Eritrean forces arrived in the northern town of Hitsats on Nov. 19, killed residents, and pillaged and occupied the refugee camp, HRW said. Some refugees helped direct looters, one resident told HRW. “In every house, people were killed,” one resident told HRW.

Full Report Below

NAIROBI, Sept 16 (Reuters) – Eritrean soldiers and Tigrayan militias raped, detained and killed Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s northern region of Tigray, an international rights watchdog said on Thursday.

Human Rights Watch’s report detailed attacks around two camps in Tigray, where local forces have battled the Ethiopian government and their Eritrean allies since November in a conflict that has rocked the Horn of Africa region.

Tens of thousands of Eritrean refugees live in Tigray, a mountainous and poor province of about 5 million people.

Tigrayans distrusted them because they were the same nationality as occupying Eritrean soldiers, Eritreans because the refugees’ loyalty was suspect after they fled their homeland.

“The horrific killings, rapes, and looting against Eritrean refugees in Tigray are clear war crimes,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), whose work – first reported by Reuters – drew on interviews with 28 refugees and other sources, including satellite imagery.

Eritrea’s minister of information did not immediately return calls seeking comment, but Eritrea has previously denied atrocities and said their forces have not targeted civilians.

A spokesman for the Tigray People’s Liberation Front said formal, uniformed Tigrayan forces had only recently moved into the area and that it was possible abuses were committed by local militias.

“It is mostly the last month or so that our forces moved into those areas. There was a huge Eritrean army presence there,” Getachew Reda told Reuters. “If there were vigilante groups acting in the heat of the moment I cannot rule that out.”

International investigators were welcome to visit the area, he said.

Prior to the Tigray conflict, Ethiopia hosted around 150,000 Eritrean refugees, fleeing poverty and authoritarian government.

Much of the report focused on two camps – Shimelba and Hitsats – destroyed during the fighting. HRW cited U.N. refugee agency UNHCR figures that 7,643 out of 20,000 refugees then living in Hitsats and Shimelba camps are still missing.

UNHCR, the United Nations refugee agency, said it was “appalled” at the reports of “immense suffering” in refugee camps, which it was unable to access from November to March.


Eritrean forces arrived in the northern town of Hitsats on Nov. 19, killed residents, and pillaged and occupied the refugee camp, HRW said. Some refugees helped direct looters, one resident told HRW.

“In every house, people were killed,” one resident told HRW.

Four days later, Tigrayan fighters attacked an area near Hitsats camp’s Ethiopian Orthodox church, killing nine refugees and injuring 17, HRW reported.

“My husband had our 4-year-old on his back and our 6-year-old in his arms. As he came back to help me enter the church, they shot him,” one refugee told Human Rights Watch.

Two dozen residents in Hitsats town were reportedly killed in clashes that day, HRW reported.

The report said that HRW had been unable to determine the extent that Tigray’s formal forces directly commanded over local Tigray militias operating around Hitsats.

Shortly after, Eritrean soldiers detained two dozen refugees, who were never seen again, HRW said. They also took the 17 injured refugees back to Eritrea.

Eritrean forces withdrew from Hitsats camp in early December. Tigrayan forces returned on Dec. 5, sending refugees fleeing under attack.

Refugees around the villages of Zelasle and Ziban Gedena, northwest of Hitsats, reported being shot at and attacked with grenades. Tigrayan forces marched fleeing refugees back to Hitsats, shooting some stragglers, refugees reported to HRW. Some women also said they were raped by Tigrayan fighters as they fled. One 27-year-old woman said Tigrayan fighters raped her along with her 17-year-old sister.

Tigrayan forces withdrew from Hitsats on Jan. 4, HRW said. The Eritrean forces returned, ordered remaining refugees to leave, then destroyed the camp.

In the northernmost camp, Shimelba, Eritrean forces killed at least one refugee, raped at least four others and killed local residents, HRW said.

The violence and severe food shortages forced some refugees to return to Eritrea. Others fled south to two other camps, Adi Harush and Mai Aini. Tigrayan forces took over those camps in June and refugees have reported killings and looting.

“We are extremely worried about the current situation of over 20,000 Eritrean refugees living in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camp in southern Tigray,” UNHCR told Reuters on Wednesday, saying there were severe food and water shortages and healthcare was unavailable.

Ethiopia: Eritrean Refugees Targeted in Tigray

Need for Urgent Protection, Assistance; Thousands Still Missing

(Nairobi) – Eritrean government forces and Tigrayan militias have committed killings, rape, and other grave abuses against Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Human Rights Watch said today. All warring parties should cease attacks against refugees, stay out of refugee camps, and facilitate the delivery of humanitarian aid.

Between November 2020 and January 2021, belligerent Eritrean and Tigrayan forces alternatively occupied the Hitsats and Shimelba refugee camps that housed thousands of Eritrean refugees, and committed numerous abuses. Eritrean forces also targeted Tigrayans living in communities surrounding the camps. Fighting that broke out in mid-July in Mai Aini and Adi Harush, the two other functioning refugee camps, again left refugees in urgent need of protection and assistance.

“Eritrean refugees have been attacked both by the very forces they fled back home and by Tigrayan fighters,” said Laetitia Bader, Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The horrific killings, rapes, and looting against Eritrean refugees in Tigray are evident war crimes.”

Since January, Human Rights Watch has interviewed 28 Eritrean refugees: 23 former residents of Hitsats camp and 5 former residents of Shimelba camp, and 2 residents of the town of Hitsats who had witnessed the abuses by Eritrean forces and local Tigrayan militia. Human Rights Watch also interviewed aid workers and analyzed satellite imagery.

Human Rights Watch sent letters summarizing the findings and requesting further information to Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA), the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR)Eritrea’s permanent mission to the United Nations, and other international organizations in Geneva. Responses from ARRA and UNHCR are included below. Eritrea did not respond.

On November 19, Eritrean forces arrived in the town of Hitsats and indiscriminately killed several residents. They occupied and pillaged the town and took over the refugee camp. Some refugees took part in the looting, contributing to community tensions.

On November 23, Tigrayan militia entered Hitsats camp and attacked refugees near the camp’s Orthodox church. Clashes between the militia fighters and Eritrean soldiers ensued in and around the camp, lasting several hours. Nine refugees were killed and 17 badly injured.

One refugee said that Tigrayan militia fighters killed her husband as their family tried to seek shelter inside the church: “My husband had our 4-year-old on his back and our 6-year-old in his arms. As he came back to help me enter the church, they shot him.”

Two dozen residents in Hitsats town were also reportedly killed during and after the clashes that day. The Tigrayan militia retreated from Hitsats after the fighting.

Eritrean forces later detained approximately two dozen refugees in the camp and took them away in military vehicles. Their whereabouts have not been revealed. Eritrean forces also removed the 17 injured refugees from the camp, taking at least one – and likely others – back to Eritrea, ostensibly for treatment.

The Eritrean forces withdrew from the camp in early December. Tigrayan forces returned on the evening of December 5, shooting into the camp, and sending hundreds of refugees fleeing. In the ensuing days, Tigrayan militia attacked, arbitrarily detained, and sexually assaulted some of the refugees who had fled, notably around Zelazle and Ziban Gedena, north of Hitsats. They then marched the refugees back to Hitsats.

“I am a double victim,” said a 27-year-old woman whom Tigrayan militia fighters raped along with her 17-year-old sister while they fled Hitsats. “Both in Eritrea, and now, here [in Ethiopia], I am not protected.”

In Hitsats, Tigrayan militias and special forces, and members of an unidentified armed Eritrean group, arbitrarily detained hundreds of refugees, apparently to identify refugees who collaborated with the Eritrean forces or who were responsible for looting in the town.

