Alert: Crisis Group warns of looming Genocide as federal forces approach Mekelle

International Crisis Group | Press Statement

Nov 28, 2020 (Thessherald)–Fighting between the Ethiopian army and Tigray forces has arrived near the region’s biggest city, home to half a million residents. Addis Ababa should pause hostilities, all sides should minimise harm to civilians and the AU should step up efforts to avert further bloodshed.

lasting damage to the country. Following the African Union’s lead, the U.S., the European Union and the UN Security Council should urge Addis Ababa to suspend the assault and convey to all sides that an already blood-soaked military campaign would be enormously damaging to the country’s well-being and international repute.

It is not too late to avert more civilian deaths, nor to avoid a bloody confrontation that could inflict lasting damage to the country.

Civilians in Tigray have paid a heavy price since the conflict began on 4 November. More than 40,000 refugees have fled west Tigray towns such as Humera and Dansha into eastern Sudan, with some having to swim across rivers to get to safety. According to the United Nations, at least 600,000 people in Tigray depended on food aid before the conflict and have not received their rations this month. Fuel and other essentials are also running low in Mekelle. Thousands have died in the fighting, including many civilians as well as security forces.

The communications blackout and blockade of air and road access to the region from within Ethiopia is affecting the humanitarian response. Federal forces and Sudanese troops are reported to have shuttered Tigray’s main external supply line through eastern Sudan.

All sides are reported to have committed atrocities. An Ethiopian Human Rights Commission preliminary report blamed Tigrayan militia for killing hundreds of mostly Amhara civilians in Maykadra town in west Tigray on 9 November. Tigrayan refugees in camps have reported atrocities by Amhara militia who have been fighting alongside the federal military, including in that same town.

All sides are reported to have committed atrocities.

Federal officials in Addis Ababa argue they are acting to bring to heel rebellious Tigrayan leaders whom they accuse of undermining stability across Ethiopia since they were squeezed out of power at the national level in 2018. They maintain that the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), Tigray’s ruling party, started the war by killing dozens of soldiers in an attack on a federal military base on 4 November, and that Tigrayan leaders’ objective is to ensure they enjoy immunity for “past and present misdeeds” and continue to exercise control far in excess of the TPLF’s limited nationwide support. They characterise the conflict as a “law and order operation”, which they predict will end rapidly.

Addis Ababa is intent on securing a military victory and rejects the idea of negotiations, saying that Tigray’s leaders cannot be allowed to get away with attacking the national military and violating the constitution, which it claims occurred when Tigray ran a regional election in September in defiance of federal rulings.

Officials in Addis Ababa argue that allowing the TPLF to get away with its actions would set a destabilising precedent that would incentivise future acts of rebellion. They claim that entering into dialogue would reward the illegal actions of the TPLF, whose leadership they now label a “junta” or “clique”, for the 4 November attacks, which they describe as a “treasonous act”. On 27 November, Abiy met three envoys appointed by AU chair Cyril Ramaphosa and told them he would not engage in talks with the TPLF. He said dialogue with Tigray’s ruling party would “nurture a culture of impunity with devastating cost to the survival of the country”.

In the event they do not leave, fails to discriminate between them and combatants, would be a clear violation of international law and would badly damage the Ethiopian government’s international reputation.

The likely bloodbath that would ensue would deepen the enmity between those facing off against each other and risk further alienating swathes of the civilian population in Tigray. Tigrayan officers, civil servants and others reportedly are being ethnically profiled outside of Tigray, and many echo the Tigrayan leaders’ claim that this is an attack on the entire group, a sentiment that may seed support for secession.

Given what a military offensive by Addis Ababa – even one that is successful on its own terms – would entail and what it would provoke, all sides should accept a deal to suspend hostilities. AU chair Ramaphosa, who has consistently called for talks, should appeal to Prime Minister Abiy to scrap or at least extend the ultimatum his government issued.

The chances of a negotiated agreement to end the fighting, let alone reach a longer-term solution to a bitter constitutional dispute, are vanishing quickly, given Addis Ababa’s determination to secure control of the city and bring TPLF leaders to justice. Although it has lately called for talks, the TPLF, too, raised its own obstacles to dialogue before the conflict by declaring the federal government illegitimate. Ethiopia’s partners, from regional leaders to the AU to the EU and UN Security Council members, should not give up in pointing out to Abiy’s government that Ethiopia’s problems ultimately need to be resolved politically, through talks, and not through force.

