News Highlights: Crimes against humanity and war crimes in Tigray – US, Tigray interim government established, Operation IRINI extended

In this week’s news highlights: US denounces war crimes in Tigray, Ethiopia and Eritrea reject the allegations; Getachew Reda confirmed as Tigray regional president, interim government established; Ethiopia removes TPLF from terrorist list; Getachew Reda promises to address soldiers’ grievances; UK-Ethiopia meeting in Addis Ababa; Eritrean delegation meets with Russia’s Lavrov; UN organisations call for help for Somali refugees; Somalia increases troop numbers; Factions in Sudan agree to establish transitional government; UN hopeful about Sudanese political process, but warns support is needed; Military will not participate in politics, states Sudan military leader; Kiir against extension of transitional period in South Sudan; South Sudan Parties resume Rome Peace Talks and agree to a ceasefire; Refugees and migrants deported from Algeria need aid, states MSF; 15 people die off Algerian coast; 5 deceased and 28 missing after a shipwreck off the Tunisian coast; UK Interior Minister’s visit to Rwanda; EU fears Tunisian economic collapse; Operation IRINI extended and EU ready to train more Libyan Coast Guard; Tripartite Task Force calls for addressing of refugee and migrant situation in Libya; and Protests in Athens against migration policy.

Greater Horn of Africa

Ethiopia/Eritrea: US denounces war crimes in Tigray, Ethiopia and Eritrea reject the allegations
US State Secretary Antony Blinken officially condemned all sides taking part in the Tigray conflict for committing war crimes. The statement comes in the US State Department’s annual report on global human rights of 20 March. Blinken stated that additionally, crimes against humanity were committed by Ethiopian, Eritrean and Amhara forces. These crimes include murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and persecution. The statement further stated that “Members of the Amhara forces also committed the crime against humanity of deportation or forcible transfer and committed ethnic cleansing in western Tigray”. To ensure that sustainable peace can be achieved, Blinken said that atrocities committed by all parties have to be acknowledged and that perpetrators that committed those atrocities must be held accountable. He urged the parties’ commitment to the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement. Ethiopia’s government rejected the charges and the foreign ministry said it  “unfairly apportions blame among different parties in the conflict”. The statement by Ethiopia’s foreign ministry added that the approach is “ill-advised”, and claimed it is not beneficial to the implementation of the peace process in Ethiopia. Furthermore, the Eritrean Ministry of Foreign Affairs stated that the accusations made by the US were “designed to blackmail and intimidate Eritrea and the Federal Ethiopian government”.

Tigray: Getachew Reda confirmed as Tigray regional president, interim government established
The office of the Ethiopian Prime Minister issued a statement that the Council of Ministers approved a regulation to establish the “Tigray inclusive interim government” in its session on 18 March. The statement confirms that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has approved Getachew Reda as the president of the regional interim government. The statement also said that Getachew Reda is given the responsibility to ensure the representation of Tigray-based opposition parties and establish an inclusive interim administration, as well as to lead and coordinate the executive body. The statement cited the Pretoria Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) Agreement as the context for establishing the interim government in the Tigray region. The Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) Central Committee announced that Getachew Reda was nominated to lead the Interim Regional Administration on 17 March. 

Ethiopia: Ethiopia removes TPLF from terrorist list
On 22 March, the Ethiopian House of Peoples Representatives (HoPR) removed the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) from an official list of terrorist groups. Taken with a majority vote, the decision represents an important step in the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement (CoHA). The HRP noted that there were 61 objections and 6 abstensions. The parliament stated that “lifting TPLF’s terrorist designation is indispensable to uphold the peace agreement held between the federal government and TPLF”. According to Addis Standard, the decision is expected to lead to the lifting of terrorism allegations against TPLF officials, including newly appointed Tigray regional president, Getachew Reda.

Tigray: Getachew Reda promises to address soldiers’ grievances
Getachew Reda, newly appointed president of Tigray’s interim regional administration, promised to address the demands of food and medical treatment raised by disabled Tigrayan soldiers. After the injured fighters’ protests erupted in Mekelle, Getachew told Addis Standard that the issue “will be taken very seriously”. Anti-riot police attempted to stop the protests with teargas. 

Ethiopia/UK: UK-Ethiopia meeting in Addis Ababa
The UK’s Minister of State for Development and Africa Andrew Mitchell and Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen met in Addis Ababa and discussed bilateral issues, reports Fana Broadcasting Corporate (FBC). Demeke Mekonnen reportedly briefed Andrew Mitchell on the status of the implementation of the Cessation of Hostilities (CoH) agreement and appreciated the support the UK provides to Ethiopia. On his side, after assuring UK’s continued support, Mitchell commended Ethiopia on steps made in the context of the CoH Agreement and national consultations on the issue of transitional justice. 