On January 4, following heavy clashes near the camp, Tigrayan forces withdrew from Hitsats. The Eritrean forces returned and ordered all remaining refugees to leave along the main road toward Eritrea. Between January 5 and 8, Eritrean forces destroyed and burned shelters and humanitarian infrastructure in the camp, leaving significant parts of the camp in ruins.

Most refugees then faced an arduous days-long trek to the Ethiopian town of Sheraro and the contested border town of Badme, then under Eritrean control. Refugees said that once there, many felt they had no choice but to return to Eritrea, despite the risks of being detained and facing indefinite forced conscription. Witnesses said hundreds boarded buses headed to Eritrea in January.

Other refugees managed to escape back into Ethiopia, some toward urban areas or the two still-functioning Eritrean refugee camps in southern Tigray, Mai Aini, and Aid Harush. UNHCR reported that 7,643 out of the 20,000 refugees known to have been in Hitsats and Shimelba camps in October 2020 are unaccounted for as of late August 2021. Many of the refugees that have been accounted for fled to Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital, but neither the Ethiopian government nor international partners have provided any assistance to date. Refugees who are not receiving assistance are more vulnerable to further abuse, including exploitation, Human Rights Watch said.

“For years, Tigray was a haven for Eritrean refugees fleeing abuse, but many now feel they are no longer safe,” Bader said. “After months of fear, abuse, and neglect, Ethiopia, with support from its international partners, should ensure that all Eritrean refugees have immediate access to protection and assistance.”

For more information and accounts from witnesses, an overview of Ethiopia’s international legal obligations, and recommendations, please see below.

Eritrean Refugees in the Tigray Region

As of October 2020, Ethiopia hosted approximately 149,000 registered Eritrean refugees. Many were in the northern Tigray region, bordering Eritrea, in four camps, with approximately 20,000 in Hitsats and Shimelba in northwestern Tigray and about 31,000 in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in southern Tigray.

Ethiopia has a long history of providing group (“prima facie”) recognition to Eritreans fleeing persecution, forced conscription, and other rights abuses in their country. But in January 2020, Ethiopia’s Agency for Refugees and Returnees Affairs (ARRA) stopped registering some categories of new arrivals, including unaccompanied children.

In March 2020 the Ethiopian authorities announced that they would close Hitsats camp. In February 2021 following the fighting between Eritrean forces and Tigrayan armed groups, ARRA stated that Hitsats and Shimelba had been closed.

Hitsats was the newest of the four camps. It was established in 2013 because the others were congested. Hitsats was in a remote and harsh area next to the small town of Hitsats, with little delineation between it and the local community.

For almost five months after the start of the conflict in November 2020, UNHCR and other humanitarian agencies were unable to access Hitsats and Shimelba camps due to insecurity and federal government restrictions. When UNHCR visited the camps in late March, they found them destroyed and empty of refugees.

Eritrean Military’s Killings, Looting in Hitsats Town (November 19 to 23)

On November 19, Eritrean forces arrived in Hitsats, clashed with local Tigrayan forces, and took control of the town and neighboring refugee camp.

Human Rights Watch received credible reports of the killings of at least 31 people in and around Hitsats town between November 19 and 23, but the actual number is most likely significantly higher. A local organization documented and shared the names of 26 people, predominantly from one family, who were all killed on November 23. “All houses were searched by Eritrean troops, and in every house, people were killed,” one resident said. “A friend of mine, Yenialeman Geday Mehari, and her three siblings were killed in their home near the police station.”

At least four of five Ethiopian staff members of humanitarian organizations working in Hitsats were also among those killed in Hitsats between November 19 and 23, humanitarian groups said.

Eritrean forces initially refused to let the community bury their dead. “We heard that the priests were begging to bury them,” a humanitarian worker said. “But [the Eritrean forces] told them to leave the bodies.”

Eritrean soldiers also looted Hitsats town for several days following their takeover, in some cases accompanied by refugees, witnesses said. “They [the Eritrean soldiers] were looting everything, including sugar, jewels, and water from the shops. They butchered the animals.” one refugee said. A local resident saw some refugees pointing out the houses of militia members and members of the town’s administration to the Eritrean forces during house-to-house searches.

Refugees Killed During Fighting in Hitsats Camp (November 23)

There was no fighting in Hitsats camp in the initial days of the Eritrean occupation. The Eritrean forces set up tents inside the camp and established bases at the UNHCR, ARRA, and other humanitarian offices, where they also looted humanitarian equipment. Refugees said soldiers pressured them to return to Eritrea, warning them that they would not be safe in the camp and that the host community was planning to kill them.

On November 23, at around 6 a.m., heavy fighting broke out in Hitsats town, witnesses said. Mid-morning, Tigrayan militia armed with Kalashnikov assault rifles, recognized by some refugees as town residents, entered the refugee camp from at least two directions and started shooting at refugees around the camp’s Orthodox church.

A 28-year-old refugee said three Tigrayan militia fighters stopped him along with two friends and his relative as they headed to church for services:

They didn’t give us much time. They said: “Your ‘shabia’ [Eritrean forces] are killing us and you have the luxury of going to church.” My cousin was the first person injured, not a serious injury at first, but then he tried to escape, and they shot him again. This is when I fled toward the church. Once inside [with other refugees], we locked the door. Thankfully [the militia fighters] didn’t enter.

Several witnesses said that a small contingent of Eritrean forces in the camp fired back at the Tigrayan militiamen.

Nine refugee men were killed, and at least 17 refugees seriously injured, including one woman and a young man who suffered spinal cord damage.

As the clashes continued, Eritrean reinforcements arrived. Two refugees said that the Eritrean forces fired mortar rounds from outside the camp. Satellite imagery recorded on November 23 at 10:39 a.m. shows signs of burning inside the compound of the camp’s high school, and another fire is detected at 1:36 p.m. on a hill, east of the camp.

By early afternoon, the Tigrayan militia forces had fled the camp and town.

After the fighting ended, a refugee who worked at the health clinic on the outskirts of the camp went to the clinic where shots by militiamen had been fired and said he found the body of his colleague, Yonas Kinfe, another refugee, in the toilet: “He had been shot in the forehead.”

Camp residents set up a makeshift clinic in a playground. The cousin of the 27-year-old man who was the first person shot outside the church said his cousin had been shot three times but survived: “The third bullet was hardest to get out. There was no anesthetic; it was horrific. He screamed so much.”

After a few days, Eritrean forces took the injured refugees away, reportedly back to Eritrea. “They told us that they would be taken to Barentu [a town in northwest Eritrea],” a refugee nurse said. “No one was happy about being taken to Eritrea. In particular, the boy with the spinal cord injury, he really didn’t want to go. He complained a lot, but there was no other option.”

The cousin of the 27-year-old injured man still has no news about his relative. “One morning I went back to the tents, and he had disappeared. I was told he had been taken for treatment, but no one told me where. I asked my relatives back in Eritrea, but they had no news. I continue to pray.”

Enforced Disappearances of Refugees by Eritrean Forces (Late November)

On November 26 following the violence inside Hitsats camp, Eritrean forces called the refugees to a meeting and told them to leave the camp. “The meeting was short, no questions asked,” said a refugee who was in attendance. “It was just an order.” Most refugees reportedly ignored the order to leave.

After the meeting, Eritrean forces detained between 20 and 30 refugees, who were reportedly identified on a list of refugee committee members and perceived opposition supporters, two of them women. One refugee said the Eritrean forces had informants in the camp: “We were so scared. We didn’t trust each other anymore, and we didn’t dare to speak among ourselves.”

The detained refugees were held at the camp for two days then taken away in Eritrean military vehicles. Their whereabouts remain unknown.

