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)
The US Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., began hearing oral arguments Jan. 29 in International Refugee Assistance Project v. Donald Trump, a case challenging the administration's travel bans. The plaintiffs, led by IRAP, argue that, despite the Supreme Court ruling in Trump v. Hawaii, their challenge is not barred. They contend that the high court simply addressed the preliminary injunction, and not the merits of the overall travel ban. The case challenges the proclamation Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States, Executive Order 13780. The plaintiffs are asserting that the proclamation is unconstitutional, while the Trump administration argues that Trump v. Hawaii settled the constitutionality of the proclamation.
Following peace talks hosted by Eritrea, the government of Ethiopia announced a peace deal with the Oromo Liberation Front rebels Aug. 7. The deal guarantees rebel leaders the right to participate in Ethiopia's political process in exchange for laying down arms. The OLF has long been backed by Eritrea, and the pact comes one month after a formal end was declared to the two-decade state of war between Ethiopia and Eritrea, with Ethiopia ceding its claim to the contested border town of Badme. This points to a softening of positions under Ethiopia's new prime minister, Abiy Ahmed. The Badme deal was also said to have been quietly brokered by the United Arab Emirates, which has emerged as politically isolated Eritrea's most significant foreign patron, part of an apparent design to encircle Yemen.
Human Rights Watch on June 22 accused the United Arab Emirates (UAE) of backing "Yemeni forces that have arbitrarily detained, forcibly disappeared, tortured, and abused dozens of people during security operations." According to HRW, the UAE claims that the it provides financial and military aid to the Yemeni troops under the guise of fighting ISIS. However, HRW has traced the disappearance or arbitrary detention of 38 individuals to Yemeni forces backed by the UAE. The UAE also runs two secret prisons in Yemen, according to HRW. In a report also released on Thursday, the Associated Press found at least 18 secret prisons run by either the UAE or by troops receiving the Emirates' support.
The governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea are blaming each other in the weekend's deadly border skirmish that threatens a return to open war between the regional rivals. Ethiopia's Information Minister Getachew Reda described the clashes as "an Eritrean initiative." In a short statement, the Eritrean regime said Ethiopia had "unleashed an attack against Eritrea on the Tsorona Central Front. The purpose and ramifications of this attack are not clear." (BBC News) The independent exile-based Gedab News, which covers Eritrea, says it has received "credible information" that the battle was triggered when a group of Eritrean conscripted soldiers crossed the border to Ethiopia in an attempt to desert, and were shot at by Eritrean troops. Members of an armed Eritrean opposition group hosted by Ethiopia returned fire before Ethiopian soldiers then entered the fray. (Awate.com)
The Stockholm-based International Commission on Eritrean Refugees (ICER) reported June 7 that 86 Eritrean Christians—including 12 women and several children—were abducted by presumed ISIS militants outside the Libyan capital, Tripoli. The ICER's Meron Estefanos said that the Christians were migrants, the majority from city of Adi Keih, and were trying to make their way to Europe. They were taken in a dawn raid on June 3 while travelling in a truck towards Tripoli. According to Estefanos, witnesses said those travelling in the vehicle were divided by their religion, and six Muslims were released by the captors. "IS militants asked everyone who is Muslim or not and everybody started saying they are Muslims," she told IBTimesUK. "But you have to know the Koran, and they didn't." Three Christians allegedly managed to escape, though it is not clear if their whereabouts are known. Said Estafanos: "We are trying to get them to a safe place, but there is no safe place in Libya."
Dozens of Palestinian prisoners announced an end to their two-month hunger strike, despite not winning any pledge by the Israeli government to end use of "administrative detention." Shawqi Eissa, the Palesitian minister of prisoners affairs, said June 25 that 63 prisoners agreed a deal and suspended their protest shortly after midnight. Under the terms of the deal, the hunger-strikers will be returned to their original prisons. Many had been moved around as punishment, with some kept in isolation. "This is not a huge victory, but a modest step forward," said Qadura Fares of the Ramallah-based Palestinian Prisoners' Society. Some detainees are continuing to refuse food, however. Ayman Tbeish, an "administrative detainee" who has been fasting for 118 days, did not suspend his strike. Some 5,000 Palestinians are currently being held in Israeli prisons, with nearly 200 in administrative detention—a number expected to double in the coming days as recent arrests are processed. Israel pledged in 2012 to limit its use of the practice, as part of an agreement to end a previous hunger strike, but detainees charge the government has reneged on the deal. (Al Jazeera, June 25)
Amnesty International has issued a statement protesting the charges brought against Edward Snowden under the US Espionage Act. "No one should be charged under any law for disclosing information of human rights violations by the US government," said Amnesty's international law director Widney Brown. "Such disclosures are protected under the rights to information and freedom of expression." Snowden (now without a valid passport) is apparently at the Moscow airport, awaiting a flight to (depending on the account) Ecuador, Venezuela or Cuba. There is a delicious irony to countries usually portrayed as authoritarian offering refuge while the ostensibly "democratic" United States is thusly chastised. "Regardless of where Snowden ends up he has the right to seek asylum," said Brown. "Even if such a claim failed, no country can return a person to another country where there is a substantial risk of ill-treatment. His forced transfer to the USA would put him at great risk of human rights violations and must be challenged."