On 30 September Ethiopia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs declared seven senior UN staff “persona non grata” for allegedly “meddling” in the country’s internal affairs. Affected staff include those responsible for the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian aid to the war-torn Tigray region. The expelled UN staff also include individuals from the UN Children’s Fund as well as from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, who are working with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on a joint investigation into atrocities in Tigray.
The expulsions are happening as 7 million people are in urgent need of aid in Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions. The UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, recently criticized what the UN calls a “de facto aid blockade” by the federal government on the Tigray region, where 5.2 million require assistance and are facing starvation. Griffiths stressed that the failure to deliver adequate aid was a “stain on our conscience,” drawing parallels to the past famine in Somalia that killed more than a million people.
The alleged aid blockade also extends to fuel and medical supplies, preventing their delivery since late July. While the government has accused Tigrayan rebel forces of blocking aid, some humanitarian organizations have reported that bureaucratic obstacles imposed by the federal authorities are preventing essential supplies from getting to starving civilians. The government has also accused international aid agencies of secretly supporting Tigrayan forces. Griffiths has denounced these statements as “unfair and unacceptable.”
Meanwhile, the war in Tigray – which has raged for almost a year – continues to spread. As Tigrayan forces have advanced into the neighboring Amhara region, there have been recurring reports of massacres, widespread civilian displacement and the looting of aid convoys.
Blocking humanitarian assistance may amount to a war crime and crime against humanity under international law. The Global Centre’s Communications and Digital Media Officer, Sarah Hunter, said that, “as the humanitarian catastrophe in northern Ethiopia continues to deteriorate, it is essential that all parties agree to an urgent and unconditional ceasefire and the free flow of aid. The lives of millions of starving civilians depend upon it.”
On 30 September the UN Joint Human Rights Office in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) reported that there were 739 documented human rights violations and abuses across the country during August – a 50 percent increase as compared to July. Summary killings also significantly increased, resulting in the deaths of at least 293 civilians. While state agents perpetrated the majority of human rights violations and abuses, armed groups were responsible for the majority of civilian deaths.
Ninety-four percent of the documented human rights violations occurred in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, in the east of the country, where civilians continue to be threatened by armed groups and recurring inter-communal violence. More than 1,200 civilians have been killed in the eastern DRC so far this year.
A “state of siege” declared by the government on 30 April in order to combat armed groups in North Kivu and Ituri has done little to improve the security situation. According to the UN Refugee Agency, the response of some armed groups has been to increase violent reprisals against villages they suspect of supporting the government. On 5 October the UN Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, Nada Al-Nashif, also told the Human Rights Council that, “though considerable efforts have been made by the Government to improve the behavior of the State security forces involved in military operations against armed groups, human rights violations continue to pose serious concerns.”
Amongst the armed groups operating in the eastern DRC, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) – which has previously been responsible for crimes against humanity and war crimes – was responsible for the most documented violations during August. A UNJHRO fact-finding mission in Irumu territory documented killings, ill-treatment and kidnappings committed by the ADF against civilians. On 1 September alleged ADF fighters ambushed a civilian convoy escorted by the government’s armed forces (FARDC) and UN peacekeepers, killing at least four people near Komanda, Ituri province. Two days later, suspected ADF members also shot or hacked to death 30 people in the village of Makutano in Ituri.
The government, working with the UN peacekeeping force in the DRC (MONUSCO), needs to strengthen civilian protection in North Kivu and Ituri provinces. While attempting to combat the ongoing threat posed by the ADF and other armed groups, the FARDC must uphold their obligations under International Humanitarian Law. The DRC authorities, with assistance from MONUSCO, should vigorously investigate and prosecute any alleged human rights violations and abuses perpetrated by state agents.
For the first time, on Friday, 1 October, the government of the Central African Republic (CAR) recognized “proven incidents” where serious violations of human rights and International Humanitarian Law (IHL) were committed involving “Russian instructors.” The Special Commission of Inquiry delivered its report last Friday regarding alleged violations perpetrated by the Central African Armed Forces (FACA) as well as by various predatory armed groups between December 2020 and April 2021. Although the report attributed some responsibility to the FACA and their Russian allies, it asserted that the Coalition of Patriots for Change (CPC) – an alliance of non-state armed groups – committed the majority of human rights violations and abuses.
The Commission’s findings bolster recent UN reports that the CPC has killed and abducted civilians, perpetrated sexual violence and forcibly recruited child soldiers. Meanwhile, according to the UN, the FACA and Internal Security Forces (FSI), as well as allied Russian “instructors,” have perpetrated summary executions, arbitrary killings, torture and forced disappearances.
Civilians have experienced increased armed conflict since the CPC launched a campaign to overthrow the government last December. During June, Mankeur Ndiaye, head of the UN peacekeeping force in CAR, warned that the number of human rights violations was unequalled in the country’s recent history. FACA and FSI troops prevented the CPC from taking the capital, Bangui, but pose an ongoing threat to civilians.
On 13 September the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, expressed her concern over the “significant deterioration of the human rights situation” in CAR. From February to June, her office documented a 76 percent increase in human rights violations and abuses, including killings, while the number of documented victims increased by 88 percent as compared to the same period in 2020.
In an interview with the BBC, Christine Caldera, Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that while the security forces in CAR “are making progress in recapturing territory, they are wreaking havoc on the civilian population and not restoring stability whatsoever.” She later added that, “all perpetrators of atrocity crimes in CAR should be held legally accountable, regardless of their rank, affiliation or nationality.” While resisting the depredations of the CPC and other armed groups, it is imperative that all forces supporting the CAR government uphold their responsibility to protect vulnerable civilians.