Killings, Rape, Detention, and Looting by Tigrayan Militias (Early December)

The Eritrean forces pulled out of Hitsats camp in early December, after heavy fighting around Edaga Hibret, south of Hitsats, a local resident reported. On December 5 at about 6 p.m., Tigrayan forces entered the camp and began shooting indiscriminately, injuring a woman, and sending hundreds of refugees fleeing.

During the conflict’s first months, the Tigrayan fighters were made up predominantly of the region’s special police forces, as well as local militia forces, which traditionally include retired soldiers. The extent of the special forces’ command and control over the militias in the initial months of the conflict was unclear. Later in the fighting, the Tigrayan forces self-branded as the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF).

Human Rights Watch spoke to eight refugees who fled north in the following days and were abused by Tigrayan militias in and around Zelasle and Ziban Gedena towns. Human Rights Watch was unable to confirm the number of refugees killed or injured in the incidents around Zelasle and Ziban Gedena, but interviews with witnesses suggest that at least two dozen people died between December 5 and 8.

Two refugees said that Tigrayan militia fighters and civilians armed with blunt weapons, including knives and machetes, encircled dozens of refugees at night, then threw a grenade at them. One survivor said: “They brought us toward an old riverbed with a hole where they would dig for gold. We were only held there for about 15 minutes before a grenade was thrown. We didn’t manage to flee far as we were encircled by people shooting.”

Several refugees said the militia fighters robbed them of the few possessions they carried. A 33-year-old man said 20 Tigrayan militiamen stopped him along with his cousin, his cousin’s pregnant wife, and their children: “they told us to go back to our camp. Then they stole everything we had with us. But we were alive, and so we were relieved.”

Two refugee women said that Tigrayan militia fighters raped them, along with four other women, when they escaped from the camp. A 27-year-old said that she and her 17-year-old sister were raped:

Two militia fighters caught us and told the boys with us to stop, but the boys fled. We were already so tired; we had no strength to run. They beat my sister and me. We fell to the ground; then they abused us. We lost consciousness after the rape. The men had disappeared when we came to [regained consciousness]. We found our clothes dispersed. We found a little hole in the ground, and we got into the hole, and it protected us a bit.

The militia fighters also detained scores of refugees in Zelasle town. A refugee who was detained for two days in what he thought was a school said a local administrator came:

He said, “We’ve helped a lot of Eritreans, and now we are suffering. Our villages are being burned by the Eritrean forces.” He said we would return to Hitsats, but anyone who collaborated with the Eritrean forces would face consequences. The problem was with the militiamen. Some wanted to kill us, while some wanted to follow his [the administrator’s] order.

While detained, the refugees received limited food and water. Two said they had to drink their urine because of the lack of water.

From Zelasle, the militia fighters marched hundreds of refugees back to Hitsats camp. The refugees, already suffering from hunger and thirst, said that the walk back, although just a few hours long, was grueling. Four of the refugees said they witnessed militiamen killing fellow refugees who became tired along the way. “One person, who I helped myself, he was very tired,” a 25-year-old refugee said. “But the militia fighter told me, ‘Leave him.’ And then they shot him. Some others, who didn’t think they would make it, gave us their ID cards to inform their families.”

Arbitrary Detention, Movement Restrictions, and Looting in Hitsats (December)

Once the refugees were back in Hitsats, Tigrayan special forces, Tigrayan militias, and members of the unidentified Eritrean opposition armed group, working together, detained hundreds of refugees in a warehouse previously run by a Dutch nongovernmental organization, ZOA, in a room in which charcoal was stored. Most were held for between three days and a week, some reportedly longer. A 25-year-old refugee said:

When I arrived, there were already 30 people there [in the warehouse]. In our group, we were 500. Little by little, they released people. First the women, then the elders. Those they kept longer were the younger people. For three days, I didn’t eat anything. When I was released, I spoke about the hunger, and so after that, refugees started to bring food to the detainees.

Tigrayan special forces, Tigrayan militias, and the Eritrean armed group brought Hitsats residents to the warehouse to identify refugees who had allegedly committed crimes. They also met with refugee elders, saying the refugees should return all looted goods.

For the rest of December, these forces, who were based in the host community and controlled the surrounding area, ordered the refugees not to leave the camp, telling them that they would be unable to protect them from further attacks if they left, refugees reported.

The refugees in the camp had very little food. A nurse in the camp said: “We would go and drink in a well that wasn’t clean. Then people started to eat moringa leaves. It was terrible. We lost three people, a young woman, an elderly woman, and a young man. They were hungry and ill, and they died.”

Tigrayan militias repeatedly came into the camp during this period and looted food and basic goods from the refugee community. A refugee leader said:

[The militia fighters] started to steal from us. We had no choice; they carried the guns. Three came to my home. They told me to give them all our blankets and mats. When we talked to their boss, we told him that they took all our blankets. The boss said if any militiamen came to you, come, and tell us. For at least two or three weeks they were stealing. But then it reduced.

No humanitarian aid reached the camp throughout this period.

In response to allegations that Tigrayan forces abused refugees, Getachew Reda, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) spokesman, told Human Rights Watch that special forces had not been present in Hitsats or Shimelba during this period. He said the TPLF could not account for the behavior of all allied militia and irregular forces.

Eritrean Forces Return and Burn, Destroy Hitsats Camp (early January)

On January 3, Tigrayan forces started to leave the Hitsats area as heavy fighting broke out in the vicinity. Three refugees and a Hitsats resident said that Eritrean forces fired mortars as they approached Hitsats from the northeast, with some rounds exploding within meters of the camp. They then took control of the camp and town.

Human Rights Watch analyzed satellite imagery recorded before, during, and after the attacks. Two burn scars on the ground are visible between January 2 and 4, over two hills, 100 and 600 meters north of Hitsats camp.

On January 4, Eritrean forces ordered the thousands of refugees remaining in the camp to leave and take the road toward Sheraro, a town near the Eritrean border. Desperate and terrified, refugees said they felt they had no choice.

One refugee who stayed in the vicinity of the camp until January 5 said he saw Eritrean forces spreading fuel in the camp and lighting it on fire: “The camp is no longer there, it’s burned down. It wasn’t just the camp; they also burned some homes of civilians [in the town].”

Satellite imagery and thermal anomaly data collected by an environmental sensor show that the destruction of the camp started on January 5 between 11:02 a.m. and 1:24 p.m. and continued for at least three days. On January 5 the fires seem to start around structures in the western part of the camp, within the camp’s residential zones. By January 6 at 11:03 a.m., humanitarian facilities in the eastern part of the camp, such as the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) offices, were severely burned. Active fires, smoke plumes, and burn scars appear throughout the camp by January 8, reducing large swathes of the camp to ashes.

A UNHCR spokesperson said that when UNHCR reached the camps in late March, they found that “most of the shelters in an area known as Zone A, as well as UNHCR’s offices and staff guesthouse, were burned to the ground.”

Trek to Eritrean Border, Coerced Repatriations (January)

Refugees who were forced to leave the camp in January described a harrowing days-long trek, with no provisions, as they walked toward Sheraro, which was then under Eritrean control. One refugee said:

The journey was terrible. There were fields that were burning, houses burning. A lot of sadness. We found abandoned donkeys and put elderly people on these donkeys. Some people were too tired, so people had to drop their clothes, suitcases. The Eritrean soldiers did not even help women who gave birth along the way but forced them to keep walking.

The refugee said he saw one woman, who reportedly suffered from diabetes, die along the way.

Once they reached Sheraro and the contested town of Badme, some refugees felt they had no choice but to continue into Eritrea.

A 20-year-old refugee who returned to Eritrea via Badme said the Eritrean forces took three weeks to process those waiting to return to Eritrea around Badme, even though the refugees there had little food or shelter. She and hundreds of others eventually boarded buses and headed to Eritrea. While UNHCR said they were unable to verify the number of refugees that may have returned to Eritrea, ARRA said that they believed all those who ended up at the border returned to Ethiopia.