The most urgent need now is to save lives.

The most urgent need now is to save lives. Entering a heavily populated metropolis with artillery and air power, as an Ethiopian military spokesman warned federal forces will do imminently, would exact an enormous, intolerable toll on civilians and badly damage Ethiopia’s international repute, at a time when voices of concern from many of Ethiopia’s partners are growing. Addis Ababa should agree to pause hostilities and, whether or not an offensive goes ahead, all sides should strictly respect international law, which means doing everything feasible to avoid or minimise loss of civilian life and refraining from using civilians as human shields.

In parallel to efforts to avert a humanitarian crisis, Ethiopia’s partners should continue to press the message that the answer to the country’s deep political fault lines will not come on the battlefield.

EU calls for an immediate end to violence in the Tigray region

Ethiopia teeters on the brink of civil war |Photo: File

Nov 13, 2020 (Thessherald)–High-Level Representatives of the European Union have expressed concern about reports of atrocities committed against civilians, and called for an immediate end to hostilities in the Tigray region.

“Ethnically targeted measures, hate speech and allegations of atrocities occurring in Ethiopia are deeply worrying. The demonstration of ethnic groups is a vicious and lethal cycle from which Ethiopia must be spared,” said EU’s High Representative Josep Borrell and Commissioner Janez Lenarcic.

EU

The European Union expresses concern that if the ongoing military operations continue in the Tigray region, a severely worsening humanitarian crisis may be imminent.

“The danger of a major humanitarian crisis is imminent and an immediate de-escalation is needed. All parties should show restraint and reinforce their calls to avoid incitement to hatred and violence.”

The EU officials call on the Ethiopian authorities to abide by international humanitarian law and safeguard the civilian population.

“Human rights and international humanitarian law need to be upheld, including ensuring safe and free movement of civilians as well as a timely, independent, unimpeded and unconditional access of humanitarian workers to most vulnerable.”

Amnesty International documents atrocities

On Thursday, Amnesty International that dozens of civilians have been horrifically slaughtered on ethnic grounds.

“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive,” said Amnesty in an investigative report.

Amnesty International

“Amnesty International has verified video footage and photographs that show scores of people were attacked with knives and machetes, with hundreds feared dead, in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November.”

“The gruesome evidence shows bodies being carried away on stretchers or strewn across the town of Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) in the western Tigray state of Ethiopia. Amnesty’s Crisis Evidence Lab used satellite imagery to geolocate and confirm the exact location where the crimes were committed.”

Breaking: PM Abiy commits ‘Massacre’ in the Tigray region – rights group

Press Release | Amnesty International

Nov 12, 2020 (Thessherald)–Amnesty International can today confirm that scores, and likely hundreds, of people were stabbed or hacked to death in Mai-Kadra (May Cadera) town in the South West Zone of Ethiopia’s Tigray Region on the night of 9 November.

The organization’s Crisis Evidence Lab has examined and digitally verified gruesome photographs and videos of bodies strewn across the town or being carried away on stretchers. It confirmed the images were recent and using satellite imagery, geolocated them to Mai-Kadra in western Tigray state (14.071008, 36.564681).

“We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down,” said Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa.

We have confirmed the massacre of a very large number of civilians, who appear to have been day labourers in no way involved in the ongoing military offensive. This is a horrific tragedy whose true extent only time will tell as communication in Tigray remains shut down.

Deprose Muchena, Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa “The government must restore all communication to Tigray as an act of accountability and transparency for its military operations in the region, as well as ensure unfettered access to humanitarian organizations and human rights monitors. Amnesty International will regardless continue to use all means available to document and expose violations by all parties to the conflict.”

The organization has also spoken to witnesses, who were providing food and other supplies to the Ethiopian Defense Forces (EDF), who visited the town immediately after the deadly attack, on the morning of 10 November, to find dead bodies strewn all over the town, as well as injured survivors.

Most of the dead bodies were found in the town centre, near the Commercial Bank of Ethiopia, and along a road that exits to the neighbouring Humera town, according to the witnesses and verified images.

People who saw the dead bodies told Amnesty International that they had gaping wounds that appear to have been inflicted by sharp weapons such as knives and machetes, reports which have been confirmed by an independent pathologist commissioned by Amnesty International. Witnesses said there were no signs of gunshot wounds.

