Photo Source: © Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Image
Photo Source: © Eduardo Soteras/AFP via Getty Image

Atrocity Alert No. 228: Ethiopia, China and Mozambique

11 November 2020

Atrocity Alert is a weekly publication by the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect highlighting situations where populations are at risk of, or are enduring, mass atrocity crimes.

Hundreds killed as Ethiopia edges towards civil war

On 4 November Ethiopia’s federal government launched a military offensive against the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the ruling party in the northern Tigray region. Hundreds of people have been killed in the resulting fighting. Critical humanitarian aid is struggling to reach up to 2 million people, including almost 200,000 internally displaced persons and refugees.

The federal government alleges that their military offensive was launched after the TPLF attacked a military base in the region, which the TPLF deny. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed stated the offensive has “clear, limited and achievable objectives” and has resisted international calls to end the fighting.

The TPLF controlled Ethiopia’s government for 27 years until a mass protest movement that eventually led to the appointment of Prime Minister Abiy in 2018. Tensions have been rising between the federal government and the TPLF since the postponement of federal elections due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Accusing Prime Minister Abiy of trying to illegally extend his rule, the TPLF held regional elections on 9 September which the federal government deemed illegitimate.

The offensive in Tigray comes at a time when ethnically-based attacks are on the rise throughout the country. On 1 November at least 54 ethnic Amhara civilians were killed by an armed group in West Welega Zone in the Oromia region, after federal forces abruptly left the area. An armed militia also killed up to 140 civilians in the Metakal Zone of Benishangul-Gumuz region during September. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that, “unaddressed, such violence only leaves desolation, feeds revenge and leads to further intercommunal clashes and to more casualties and displacement in the country.”

With more than 1.8 million people already displaced as a result of ongoing insecurity, many Ethiopians remain deeply distrustful of state authorities. Some populations also feel marginalized by Ethiopia’s federalist system of government and allege that it has resulted in ethnic favoritism and discrimination.

Federal government forces and the TPLF should work to resolve the political crisis through peaceful means. The Ethiopian government must confront the underlying sources of conflict in the country and implement reforms to protect human rights and guarantee equal access to government services and resources. All military operations should be conducted in strict adherence to international humanitarian and human rights law.

Parliamentarians from 16 countries write to ICC about Uighur genocide

Members of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) have sent a letter to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), Fatou Bensouda, in support of a complaint on alleged crimes perpetrated against the Uighur minority in China. The complaint was submitted to the ICC on 6 July by a team of London-based lawyers representing two Uighur exile groups. The IPAC letter was supported by more than 60 parliamentarians from 16 countries and called on the ICC “to play its part in ensuring that the perpetrators of the most egregious human rights abuses are held accountable and prevented from acting with impunity.”

As China is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the ICC, the complaint focuses on claims of China pursuing arrests and deportations of Uighurs from Cambodia and Tajikistan. Both the complaint and the IPAC letter cite as precedent the ICC’s 2018 ruling regarding the alleged mass deportation of ethnic Rohingya civilians from Myanmar to Bangladesh, a state party to the Rome Statute. In deciding to pursue the Bangladesh/Myanmar investigation the Court established that it could exercise jurisdiction over crimes so long as part of the criminal conduct occurs within the territory of a state party.

In recent years the government of China and authorities in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region (XUAR) have carried out a systematic campaign of persecution directed at Uighurs and other Muslim minorities. China’s policies have resulted in the arbitrary detention of an estimated one million Uighurs in “re-education camps,” severe restrictions on religious practice and pervasive surveillance. The Chinese government has also conducted a campaign to involuntarily reduce birth rates among the Uighur population and has separated children from their families. There is also evidence that some Uighur detainees are being used as forced, or coerced, labor.

Under customary international law and the Rome Statute of the ICC, these policies may constitute crimes against humanity. The Chinese government also appears to be perpetrating acts prohibited under Article II of the Genocide Convention.

Nadira Kourt, Program Manager at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, welcomed the IPAC letter and said that, “the international community should explore all potential avenues to hold perpetrators in XUAR accountable, including through the ICC. Concerned governments should also consider utilizing the principle of universal jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for potential crimes against humanity and genocide in a domestic court.”

Armed extremist group beheads 50 civilians in Mozambique

Armed fighters from the local “Al-Shabaab” extremist group in Cabo Delgado province, Mozambique, carried out a series of deadly attacks on civilians between 6 and 8 November. According to local police, after the group attacked several villages in Miudumbe and Macomia districts, they beheaded more than 50 local residents. Police reportedly found the dismembered bodies of at least five adults and fifteen boys scattered across a forest clearing in Miudumbe. Witnesses also reported that the fighters herded people onto a local football field to kill them after they had tried to flee from the group.

Since mid-October Al-Shabaab has carried out numerous raids on villages, killing civilians, burning homes and abducting women and children as they resist the government’s offensive. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), since 16 October at least 13,730 people arrived in Pemba on the coast of Cabo Delgado as populations fled the latest wave of attacks. Fighters from the group also perpetrated an attack in neighboring Tanzania on 14 October, killing at least 20 people.

For more than three years the armed extremist group, which is known locally as Al-Shabaab, has engaged in a violent insurgency against the government of Mozambique. Indiscriminate attacks on civilians by the group, which is loosely affiliated with the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, have increased in frequency and intensity since the start of 2020. At least 650 civilians have been killed so far this year. OCHA has reported that there are now 355,000 people internally displaced as a result of the conflict, more than three times the number at the start of 2020. During their counterinsurgency operations, government security forces have also perpetrated abuses against civilians.

The UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, strongly condemned the “wanton brutality” of the latest massacre and reiterated the UN’s commitment to supporting Mozambique’s government in “urgently addressing immediate humanitarian needs and efforts to uphold human rights, promote development and prevent the spread of violent extremism.”


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