Abuses in Shimelba Camp by Eritrean Forces

Human Rights Watch interviewed five Eritrean refugees who fled Shimelba camp and faced violence and abuses, primarily from Eritrean forces, and spoke with aid workers who interviewed survivors from Shimelba.

Eritrean forces occupied Shimelba camp on November 17. Refugees said the Eritrean forces immediately threatened and intimidated them, pressuring them to leave. The soldiers called a meeting and told the refugees that “UNHCR would not be coming for them” and ordered them to return to Eritrea.

Eritrean soldiers walked around the camp with lists and detained approximately 20 refugees, men, and some women, including several community leaders. The refugees were taken away to an unknown location.

On December 7, as they occupied the camp, Eritrean forces executed six or seven Tigrayans in the vicinity of the camp, and left their bodies largely uncovered, sparking fear among the refugees. Many refugees fled Shimelba to the town of Sheraro, approximately 35 kilometers away. The Eritrean forces exerted considerable pressure on the refugees in Sheraro to return to Eritrea, the refugees said. One said: “Eritrean forces came into a big hall where we sheltered and told us that we had to leave. Some they took by force. In the street, if they found us, they told us to leave.”

Hundreds of refugees eventually returned to Shimelba. Meanwhile, Tigrayan militia fighters and special forces occupied Shimelba camp and prohibited refugees who remained from leaving.

Eritrean forces returned to Shimelba on December 16. Aid workers who spoke with survivors said that Eritrean soldiers shot dead at least one refugee at his home in front of his family and raped at least four refugees in the camp and its vicinity.

Around December 17, heavy fighting took place in and around the camp. Eritrean forces again took control of the camp.

Three residents said that at least six refugees were killed during the fighting. One witness said: “The heavy bombs were falling in the DICAC [Development and Inter-Church Aid Commission] schoolyard, and behind the schoolyard, there were local residents’ houses. Some of the civilian houses were destroyed. The schoolyard was in flames.” Satellite imagery recorded on December 17 at 10:42 a.m. shows burned ground in the DICAC schoolyard that then expanded across the schoolyard on December 18.

Hardships Facing Eritrean Refugees Remaining in Ethiopia

For refugees who found a way to remain in Ethiopia, survival has been hard.

In December the deputy head of ARRA told the media that the government was returning hundreds of refugees who had fled from Tigray to Addis Ababa back to the two functioning refugee camps, Mai Aini and Adi Harush. In January UNHCR raised concerns about refugees being returned against their will after ARRA informed them that 580 Eritreans had been taken back to Tigray. In its September 10 response letter, ARRA said that refugees arriving in Addis Ababa from Tigray had created logistical complications and that the refugees were returned after an ARRA assessment team found the two southern camps to be safe.

Most of the refugees identified had moved to or been moved to Mai Aini, Adi Harush, and Addis Ababa. UNHCR told Human Rights Watch that as of late August, of the refugees who are known to have received food rations in Hitsats and Shimelba in October 2020, 12,611 have been identified, while 7,643 remain unaccounted for. ARRA, however, said that the great majority of refugees from Hitsats and Shimelba have been accounted for, but the agency acknowledged that refugees could have been counted twice.

Human Rights Watch found that refugees outside of camps lacked access to urgent assistance. For several months, those who had made their way to Shire, a town in central Tigray, received no food assistance other than some high-energy biscuits. All the refugees interviewed by Human Rights Watch who had fled to Addis Ababa said that they needed urgent assistance, including medical care, food, and shelter.

In May, UNHCR said that many refugees needed urgent assistance, but that discussions with the government were ongoing about providing this assistance outside the camp setting. In August UNHCR reported that ARRA had agreed to provide refugees who had arrived in Addis Ababa from Hitsats and Shimelba with temporary identification documents for three years, which would enable them to open bank accounts and receive support through cash transfers. ARRA confirmed this to Human Rights Watch. At the time of writing, refugees in Addis Ababa had still not received this support.

Refugees in Adi Harush and Mai Aini, along with UNHCR, raised concerns about armed men engaged in crime in both camps. In February, for instance, unidentified armed men attacked three refugees as they lined up for scarce water at about 5 a.m., wounding one and stealing their belongings.

On July 12, fighting broke out in and around Mai Aini and Adi Harush between the Tigrayan Defense Forces and Amhara regional forces, killing at least one refugee, according to UNHCR. The insecurity in the area caused access to aid, including food and water, to be cut off. UNHCR said that emergency assistance started again on August 5 but warned that “basic services such as health care remain unavailable, and clean drinking water is running out.” ARRA said on September 10 that, given the insecurity, they currently do not have a presence in the camps. While Tigrayan forces reportedly control the camps and vicinities, reports of insecurity and clashes in the area persist. Responding to a query about plans to relocate Eritrean refugees out of Tigray, Getachew Reda, the TPLF spokesman, questioned whether there were any credible security concerns for Eritrean refugees remaining in Tigray.

International Legal Obligations

Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia are protected by international human rights and humanitarian law. International humanitarian law, or the laws of war, prohibits attacks against civilians, including refugees, and civilian property, and requires parties to the conflict to facilitate humanitarian access to civilians in need. The warring parties who have committed abuses against refugees are responsible for laws-of-war violations. Individuals who have committed serious violations with criminal intent can be held responsible for war crimes.

Ethiopia is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol and to African regional refugee conventions. These hold Ethiopia responsible for ensuring the protection of refugees within its territory and for cooperating with the UN refugee agency to facilitate its response to refugee crises.

UNHCR’s Executive Committee has long condemned military or armed attacks on refugee camps, and has said that governments should preserve the civilian and humanitarian character of refugee camps, ensure safe access for humanitarian assistance, and hold accountable those responsible for attacks on the security of refugees.


  • All parties to Ethiopia’s armed conflict should immediately cease attacks and abuses against Eritrean refugees and other civilians. They should respect the humanitarian nature of refugee camps and not deploy forces there. They should facilitate humanitarian access and freedom of movement for all refugees;
  • The Ethiopian government should, with international support, provide immediate and adequate emergency assistance, including medical care, food, and shelter, to the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers currently displaced outside of camps, including in Sheraro, Adigrat, and Addis Ababa. They should identify and support those at particular risk or with specific needs, including women, the high caseload of unaccompanied and separated minors and other children, older people, and people with disabilities;
  • The government should also ensure the physical safety of refugees within its territory, including by: protecting Eritrean refugees from Eritrean and other armed forces and groups; ensuring humanitarian access to all refugee camps and conflict areas; and committing to not forcibly returning Eritrean refugees to Eritrea or to areas where their lives and security would be at risk;
  • Any UN-led, international investigation into alleged international crimes in the Tigray region should include an investigation into warring parties’ actions against Eritrean refugees and protected humanitarian infrastructure;
  • Tigrayan armed forces should ensure the protection of Eritrean refugees in areas under their control, including through ensuring humanitarian access to all refugee camps, freedom of movement for all refugees, and cooperating with international investigations into abuses against Eritrean refugees;
  • Ethiopia, Eritrea, and UNHCR should cooperate to account for the whereabouts and well-being of the thousands of refugees from Hitsats and Shimelba camps and throughout Tigray still unaccounted for; and
  • UNHCR and affected governments should accelerate the handling of pending cases of third-country resettlement for Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia, as a highly vulnerable group.


Grand Renaissance Dam GERD Nile

Date: 15/09/2021

Source: What’s in blue

Security Council Presidential Statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD)

This afternoon (15 September) the Security Council is expected to adopt a presidential statement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD). The draft presidential statement calls for a resumption of the negotiations led by the African Union (AU) to reach a “binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”. This will be the first Security Council product on the issue.

