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."
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)
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."