The witnesses said that together with the EDF soldiers, they found some wounded people among the dead and took them to nearby hospitals in Abreha-Jira and Gondar, before removing dead bodies from the streets.

“Those wounded told me they were attacked with machetes, axes and knives. You can also tell from the wounds that those who died were attacked by sharp objects. It is horrible and I am really sad that I witnessed this in my life,” one distraught witness said.

‘Soaked in blood’

Amnesty International has not yet been able to confirm who was responsible for the killings, but has spoken to witnesses who said forces loyal to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) were responsible for the mass killings, apparently after they suffered defeat from the federal EDF forces.

Three people told Amnesty International that survivors of the massacre told them that they were attacked by members of Tigray Special Police Force and other TPLF members.

“There was a military operation by the EDF and Amhara Special Force against the Tigray Special Police and militia at a place called Lugdi during the daytime on 9 November. After they defeated the Tigray forces, the EDF spent the night on the outskirts of Mai-Kadra town.

When we entered, we saw a lot of dead bodies, soaked in blood, on the streets and rental dormitories frequented by seasonal workers. The view was really debasing, and I am still in shock struggling to cope with the experience,” a civilian who entered the town after it was retaken by EDF told Amnesty International.

When we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road the connects the town to Humera.


Civilian who witnessed the aftermath of the massacre

This was corroborated by another who said: “We went to the town immediately after the army and the Amhara Special Force took control of Mai-Kadra town on 10 November around 10 am. The army entered … after encircling the town overnight. There was no exchange of fire for the army to take over the town. But when we entered the town, what we saw was devastating. The roads were strewn with dead bodies especially in the centre of the town, and on the road the connects the town to Humera.”

“The Ethiopian authorities must immediately, thoroughly, impartially and effectively investigate this blatant attack on civilians and bring those responsible to justice in fair trials,” said Deprose Muchena.

“TPLF commanders and officials must make clear to their forces and their supporters that deliberate attacks on civilians are absolutely prohibited and constitute war crimes. All parties in the Tigray conflict must ensure full respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law in their operations. The safety and protection of civilians must be paramount.”

While the official death toll in Mai-Kadra is not yet known, the Amhara regional government’s media agency AMMA reported there were around 500 victims, adding that they were primarily non-Tigrayan residents of the town. A man who is helping to clear the bodies from the streets told Amnesty International that he had looked at the state-issued identification cards of some victims, and most were Amhara.

Background

On 4 November 2020, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered the Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) to militarily engage with the Tigray Regional Paramilitary Police and militia loyal to the Tigray People Liberation Front (TPLF) in what he stated was a response to multiple attacks by the Tigray security forces on the EDF North Command base in Mekelle and other military camps in Tigray Region.

Since the start of the conflict, there have been armed confrontations between federal forces (Federal Army, Amhara Region’s Special Force Police and Amhara local militia) on one side and the Tigray regional forces (Tigray Special Force Police and militia) on the other side

The Ministry of Defence and the Prime Minister have announced that Ethiopian Air Force planes carried out multiple air strikes against TPLF military installations. The Prime Minister and the Army Chief of Staff pledged to continue air strikes on selected targets without endangering civilian life, advising residents to stay away from ammunition depots and other military targets.

2 cattle raiders executed by hanging to deter cattle rustling in Jonglei

Pastoralist herding is cattle in one of the cattle camps in South Sudan |Photo: TZ Photography

Oct 14, 2020 (Thessherald)–A judge in South Sudan’s Jonglei state has sentenced two men to death for stealing two cows and killing the man who owned the animals according to VOA’s South Sudan in Focus.

Officials say they hope the judge’s sentence will deter other cattle raiders in Jonglei, where cattle raiding and child abductions are rampant.

High court judge John Yiel Aleu sentenced 30-year-old Kuorwel Majok Mayom and 25-year-old Chol Manyiel Jool to death by hanging on Tuesday in the state capital, Bor.

Majok and Manyiel were found guilty of killing John Buol Dut and stealing his cows last December when the cattle were being moved from Bor to Awerial County in Lakes State.

The judge said the death penalty was appropriate for the crimes committed.
“The court followed its procedures and today it passed its judgment that the accused Kuorwel Majok and Chol Manyiel have been convicted under Section 305 and 206 penal code act 2008 and they are sentenced to death,” he announced in court.