The negotiations on the presidential statement were prolonged and apparently difficult. Tunisia initially proposed a resolution on the issue, but following Council members’ inability to agree on this product, decided to pursue a presidential statement. It circulated a first draft of the presidential statement in early August and held several rounds of negotiations. It seems that the draft presidential statement set to be adopted this afternoon is the fourth version of the text.

The ongoing dispute concerns a major dam on the Blue Nile and dates back to 2011, when Ethiopia started the construction of the GERD. The hydropower dam is reported to have an expected capacity of 6,000 megawatts and to cost $4 billion. While Ethiopia argues that the dam is vital for its development, downriver countries Egypt and Sudan have expressed concern that the GERD threatens their own water supply.

In March 2015, Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan signed a Declaration of Principles on the GERD in which they committed to the equitable and reasonable use of water resources. However, disagreements among the three states have persisted on some aspects of the functioning of the dam, including the filling and operations of the GERD during periods of drought and on a dispute resolution mechanism, preventing the parties from reaching common ground. Negotiations on the outstanding issues, including under the auspices of the AU, have yielded little progress.

The dispute was first discussed by the Security Council on 29 June 2020, in conjunction with the first filling of the GERD by Ethiopia. When Addis Ababa’s intention to move forward with the second filling of the dam became clear earlier this year, the dispute again garnered international attention.

On 15 June, following a meeting requested by Egypt and Sudan, the League of Arab States (LAS) adopted a resolution which called on the UN Security Council to discuss the dispute and on Ethiopia to refrain from filling the dam without first having reached an agreement with the countries affected. In a 15 June statement, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs rejected the LAS resolution “in its entirety”. Tunisia— a member of both the UN Security Council and the LAS—has raised the issue within the Security Council, requesting a meeting on the GERD (which was held on 8 July) and leading the negotiations on a Council product.

Tunisia first circulated a draft Security Council resolution on the GERD on 2 July. Following the 8 July briefing, Tunisia circulated a revised draft. However, it appears that there was insufficient support for the text to be adopted. Tunisia apparently circulated an initial draft of the presidential statement on 5 August. Following comments by Council members, a first revised draft was put under silence until 16 August, a deadline which was later extended to 17 August. After Kenya broke silence on the statement on 17 August, a second revised draft was circulated by Tunisia and put under silence on the same day. However, Kenya broke silence on the draft again. A third revised version was circulated by Tunisia on 2 September, with a read-through on 3 September and comments were submitted by 7 September. A fourth revised version was circulated on Monday (13 September) and passed the silence procedure yesterday (14 September).

It seems that an agreement on the draft statement became possible through compromise and the considerable scaling back of the content of the text. A notable caveat in the draft statement is that the Council “underscores” that the “statement does not set out any principles or precedent in any other transboundary water disputes”. This language is apparently intended to address concerns by several Council members that the adoption of a Council product on the GERD could create a precedent where the Council would be called to intervene in transboundary water disputes across the globe. During the 8 July Council meeting, several members noted that these types of disagreements are better solved regionally and through dialogue among the parties involved. Kenya called on the parties “to recommit to negotiating in good faith within the AU-led process” and expressed its “total confidence that our Egyptian, Ethiopian and Sudanese brothers and sisters will make the principle of African solutions for African challenges a reality”, while Niger called on “all parties to prioritize reaching a regional and African solution to the GERD issue”. Saint Vincent and the Grenadines referred to Chapter VIII of the UN Charter (which encourages the peaceful resolution of local disputes by regional arrangements or agencies as long as their efforts are consistent with the principles and purposes of the UN) and said that “the African Union is best-suited to facilitate the pacific settlement of disputes on the motherland”. Mexico also referenced Chapter VIII in its statement. India stated that “transboundary-water disputes should ideally be resolved through mechanisms agreed upon by the primary stakeholders and taking into account the respective rights and issues of technical details, historical usage and socioeconomic aspects”.

Another apparent contentious reference that appeared in earlier iterations of the text, but was removed in the final version, requested the Secretary-General to report on the dispute to the Council within six months. This would have placed the GERD on the Security Council’s agenda, which proved unacceptable to some Council members.

The overall tone of the statement has also been considerably softened during the lengthy negotiation process. In the draft presidential statement, the Security Council “encourages” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to restart the AU-led negotiations “to finalize expeditiously the text of [a] mutually acceptable and binding agreement on the filling and operation of the GERD”. While having a reference to a “binding agreement” was arguably one of the priorities of the states who called for a Council product on the GERD, a previous iteration of the statement included stronger language “requesting” Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to reach such an agreement. Similarly, the Council calls upon the three countries to resume the negotiation process “in a constructive and cooperative manner”, while a previous version directly called upon them “to refrain from making any statements or taking any action that may jeopardize the negotiation process”.



Eritrea Media Suppression

By Siyad Arts @artssiyad (a political cartoonist who believes arts has power to change the world).

PHOTO EXHIBITION – 18 to 19 September 2021 10.30am to 4.30pm

17 September 2021 at 5pm: Exhibition Opening by Patrick Grady, MP for Glasgow North and Vice-Chair of All Party Parliamentary Group for Eritrea

At Resources for London, 356 Holloway Road, London N7 6PA

Eritrea – bordering on the Red Sea – has been fought over for generations. Colonised by Italy, it was forcibly united with Ethiopia after the Second World War. Deprived of many of their freedoms, and suffering egregious extrajudicial killings, its people rose in revolt.

After a liberation struggle lasting 30 years, Eritreans finally won their independence in 1991. But a further border war with Ethiopia between 1998 and 2000 and a ruthless internal crackdown plunged the nation into dictatorship and repression. Eritreans have fled their country in their hundreds of thousands, seeking refuge in neighbouring states, or drowning in the Mediterranean in an attempt to reach sanctuary in Europe or the USA.

Today Eritrea finds itself engaged in another bloody war in Ethiopia, between the Tigrayans and the Federal Government. Eritreans, along with Ethiopians and Amhara militia have committed despicable atrocities since the outbreak of the war in November 2020, including systematic attacks and abduction of Eritrean refugees in Tigray. Thousands of Eritrean troops have been killed in this unnecessary war, instigated by Prime Minister Abiy and the unelected president of Eritrea, Isaias Afeworki. All in the name of the “Peace Accord” signed by the two countries in 2018. There is no prospect of the war ending soon, despite appeals for peace from the international community and the UN.

Following the end of the border war with Ethiopia, on 18 September 2001, the Government of Eritrea banned all independent media outlets and incarcerated all but the most compliant journalists. Government critics were also rounded up and detained without trial in the most brutal of prisons.

The journalists and political activists who were arrested twenty years ago have not been seen or heard of since. We mourn their loss and demand their freedom.

For further information, please contact:

Eritrea Focus

Post: 2 Thorpe Close, Ladbrooke Grove, London W10 5XL

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Tel: +44 (0) 7949 700 412



  • In the past two months alone, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa’s two most populous nations.
  • The U.S. has pledged to reignite its economic and commercial engagements in Africa, but a planned drawback of troops is giving way to extensive spending on operational bases and longer-term plans to sustain a strategic presence.
  • France maintains the largest presence and troop numbers of any former colonial power in Africa.
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - August 8, 2020: Ethiopians hold up a poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government gathering condemning the rebel Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF).
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia - August 8, 2020: Ethiopians hold up a poster of Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan during a pro-government gathering condemning the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Minasse Wondimu Hailu/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images

Russia is challenging the status quo in Africa, using insecurity and diplomatic disputes with Western powers as a springboard to expand its presence on the continent.