Eritrea: Eritrean delegation meets with Russia’s Lavrov
The Eritrean Foreign Minister Osman Saleh and Presidential Adviser Yemane Ghebreab met with Sergei Lavrov, Foreign Minister of the Russian Federation, reports the Eritrean Ministry of Information. The two sides discussed political, diplomatic, economic, cultural, military and technical cooperation. Saleh stated his position on the ”Ukraine pretext that has sadly sacrificed Ukraine and its people for the purpose of destroying the Russian Federation; just as the Taiwan issue is being foisted as a pretext to bring to a halt China’s peaceful rise by any means necessary, including violent conflict”. 

Somalia/Ethiopia: UN organisations call for help for Somali refugees
On 22 March, UN agencies and partner organisations launched an appeal for US$116 million to address the humanitarian needs of the almost 100.000 Somali refugees who arrived in Ethiopia since the beginning of the hostilities in the area of Laascaanood. In the joint press release, the Somali people who crossed the borders are reported to be seeking safety in Ethiopia’s Somali region, where they face malnourishment and are at high risk of contracting diseases. Clementine Nkweta-Salami, UNHCR’s Regional Director for the East and Horn of Africa and Great Lakes Region, said that Ethiopia welcomed the refugees and contributed to help, but additional funding is needed as more arrivals are continuously recorded. Michael Dunford, WFP’s Regional Director for East Africa, added that the situation is worsened by the severe drought that is hitting Ethiopia.

Somalia: Somalia increases troop numbers
Somalia’s federal and regional leaders agreed on accelerating the implementation of the National Security Architecture (NSA), which, among other things, envisages an increased number of troops compared to the NSA version of 2017. The new numbers are set to be at least 30.000 soldiers for the national armed forces and at least 40.000 police officers, excluding Special Forces, Navy and Airforce. The decision was taken to enable the Somali government to take over the “security responsibilities from ATMIS (African Union Transition Mission in Somalia)”, said Kamal Dahir Hassan Gutale, national security adviser to the PM, to VOA Somali. The African Union stated it is facing a funding gap of 90 million USD for the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia. The mission will hand over responsibility for Somalia’s security in 2024, but the AU warns it will not be able to provide effective support if the gap is not filled. The AU states that a cut in funding of 60 million USD by the European Union, due to competing interests, is a key cause for the gap.

Sudan: Factions agree to establish transitional government
Military and civil parties in Sudan agreed on forming a new transitional civilian government on 11 April after two meetings that took place on Sunday. After the meetings, Khaled Omar Youssef, spokesman for the political process, announced that the parties selected a drafting committee (nine civilians, one national army and one RSF representative) for the final agreement, which is due to be inked on 1 April. “The transitional constitution will take place on the sixth of April, while the formation of the institutions of the transitional authority will be on the 11th of April”, Khaled said, according to Sudan Tribune. Opposition to the agreement emerged from the Democratic Block, which, claiming that it had not been consulted, refused to sign the agreement. The Tripartite Mechanism (African Union, Intergovernmental Authority on Development and United Nations) said it is willing to mediate with non-signatories parties and push for the achievement of a final consensus on the agreement, as reported in the United Nations Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS)’s official statement. 

Sudan: UN hopeful about Sudanese political process, but warns support is needed
Volker Perthes, head of the UN Integrated Transition Assistance Mission in Sudan (UNITAMS), said that Sudan is close to achieving a political agreement and forming a civilian transitional government. He warned, however, that the new transitional government will face challenges regarding security, justice and human rights protection in the country. He called for “collective efforts from the international community”.  

Sudan: Military will not participate in politics 
Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Burhan, Sudanese chief of the army, publicly reiterated that the military will not participate in politics in the future. Stating that politicians are the ones responsible for carrying out coups, he reaffirmed, “The army should not have a political role. We are on the verge of a new phase that will be satisfactory to all”.

South Sudan: Kiir against any extension of transitional period
South Sudan’s President Salva Kiir said he is against any further extension of the transitional period once the current political roadmap expires, and the elections scheduled for December 2024 should take place. After the 2018 peace agreement, a transition period of 24 months due to end in 2022 was negotiated. This was extended in August 2022 to another 24 months until 2024 because of a “failure to complete critical benchmarks on agreed time”, reports Sudan Post. He urged every party to get ready for the elections and select their presidential candidate in order to prepare for elections, reports Radio Tamazuj. 

South Sudan: Parties resume Rome Peace Talks and agree to a ceasefire
On 21 March, South Sudan’s opposition groups and government officials resumed the peace talks in Rome with the mediation of the Italian Community of Sant’Egidio. Negotiations for lasting peace in the country were restored after the government’s withdrawal from negotiations last year. Presidential Affairs Minister Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin leading the governmental delegation expressed “the commitment of the government” in establishing dialogue with the Non-Signatories South Sudanese Opposition Group (NSSSOG), as reported by Voice of America (VoA). According to Pagan Amum, spokesperson for the holdout groups, the focus is “on the root causes of the 2013 and 2016 conflicts and how to achieve an inclusive peace deal in South Sudan”. On the second day, the parties agreed to a ceasefire, but the opposition group made clear that they are not going to accept the “unilateral decision of the defunct Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (R-TGoNU) to extend their stay in power”, according to Thomas Cirilo, a leader of the National Salvation Front (NAS).

