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

Atrocity Alert No. 301: Ethiopia, Burkina Faso and China

18 May 2022

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.


According to local media in Ethiopia, federal government forces and associated militia have summarily executed dozens of civilians and looted and burned homes in the Oromia region in recent weeks. The attacks are allegedly in retaliation for losses suffered during fighting against the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), an ethnic Oromo armed rebel group.

The Addis Standard reported on 26 April that federal forces opened fire on a market in West Shewa zone, killing 20 civilians, and also burned houses and crops. Days earlier, on 22 April, apparent drone strikes in West Shewa zone reportedly killed 20 people, while at least seven others died trying to flee. At least 18 people, including the elderly, were also removed from wedding ceremonies on 1-2 May and executed in North Shewa zone. Government forces have been repeatedly accused of human rights abuses in their fight against the OLA, while the OLA have also targeted other ethnic groups and killed civilians.

Meanwhile, inter-religious violence recently broke out between Orthodox Christian and Muslim communities in the Amhara region. On 26 April at least 30 Muslim civilians were killed and more than 100 others injured in Gondar after an attack on a funeral procession by unidentified armed men. In the ensuing violence, individuals looted shops and perpetrated acts of violence targeting mosques. Apparent retaliatory attacks spread to other regions, notably the Southern Nation’s Nationalities and People’s region where two Orthodox Christian men were reportedly burned to death and at least five churches destroyed in Silt’e zone.

Responding to the violence, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called for urgent independent and transparent investigations, stating that, “individual accountability of perpetrators is essential to prevent further violence… It is crucial that the underlying causes of this shocking violence are promptly addressed.” Inter-communal and inter-religious violence are prevalent in many regions across the country, where the government struggles to mitigate the root causes of tensions.

On 29 December the Ethiopian Parliament voted to hold a national dialogue to “pave the way for national consensus and keep the integrity of the country.” However, both the leadership in the embattled Tigray region and the OLA remain excluded from the process. In order for the dialogue to be the so-called “golden opportunity” Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed promises, all parties to Ethiopia’s many conflicts must be allowed to voice their long-standing grievances to achieve a lasting peaceful resolution.


On Saturday, 14 May, suspected fighters of an armed Islamist group perpetrated a series of deadly attacks across Burkina Faso. In the northern Sahel region, approximately 25 people – many of them members of the Volunteers for the Defense of the Homeland (VDP) – were killed in two attacks. In Madjoari, Kompienga province, near the country’s southeastern border with Togo and Benin, a further 15 civilians were killed when their convoy was attacked while being escorted by a VDP militia. Since February 2021 Madjoari has been under blockade by an armed Islamist group that has pressured the population to flee and restricted access to the area.

In 2020 the government authorized the formation of the VDP – a group of government-recruited civilian security volunteers that receive arms and minimal training to defend their communities and support the Burkinabé defense and security forces. Since their establishment, VDP militias have perpetrated serious abuses – at times while working with state security forces – including unlawful killings and enforced disappearances of dozens of civilians and suspected Islamist fighters. Farming communities, who have been the targets of most armed Islamist attacks, comprise the majority of VDP militia members. In turn, ethnic tensions and inter-communal violence have been growing in the country’s eastern and southern regions between farming communities and the pastoralist Fulani (Peuhl) community – who are perceived as supporting armed Islamist groups.

Since late 2021, armed Islamist groups allied to al-Qaeda and the so-called Islamic State have significantly increased their attacks on pro-government forces, as well as on civilians for their alleged support of the military or local VDP militia. According to Human Rights Watch, these groups have also committed more abuses since September 2021, including forcibly recruiting child soldiers, perpetrating hundreds of killings and dozens of rapes, as well as widespread pillaging, such as the looting of health centers and destruction of water and telecommunications infrastructure.

Christine Caldera, Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, stressed that, “as violence intensifies and spreads across the country, so too have serious abuses by all parties to the conflict. While countering violent extremism remains crucial, it cannot be at the cost of protecting civilians.” Military means alone will not solve the crisis in Burkina Faso. Burkinabé authorities must take steps to impartially protect civilians at risk, implement additional measures to end the proliferation of arms and support local reconciliation initiatives, as well as ensure that the VDP are properly trained, regulated and held to account if members commit abuses.


Nearly one in 25 people in Konasheher county in the southeast of the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region (XUAR) of China has been sentenced to prison on terrorism-related charges, in what is the highest known imprisonment rate in the world, according to an Associated Press investigation. The Associated Press obtained and reviewed leaked data that included the names of over 10,000 imprisoned Uyghurs in Konasheher county alone. Investigators indicated the true number of people imprisoned is “almost certainly higher,” as the list only focused on offenses related to terrorism, religious extremism or vague charges typically used against political dissidents. While most of the people on the list were arrested in 2017, the average prison sentences span nine years – meaning that the vast majority would still be imprisoned.

Under the guise of combatting religious extremism and terrorism, in recent years the government of China and authorities in XUAR have increased their persecution of members of the ethnic Uyghur community, as well other majority-Muslim ethnic groups. Over 1 million people, mainly Uyghurs, have been arbitrarily detained in internment camps and prisons throughout XUAR since around 2017.

The list obtained by the Associated Press is the largest to emerge to date with the names of imprisoned Uyghurs, providing evidence of the magnitude of the Chinese government’s use of arbitrary detention as a means to repress the ethnic population. The sheer scale of arbitrary detentions in Konasheher demonstrates that people were targeted for being Uyghur, highlighting China’s broader campaign of crimes against humanity and genocide throughout XUAR.

The data leak comes as the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, prepares to travel to China by the end of May. The High Commissioner has called for unfettered access to XUAR for over three years, and reports indicate that she will be able to travel to the region. However, there is little indication that the trip will be investigative in nature.

Liam Scott, Research Associate at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “the list obtained by the Associated Press underscores the broader crisis and range of atrocities populations are facing in XUAR, and it should be treated with the utmost gravity by the UN Human Rights Office and member states.” High Commissioner Bachelet should address the mass arbitrary detentions of Uyghurs during her upcoming trip. It is imperative that the UN Human Rights Council establish a mechanism mandated to investigate the human rights crisis in XUAR.

Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect


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