From Libya to Nigeria, Ethiopia to Mali, Moscow has been building key strategic military alliances and an increasingly favorable public profile across Africa in recent years. 

Central to this effort is offering alternatives to countries that have grown disgruntled with Western diplomatic partnerships.

The second Russia-Africa Summit is scheduled for 2022. At the inaugural summit in Sochi in 2019, President Vladimir Putin vowed that Russia was “not going to participate in a new ‘repartition’ of the continent’s wealth; rather, we are ready to engage in competition for cooperation with Africa.”

Via the U.N., Russia has also provided aid in the form food and medical assistance alongside its growing commercial, economic and military support across the continent.

Russia’s bilateral push

In the past two months alone, Russia has signed military cooperation agreements with Nigeria and Ethiopia, Africa’s two most populous nations.

The Stockholm International Peace Research Institute estimates that Africa accounted for 18% of Russian arms exports between 2016 and 2020.

Russian mercenaries have also provided direct assistance to governments in Libya and the Central African Republic, according to the U.N. However, the Kremlin has denied links to the Wagner Group, a paramilitary organization alleged by the U.N. to be aiding human rights abuses in the region.

“A group of Russian instructors was sent to the CAR at the request of its leaders and with the knowledge of the UN Security Council Sanctions Committee on the CAR established by Resolution 2127,” a Russian foreign ministry statement said in July. “Indicatively, none of them has taken part in combat operations.”

Reuters reported in July that U.S. lawmakers had stalled a planned $1 billion weapons sale to Nigeria over allegations of human rights abuses by the government.  

Less than a month later, Russia signed a deal with President Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to supply military equipment, training and technology to Nigerian forces.

MOSCOW - Members of a Nigerian delegation inspect a Russian Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter military helicopter during the opening day of the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon at Zhukovsky outside Moscow on July 20, 2021.
MOSCOW - Members of a Nigerian delegation inspect a Russian Mil Mi-28NE Night Hunter military helicopter during the opening day of the MAKS-2021 International Aviation and Space Salon at Zhukovsky outside Moscow on July 20, 2021.

Although historically a key diplomatic and trade partner of the U.S., Buhari’s government found itself at odds with Washington amid the #EndSARS protests in 2020, and again after a recent fallout with Twitter.

Meanwhile, Islamist militant groups such as Boko Haram and the Islamic State’s West Africa Province have cotinued to wreak havoc in the northeast of the country. 

This confluence of factors paving the way for Russian influence-building was also at play in Ethiopia. Russia has provided support for Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government after Western governments balked at his forces’ military response to an insurgency in northern Tigray. 

Ethiopia felt the U.S. in particular was aligning with Egypt in the ongoing dispute over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken further evoked the ire of Addis Ababa in March by accusing forces in Tigray of “ethnic cleansing.” 

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov then met with Ethiopian counterpart Demeke Mekonnen in June. Moscow proceeded with the deployment of election observers to Ethiopia, whereas the EU withdrew its observers, citing “ongoing violence across the country, human rights violations and political tensions, harassment of media workers and detained opposition members.”

SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 23, 2019: Ethiopia' Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (4th L) and Russia's President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) during Russian-Ethiopian talks on the sidelines of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art.
SOCHI, RUSSIA - OCTOBER 23, 2019: Ethiopia’ Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (4th L) and Russia’s President Vladimir Putin (2nd R) during Russian-Ethiopian talks on the sidelines of the 2019 Russia-Africa Summit at the Sirius Park of Science and Art.
Donat Sorokin\TASS via Getty Images

Russia has supplied strategic weapons both as a potential defense against any Egyptian strike on the GERD and to aid government forces in Tigray. 

“Gains by the Tigray Defence Force (TDF), which has captured parts of the Afar and Amhara regions in recent weeks, make the provision of desperately needed weapons all the more important for Addis Ababa, and Moscow is likely to oblige to such a request, possibly on a buy-now-pay-later basis,” said Louw Nel, senior political analyst at NKC African Economics.  

In what Nel flagged as a “sign of things to come,” Ethiopia and Russia signed a military cooperation agreement in July, focused specifically on knowledge and technology transfers. However, Nel noted that Ethiopia will be “wary of allowing Russian personnel to be deployed there in anything other than a training capacity.” 

Russia’s foreign ministry was not immediately available for comment when contacted by CNBC.

U.S. ‘creeping build-up’ 

The U.S. has pledged to reignite its economic and commercial engagements in Africa, but a planned drawback of troops is giving way to extensive spending on operational bases and longer-term plans to sustain a strategic presence, according to a recent report from risk intelligence firm Pangea-Risk. 

In 2018, then-U.S. national security advisor John Bolton singled out Russia’s expansionist “influence across Africa,” and Washington has been keen to retain a foothold on the continent.

The Biden administration is set to maintain the U.S. military’s 27 operational outposts on the continent, while the country’s Africa Command (Africom) is prioritizing counter-terrorism objectives in the Horn of Africa and the Sahel regions.

The U.S. is also establishing a presence in other strategically important regions, such as the Red Sea and the Gulf of Guinea. Some $330 million is reportedly being spent by 2025 on U.S. military base construction and related infrastructure projects, while Africom is drawing up a 20-year strategic plan. 

This will focus on counterterrorism, special forces operations and humanitarian support, along with safeguarding U.S. commercial interests in the face of growing Chinese and Russian presence. 

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and staff members participate in a virtual bilateral meeting with Nigeria's President Muhammadu Buhari during a videoconference at the State Department in Washington, DC on April 27, 2021.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and staff members participate in a virtual bilateral meeting with Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari during a videoconference at the State Department in Washington, DC on April 27, 2021.

The report noted that Cape Verdean authorities have since July 2020 agreed a Status of Forces Agreement with the U.S. military to allow U.S. troops to operate from its archipelago. 

“Such an agreement makes sense given global geo-political competition in the West African region and the need to counter the growing risk of piracy in the Gulf of Guinea, both of which pose an existential threat to U.S. commercial interests,” Pangea-Risk CEO Robert Besseling said. 

“However, the one-year-old SOFA with Cape Verde raises questions over broader U.S. diplomatic and judicial engagements in the country, and whether this sets a pattern for U.S.–Africa relations going forward.” 

International Crisis Group Africa Program Director Comfort Ero, has said the “creeping build-up” of U.S. military on the continent was accompanied by mixed messaging, accusing both the U.S. and African governments of a lack of transparency. 

The U.S. is likely to phase out its direct military presence in insecurity hotspots, but continues to seek SOFA deals with countries of strategic importance, Pangea-Risk said, adding that Washington will be reluctant to withdraw entirely due to Chinese and Russian presence. 

France struggles in the Sahel 

France maintains the largest presence and troop numbers of any former colonial power in Africa, particularly in the form of 5,100 troops in the Sahel, where the border area between Mali, Burkina Faso and Niger meet has become a hotspot for violence. 

“Paris is inconsistent in its treatment of friendly regimes, indulging an unconstitutional transfer of power in Chad but taking a harder line following a coup in Mali,” said NKC’s Nel. 

French President Emmanuel Macron supported a military-led transition from Chadian President Idriss Deby, who was killed in battle with rebel forces in April, to his son. This violated the country’s constitution and led to anti-French protests and the vandalism of a Total petrol station. 

PAU, France - French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Chad's President Idriss Deby prior to a summit on the situation in the Sahel region in the southern French city of Pau on January 13, 2020.
PAU, France - French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Chad’s President Idriss Deby prior to a summit on the situation in the Sahel region in the southern French city of Pau on January 13, 2020.
GEORGES GOBET/AFP via Getty Images

However, when Colonel Assimi Goïta established military rule in Mali, Macron denounced the coup and suspended a joint military operation with the Malian army. Protests in the aftermath were also hostile toward France, while Russian flags and posters were visible. 