Michael Khor Dut, a brother to the deceased, welcomed the punishment.
“This gentleman was killed intentionally. Why? Because of his cattle. He was not a cattle keeper, he was just a university student who was taking his cows to the cattle camp,” said Dut.

Malueth Nyok, an uncle to both convicted men, called the ruling unfair. Nyok argued there was no direct evidence introduced in court that linked his nephews to Dut’s murder.

“There is no evidence that shows that these gentlemen beat the deceased with the stick, no one saw them doing that. We see that cattle get lost and these cattle were lost and that is why they were being kept so that the owner would come and take them,” Nyok told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. The family will appeal the ruling within the next 14 days, according to Nyok.

Strong message

Although cattle raids and child abductions are common in Jonglei state, very few suspected cattle raiders are ever arrested or prosecuted.

Activist David Garang with the Jonglei Civil Society Alliance said capital punishment sends a strong message to would-be cattle raiders.

“If they are sentenced to death, that is the right way of doing it because there is no one who has the right to take another person’s life, so it is a very good step for the justice to take its course because this time here we need justice to prevail. If there is justice, then all these atrocities will stop,” Garang told South Sudan in Focus.

Garang said communities will only be safe when cattle raiders, child abductors and other perpetrators of serious crimes are arrested and brought to justice.


Source: VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. https://bit.ly/34UaDMb

Rights group welcomes renewal of UN arms embargo on South Sudan

Emblem of Amnesty International|Photo: AI

May 30, 2020 (Thessherald)–The world’s largest human rights group, Amnesty International has welcomed the recent renewal of the UN arms embargo on South Sudan, noting that it is an important step towards saving lives in the country.

“We welcome the renewal of the arms embargo as it is crucial to curtailing the flow of weapons that have been used to commit war crimes, human rights violations and abuses and call on the Security Council and UN members to diligently enforce it, said Amnesty International’s Director for East and Southern Africa, Deprose Muchena.

The group applauded the initiative undertaken by the Council against which it will revisit the arms embargo on South Sudan and take into consideration all provisions of the peace agreement in South Sudan.

“We also welcome the benchmarks that the Council has put in place against which it will review the arms embargo in December this year, including implementation of all provisions of the peace agreement signed by parties to the conflict in South Sudan in 2018. These provisions include establishment of the Hybrid Court for South Sudan, reform of the country’s security and justice sectors, and protection of human rights at all times,” he added.

Amnesty International expressed concern about continuing waves of violence between armed groups and intercommunal clashes across the country.

“The human rights situation in South Sudan remains dire as government forces, fighters of armed opposition groups as well as armed youth continue to violate human rights on a daily basis in contravention of the country’s constitution, the 2018 revitalized peace agreement and international law. Many civilians continue to be killed and displaced from their homes, girls as young as eight have been gang-raped and human rights defenders and journalists continue to be harassed and intimidated.”

On Friday, the UN Security Council renewed until 31 May 2021 the arms embargo and targeted sanctions imposed on South Sudan during a Virtual conference.

Rights group urges UN to pressure S. Sudan to reform its security sector

Thessherald)–Amnesty International, a human rights organization, has called on the United Nations Human Rights Council to continue to press South Sudan to reform its intelligence agency and ensure justice for all victims who have been affected during the conflict in South Sudan.

“Amnesty International expressed concern that the South Sudanese government has consistently failed to investigate and prosecute suspects of crimes under international law committed during the 2013 conflict, owing to lack of political will and a lack of independence of its justice systems,” said Amnesty International in its statement.

Addressing the panel of experts at the United Nations Human Rights Council in the past few days, Amnesty International expressed concerns about the human rights situation in South Sudan and the lack of accountability for international crimes committed in connection with the conflict that broke out in December 2013.

Amnesty International’s recommendations for comprehensive security sector reforms.

• The South Sudanese authorities must urgently amend the 2014 NSS Act to curb the agency’s unchecked powers that contravene the 2011 Transitional Constitution and reform it in line with international human rights standards.

• President Salva Kiir must ensure that no individuals sanctioned by the UN Security Council for their role in human rights violations become part of the RTGoNU. Instead, suspects of grave crimes committed in relation to the 2013 conflict must be prosecuted.

• The South Sudanese authorities must promptly sign the Memorandum of Understanding with the African Union and enact the Statute for the Hybrid Court for South Sudan.

• The UN Human Rights Council must renew in full the mandate of the Commission on Human Rights in South Sudan during its current session.