North Africa

Algeria/Niger: Refugees and migrants deported from Algeria need aid
Thousands of refugees and migrants arrived on foot in Assamakka, a city in the desert of Northern Niger, after forcefully being deported from Algeria. They are abandoned in critical living conditions, worsened by high temperatures and poor hygiene, as reported by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF). The charity denounced the lack of available and adequate shelter facilities and defined the situation an emergency. Jamal Mrrouch, MSF Head of Mission in Niger, called for the intervention of the Economic Community of West African states (ECOWAS) in providing humanitarian aid for the people.

Algeria: 15 people die off Algerian coast
On 19 March, a boat carrying Algerian persons trying to reach Lampedusa capsized, causing the death of at least 15 people, according to Algerian activists. It is reported that two people were rescued, and at least one other was reportedly on board.

Tunisia: 5 deceased and 28 missing after a shipwreck off the Tunisian coast
At least 5 refugees and migrants died and 28 went missing after four boats shipwrecked off the coast of Tunisia, according to a local rights group. According to Reuters, the Coast Guard rescued 84 people. France 24 states that 12,000 refugees and migrants have reached Italy from Tunisia this year, compared to only 1,300 in 2022 for the same period of time, according to unofficial United Nations data. Tunisian President Kais Saied stated last month that he suspected irregular migration to be a conspiracy to change Tunisia’s demographics and ordered security forces to remove “illegal migrants”. This has led to many refugees and migrants crossing the Mediterranean, states France 24


UK: UK Interior Minister’s visit to Rwanda 
On 18 March, the British Interior Minister Suella Braverman visited Rwanda to discuss with Rwanda’s foreign minister, Vincent Biruta, the implementation of the migration deal, aimed at relocating what the UK refers to as “illegal migrants” arriving to the UK. During a press conference, the Interior Minister defined the agreement as “both humanitarian and compassionate and also fair and balanced.” According to Biruta, the $146m deal would “offer better opportunities for migrants and Rwandans alike”. The deportations have not yet taken place as the plan is facing legal challenges.

EU/Tunisia: EU fears Tunisian economic collapse
EU Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell expressed his concerns about the difficult social and economic situation in Tunisia, as its collapse could lead to “a situation where new flows of migrants will come to Europe” and cause “more instability and insecurity in the MENA region, in the Mediterranean”. EU Foreign Ministers proposed to Belgium and Portugal representatives to go to Tunisia and draft a report of the situation for the EU to evaluate future measures towards Tunisia. According to Tunisian foreign ministry, the EU remarks were “overblown”, considering “the well-established resilience of the Tunisian people”, reports AlArabiya. Italian Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani urged the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to provide Tunisia with economic support, consisting of a $1.9 billion loan, and foster stability in the country. The call was motivated by the fear of a new “wave” of economically driven migration from Tunisia. Tunisia is currently facing cash shortages and the bailout agreements with the IMF have stalled since Tunisian President’s concentration of powers in July 2021.

EU/Libya: Operation IRINI extended and EU ready to train more Libyan Coast Guard
On 20 March, the Council of the European Union extended the mandate of Operation EUNAVFOR MED IRINI, which was set to expire on 31 March 2023, until 31 March 2025. The decision, taken after the Strategic Review of the operation, is aimed at further supporting the UN arms embargo on Libya and facilitating the “disposal of arms and related materiel seized by the operation”, as written in the press release of the Council. As one of the purposes of Operation IRINI is to train the Libyan Coast Guard, the European Commission’s spokesperson Peter Stano declared that the Operation is ready to accomplish this part of the mandate when Libya will be ready as well. For reasons “due to the political fragmentation in Libya” the training has not yet been taken up, stated an IRINI official to Euractiv. The training, that took place in the past already, is not only about how to save lives at sea, Stano specified, but also about how to respect human rights. Critics accuse the Libyan coast guard of being complicit in the abuses of refugee and migrant rights.

EU: Tripartite Task Force calls for urgent action on refugees and migrants in Libya
On 20 March, The Tripartite Taskforce (European Union, African Union and United Nations) pushed for urgent action to address the needs of refugees and migrants in Libya. It reaffirmed its support to the Libyan authorities in order to establish a “non-discriminatory legal and policy frameworks for migrants and refugees with the aim of protecting and saving lives along the migratory routes and particularly in Libya”. They called for support to Libyan authorities to address issues such as human trafficking and ending arbitrary detention. Other fields of intervention would be the migration governance and border management, the provision of documentation for labour migrants and for refugees and finally the need of expanding legal, safe and regular pathways for migrants and refugees. The statement did not explicitly address the role of Libyan authorities in abuses against refugees and migrants. 

Greece: Protests in Athens against migration policy
Migrants, asylum seekers and refugees gathered in front of the Greek parliament on 18 March, protesting against the Greek migration policies. The government has been accused of pushing back migrants and preventing them from reaching the country, causing many deaths at sea. PM Mitsotakis has been blamed as people chanted “Mitsotakis, you have blood on your hands” and held banners displaying “stop pushbacks, down with the government of murderers”, as reported by Agence France Presse (AFP).