“Given the clear negative trend in political stability in Mali, there is reason to consider the danger that it might end up looking like the CAR, where President Faustin-Archange Touadéra’s weak government is essentially kept in place by Russian muscle: the mercenaries of Yevgeny Prigozhin’s Wagner Group,” Nel said. 

Source=Russia is building military influence in Africa, challenging U.S., France (


Working toward a ceasefire in Ethiopia

Source: ICG

The conflict centred around Ethiopia’s Tigray region between the federal government and Tigray forces has already created a severe humanitarian crisis, which is likely to worsen with the fighting in a dangerous new phase. The UN has been active in engaging with Ethiopian stakeholders but needs to do more to urge all parties – including Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Tigray’s leadership – to back off from the battlefield, where an expanding war could easily cause massive casualties.

Since the conflict started in November 2020, neither the federal government nor Tigray’s forces have exhibited willingness to unconditionally pause hostilities and pursue dialogue. The consequence has been a dire humanitarian emergency where, according to the UN, over five million people in the region are in need of assistance. Some 400,000 of them are acutely food-insecure. The fighting has also interrupted the planting season, with harvests estimated at only about 25-50 per cent of average levels. After withdrawing from most of the region in late June, federal authorities have blockaded Tigray, in effect, cutting off telecommunications, electricity and banking services.

On the battlefield, the Tigray forces have been buoyed by forcing federal Ethiopian troops to depart Tigray region and have made incursions since mid-July into the neighbouring Afar region to the east and Amhara region to the south. These manoeuvres – which could cut off a critical trade route to Djibouti – are partly aimed at pressuring Addis Ababa into accepting the Tigray forces’ terms for a deal, including formation of a transitional government. The Tigrayans have nonetheless met stiff resistance and have not achieved all their military objectives. The federal government, meanwhile, has responded to its military setbacks and the Tigray offensive by enlisting paramilitaries from other regions, launching a mass mobilisation campaign and calling on “all eligible civilians” to sign up for the national army. Since November, Eritrea’s military has lined up alongside Ethiopia’s, while Amhara regional forces are still occupying territory in western Tigray.

The unwavering commitment by all sides to pursuing a military solution threatens not just many more deaths but also the Ethiopian state itself. Addis Ababa has employed dangerous rhetoric antagonising Tigrayans while calling on civilians to join the fighting. This fervour, combined with decades-long resentment of Tigrayan leaders for their part in a period of authoritarian rule, could lead to further serious fractures in Ethiopia. Meanwhile, a continuing advance by the Tigray forces could lead to thousands more deaths, bring a widening humanitarian crisis and ratchet up domestic pressure on Abiy, which – while still unlikely in the short term – could lead to an alarming implosion in Addis Ababa and an ensuing power struggle with serious risks of a broader breakdown. These factors warrant a commensurate response from international actors, including the UN, which needs to impress on all parties the need to quickly de-escalate before the situation deteriorates further.

Building on his 26 August statement to the Security Council emphasising that “the unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region are at stake”, Secretary-General Guterres should adopt an increasingly assertive approach to the crisis. He should use his channels in Addis Ababa, especially his direct contacts with Abiy, to underscore the urgent risks of a wider conflict that could have consequences far outside Tigray. The secretary-general should counsel Abiy to drop his resistance to negotiating with Tigray’s leaders and urge both sides to cast their military plans aside in favour of a deal. Diplomats from the U.S., the European Union (EU), Germany, France and the UK should back up the UN initiative with outreach to, primarily, Foreign Minister Demeke Mekonnen, a key interlocutor for international actors, to convey the same messages about the need for a pact.

Such an agreement could have several elements. The secretary-general should call on the federal government to lift its de facto blockade of Tigray and restore basic services while granting humanitarian agencies access to Tigray – if Tigrayan leaders freeze their military operations and soften their negotiating positions. A core Tigray demand is the withdrawal from western Tigray of all Amhara forces and administrators who moved in at the outset of fighting in November as well as the exit of all federal and Eritrean forces from the region. Guterres should urge the Tigrayan side to give federal, Amhara and Eritrean leaders time to complete these steps rather than trying to achieve them via military means. In exchange for a withdrawal, Tigray’s leaders could commit to politically addressing the territorial dispute over western Tigray with the Amhara region in the future and also dropping their demands for a transitional government involving Abiy’s departure.

The Tigray conflict has expanded to a worrying scale. Leaders in both Addis Ababa and Mekelle have so far been unresponsive to external diplomatic initiatives. This is all the more reason for the UN to step up its efforts, conscious of the considerable risks ahead if the conflict continues along its present trajectory.

The United States remains gravely concerned by ongoing conflict in multiple regions of Ethiopia.  Reports of continued human rights abuses and atrocities by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces, the Eritrean Defense Forces, Amhara regional and irregular forces, the TPLF and other armed groups, including the reported attack on civilians in one village in Amhara region this week, are deeply disturbing.  We condemn all such abuses against civilians in the strongest possible terms and call on all parties to the conflict to respect human rights and comply with their obligations under international humanitarian law.

We agree with the UN Secretary-General and African Union leaders: there is no military solution to the conflict in northern Ethiopia, and a durable political solution must be found.  We urge the Ethiopian government and TPLF to enter at once into negotiations without preconditions toward a sustainable ceasefire.

The mounting reports of human rights abuses underscore the urgency of independent and credible international investigations.  It is essential that the Ethiopian government and all other parties to the conflict provide and facilitate the access necessary for such investigations.  We look forward to an update from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the forty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council on the human rights situation in Tigray and to the release of the joint investigation report of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights at the earliest possible opportunity.  We also urge full cooperation with the Commission of Inquiry of the AU Commission on Human and People’s Rights.  Establishing transparent, independent mechanisms to hold those responsible for human rights abuses to account is critical to political reconciliation and peace in Ethiopia.

Source=Ongoing Conflict and Human Rights Abuses in Northern Ethiopia - United States Department of State

News and Press Release
10 Sep 2021
Originally published
10 Sep 2021
View original

Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) has suspended all activities in the Amhara, Gambella and Somali regions of Ethiopia, as well as in the west and northwest of Tigray region, to comply with a three-month suspension order from the Ethiopian Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) on 30 July.

On receipt of the order, MSF undertook all required action to comply with ACSO’s request while their investigation is ongoing, including putting all medical and humanitarian programmes into full suspension for a period of three months. At short notice, patients have been discharged from MSF clinics, leaving people in these locations with even further limited access to healthcare. A team of nearly 1,000 Ethiopian staff are also on standby at home, while nearly all international staff have left the country.

In the first six months of 2021, in the four regions where MSF has now suspended activities, MSF teams provided 212,000 men, women and children with outpatient consultations, admitted 3,900 individuals for specialised care, provided 3,300 people with mental health consultations and assisted 1,500 women in the delivery of their babies.

The order to suspend our medical and humanitarian assistance comes at a time when the humanitarian needs in Ethiopia are enormous, with millions of people in need of food, water, shelter and access to healthcare across the country.

In the locations where MSF can no longer assist, in west and northwest Tigray, the situation remains extremely precarious and volatile for people, as well as for teams attempting to provide lifesaving assistance. We are also concerned about the situation of South Sudanese refugees in Gambella region, people impacted by violence or suffering from neglected tropical diseases like snakebites and Kala Azar in Amhara region, and for people with incredibly limited access to healthcare in Somali region.

Furthermore, it is now three months since the brutal murder of our colleagues Yohannes, Maria and Tedros on 24 June, and the circumstances around their deaths remain unclear, while no one has claimed responsibility. At the time of their deaths, MSF took the painful but necessary decision to suspend activities in the central and eastern zones of Tigray (Abi Adi, Adigrat and Axum) and continues to engage in dialogue with the relevant authorities for updates regarding an on-going investigation.

