletta and stated they want more action to be taken by other countries in the EU since the external borders are taking most of the pressure from the migration crisis. The ministers also said that more collaboration is needed with the countries from where the refugees come from. 

Belgium: Belgium announces increase in reception capacity
Belgian asylum and migration minister, Nicole de Moor, announced that Belgium will expand its capacity for the reception of refugees to better manage what she called a migration “crisis,” reports Reuters. Belgium has so far been unable to host all incoming asylum seekers, causing many to squat in abandoned buildings and Brussel’s “tent city”. Belgium plans to add 2,000 beds. Pressure is rising for the EU to act, especially with last month’s tragic shipwreck. 

Italy/Greece: Italy accuses Greece of turning away boats Italian Interior Minister Matteo Piantedosi accused Greece of turning away a boat that resulted in a shipwreck with at least 60 casualties off the shore of Crotone, Italy, at the end of February, according to Euractiv. Moreover, Italy accused Greece of letting migration ships pass to go to Italy. Greece has reportedly rejected 73 boats in 2023. Protests have emerged over Italy’s lack of effective response to the deadly shipwreck. The European Court of Human Rights condemned Greece for the rejection of a boat that later sank. Meanwhile, in a letter seen by Euractiv, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, praised Italy’s response to irregular migration just days after the shipwreck. Facilities in Italy are over capacity; in Lampedusa, admissions are close to 1,300 while the capacity is only at 350, says Euractiv.