Horn of Africa
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Filippo Grandi, on Jan. 14 expressed concern over the humanitarian conditions in Ethiopia's Tigray region and its impact on civilians, particularly Eritrean refugees living in four camps. Grandi said he continues to receive reliable reports and first-hand accounts of ongoing insecurity in the region and "grave and distressing human rights abuses including killings, targeted abductions and forced return of refugees to Eritrea." He also cited open-source satellite imagery from California-based company Planet Labs which indicates fires and other fresh signs of destruction at the two camps located in Shimelba and Hitsats. Grandi termed these "concrete indications of major violations of international law."
In a victory for the Trump White House, Sudan has officially signed on to the so-called "Abraham Accords," agreeing to peace and normalization of diplomatic ties with Israel. Justice Minister Nasredeen Abdulbari signed the document in the presence of US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin Jan. 6. While Khartoum announced its intent to join in late October, the government waited to formally proceed until the US removed Sudan from its list of "state sponsors of terrorism" last month. Sudan paid $335 million in compensation to US victims of terrorism and their families as a condition of the removal process.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet addressed allegations of human rights and humanitarian law violations in Ethiopia in a Dec. 22 statement, calling for an investigation into the claims, and urgent protection of civilians. The conflict between central government forces and the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) began seven weeks ago, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia. Abuses were reportedly carried out by both central government and TPLF forces—as well as by the armed forces of neighboring Eritrea, which has entered the conflict on the side of the Ethiopian central government.
Somalia severed diplomatic ties with neighboring Kenya Dec. 14, accusing it of violating Somali sovereignty and meddling in its internal affairs ahead of scheduled general elections. Although the statement cited no specific grievances, it came exactly as Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was hosting in Nairobi the president of Somaliland, a breakaway region in Somalia's northwest that declared independence in 1991. Kenyatta and Somaliland's President Musa Bihi Abdi signed a pact on increased security and economic cooperation—which is clearly viewed by Mogadishu as a step toward formal recognition.
The Russian government has for the first time weighed in diplomatically on the dispute between Somalia and the separatist enclave of Somaliland on the north coast of the Horn of Africa. Moscow's UN ambassador Vassiliy Nebenzia last week issued a statement urging both sides to find a compromise solution. "We are concerned about the breakdown...of talks between delegations of Somalia and the self-proclaimed Somaliland. We urge both sides to consider a compromise way of resolving the differences," Nebenzia said. "It is important to resume talks between the governments of Somalia and Somaliland."
President Trump has ordered the withdrawal of nearly all US troops from Somalia by mid-January, the Pentagon announced Dec. 4. The US currently has about 700 troops in the country, assisting local forces to fight al-Shaabab and insurgents operating in the name of the Islamic State. The Pentagon statement stressed that the order to "reposition the majority of personnel and assets out of Somalia by early 2021" does not signify a change in policy: "We will continue to degrade Violent Extremist Organizations that could threaten our homeland while ensuring we maintain our strategic advantage in great power competition."
The already horrific conflict in Ethiopia's northern Tigray state seems set to escalate after Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced Nov. 17 that a three-day ultimatum for local forces to surrender had expired, clearing the way for a government offensive on the regional capital Mekele. At least 20,000 refugees have fled to Sudan amid air-strikes and mounting reports of atrocities on both sides. Neighboring Eritrea has also apparently entered the conflict—ironically on the side of the Ethiopian government, long its bitter enemy. The state government of the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF) accuses Eritrea of sending tanks and thousands of troops over the border to support Ethiopian federal forces. Although this is denied by Eritrea, Tigray state forces have fired rockets into the Eritrean capital, Asmara. Mekele has also fired rockets at the airports in Bahir Dar and Gondar in Ethiopia's Amhara state, whose local forces have joined the conflict on the side of the central government. (CNN, UN News, Reuters, Jurist, Jurist, TNH, Horn Daily, Al Jazeera)
Ethiopia's attorney general filed charges on Sept. 19 against 24 activists for alleged terrorism and incitement to violence. Jawar Mohammed and Bekele Gerba, two leading opposition politicians of the Oromo Federalist Congress, were among those charged. Despite being the largest ethnic group in Ethiopia, the Oromo have historically faced political and economic marginalization. Jawar and Gerba actively oppose the Ethiopian government and have called for the federal state to give "self-rule" to Oromos and other ethnic groups in regions where those groups constitute the majority of the population.