While MSF was asked to suspend activities in specific locations, we continue to run medical and humanitarian services in Addis Ababa, Guji (Oromia), Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Region (SNNPR), and southeast Tigray.

MSF has been working in Ethiopia for 37 years, providing medical assistance to millions of people affected by conflict, epidemics, disasters, or with limited access to healthcare, in collaboration with Ethiopian authorities at local, regional and national levels. All our activities are guided by humanitarian principles: humanity, independence, neutrality, and impartiality.

Despite these current challenges in our ability to provide medical and humanitarian assistance, we remain committed to the communities we have been supporting across the country and to the ongoing dialogue with the relevant government authorities to lift the suspension and enable the resumption of activities as soon as possible.


Brigadier General Estifanos Seyoum - Eritrean Political Prisoner

In the wake of the tragic failure of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, senior members of the Eritrean government began a campaign to bring about the democracy that the 30 year war of liberation had been fought for.

They formed the G-15: men and women who challenged President Isaias to give the Eritrean people the freedoms they had been promised. In dawn raids on 18 and 19 September 2001 the president’s notorious security forces rounded them up and jailed them. None have ever been taken before a court or convicted of any crime. They have rotted in prison ever since.

At the same time independent newspapers were closed and journalists arrested. The nightmare of repression which has hung over Eritrea ever since had begun.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of these terrible events, we recall those who have been in Eritrea’s jails ever since. Their families have been deprived of them; their friends have lost them. But they have never been forgotten. Nor has the flame of hope that they ignited – of a proud, free and democratic country.

We have profiles of these brave men and women – and will share them daily.

Estifanos Seyoum gained BA in Economics from the University of Addis Ababa and then went on to study for his Masters in Economics at Wisconsin University, USA. In 1975, he abandoned his studies to join the EPLF and he received his military and political training in Sahil. After his training, he was assigned to the Military Training Branch/Academy, as a political instructor and eventually become one of the two administrators of the Academy.

In 1977, during the first organisational congress, Estifanos was elected member of the Central Committee and became Secretary of the Department of Economy. He coordinated the complex work of this important and sensitive department. This included providing everything for the entire war effort: finance, transport, agriculture, trade and food supply as well as management of logistics for medical care, office equipment and other necessities.

After independence, Estifanos became the Secretary of Economics Department and worked to improve its capability and capacity. However, President Isaias Afeworki reshuffled ministers and other high officials frequently, giving them little chance into settle in their new posts and make impact. Estifanos was therefore moved from department to department regularly.

In 1994, during the third congress of the EPLF (PFDJ), he was elected member of the Central Committee and the Eritrean National Assembly, and became the Minister of Defence. In 2000, he was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General but in less than a year he was moved to the Department of Inland Revenue as its Director General. While working in this role, he discovered some irregularities in PFDJ owned private companies that were answerable only to President Isaias Afeworki. Estifanos tried to investigate these irregularities but this led to clashes with the President who tried to stop the investigation. Estifanos insisted for an audit of the financial records of the companies to make sure they paid their income taxes and duties like any other private company in accordance with the law.

In 2000, the G-15 wrote an open letter to the President demanding for the recall of the National Assembly, the implementation of the constitution and the rule of law as well as an investigation into the Ethio-Eritrean border war, which Estifanos signed.

Estifanos, along with his fellow G-15 members, was arrested by the security services on 18 September 2001 and taken to the infamous Ira-Iro prison without the due process of the law.


General Biteweded Abraha - Eritrean political prisonerBefore Biteweded Abraha joined the EPLF, he was a clandestine member of the EPLF working in cities and towns around Eritrea. He had been captured and imprisoned by the Ethiopian security services. He stopped his clandestine work and joined the EPLF in 1973, receiving training and assigned to a combat unit in the highlands southern zone, where he served his country with distinction. In 1977, He was elected as a reserve member of the EPLF Central Committee.

In 1983, Bitweded became deputy head of the Revolution School and at the 2nd Congress of the EPLF, in 1987, he was assigned to the Economy Department before moving on to combat Division 90. Later, in the final stages of the battle for the liberation of Eritrean, he served as head of the Commando Unit 525.

He took part, as a commander, in the battle for the liberation of Assab. After the liberation of the city, he was assigned (in addition to his military tasks) to the role of assistant administrator, working to the governor of the port city of Assab. During his time in Assab, Bitweded had clashed with Isaias (the then Chairman of the EPLF). Bitweded was detained and he subsequently wrote many times to Isaias pleading for his case to be heard in court but received no reply.

Bitweded was briefly released in December 1997 by Isaias to see if he would remain silent. Contrary to the expectations, Bitweded made a public speech regarding his unjust arrest and the attitude of the dictatorial Eritrean regime. He was rearrested in March 1998 and has not been seen or of heard since.

In one of his speeches, Biweded said: “We should not be afraid of anyone person but should be aware or afraid of breaking the law of the land and the laws of God, the creator. If we want to make social justice a reality, we need to have bravery and dedication. The Eritrean people need to shout out openly and ask that these prisoners receive the due process of the law and be brought before a judge. Do not be afraid! I will fight until justice is realised.”


In the wake of the tragic failure of Eritrea’s 1998-2000 border war with Ethiopia, senior members of the Eritrean government began a campaign to bring about the democracy that the 30 year war of liberation had been fought for.

They formed the G-15: men and women who challenged President Isaias to give the Eritrean people the freedoms they had been promised. In dawn raids on 18 and 19 September 2001 the president’s notorious security forces rounded them up and jailed them. None have ever been taken before a court or convicted of any crime. They have rotted in prison ever since.

At the same time independent newspapers were closed and journalists arrested. The nightmare of repression which has hung over Eritrea ever since had begun.

Now, on the 20th anniversary of these terrible events, we recall those who have been in Eritrea’s jails ever since. Their families have been deprived of them; their friends have lost them. But they have never been forgotten. Nor has the flame of hope that they ignited – of a proud, free and democratic country.

We have profiles of these brave men and women – and will share them daily.

Alazar Mesfun Eritrean Political PrisonerIn 1967, Alazar Mesfin graduated from Addis Ababa University with BA in Economics and started working to support his family in Asmara. However, as a result of the intensified armed struggle taken place in Eritrea, Alazar and his friends left Addis Ababa in 1975 to join the EPLF.

After completing his military training, Alazar was assigned to work as a radio operator but was puzzled by the prevailing EPLF leadership political rivalry. Alazar, like many of the educated youth joining the struggle, could not understand the disputes and the power struggle that was going on. But he remained hopeful that the struggle’s democratic process would help correct the weaknesses and settle the dispute amongst the leadership.

After the EPLF strategic withdrawal from the liberated cities in the late 1970s, Alazar became a representative of the Purchasing Department in Sudan and he was later sent to work in that capacity in Rome, Italy. In 1980, after just one year, he returned to Eritrea and continued as Head of Trade until independence.

After independence Alazar worked for the Ministry of Trade and Commerce and later he became the Head of Taxation/Duty Department and was instrumental in designing the department process to fit the required economic growth of the new nation. Subsequently, Alazar was transferred to the Ministry of Regional Affairs to be the head of the Economic Department for the Southern Region and then to the Northern Red Sea region. While still on that assignment he went to the US to continue his master’s degree and upon graduating, came back to Eritrea and worked for the Ministry of Regional Affairs as head of Project Management.

Alazar openly criticized the government’s inefficiencies and bad practices. As a result of expressing his opinion he was jailed and kept incommunicado in Ira-Iro prison since 2001.

Two of Alazras siblings were martyred to liberate their country and he left behind three young children.

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