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.
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.
Elections to fill the 190 seats in the regional parliament were held Sept. 9 in Ethiopia's restive northern region of Tigray—in defiance of a federal government order suspending all polls. Elections in Ethiopia's nine regions had been scheduled for August, but indefinitely postponed in March due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The central government in Addis Ababa is refusing to recognize the election. Authorities barred journalists from travelling to Tigray to cover the election, with security officers even removing several reporters from a plane bound for the regional capital, Mekele.
Reportedly at the direct instigation of President Donald Trump, the US State Department has ordered a suspension of aid to Ethiopia over its move to begin capturing water behind a controversial new mega-dam on the Blue Nile that has been opposed by Egypt and Sudan. A State Department spokesperson said the decision to "temporarily pause" some aid to Addis Ababa "reflects our concern about Ethiopia's unilateral decision to begin to fill the dam before an agreement and all necessary dam safety measures were in place." The statement said the decision was taken by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo "based on guidance from the president." The freeze could affect as much as $100 million in aid. The reservoir behind the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) began filling in July, over the protests of Egypt and Sudan. (Al Jazeera, Sept. 3; AP, Sept. 2)
The military has been deployed in the Ethiopian capital amid a general uprising by the Oromo people that broke out after the assassination of a popular singer. Hachalu Hundessa, shot dead while driving on the outskirts of Addis Ababa on June 29, was an icon of the Oromo protest movement that has been mounting since 2015. His songs, such as "Maalan Jira?" (What Existence is Mine?) and "Jirraa" (We are Here), have been hailed as the "soundtrack of the Oromo revolution," and he was named "Oromo Person of the Year" by cultural advocates in 2017. Police say two have been arrested in connection with the killing, but rebellion continues to spread across Central Ethiopia. At least 80 have been killed and many detained. The prominent Oromo leader Jawar Mohammed is among those arrested.