Since 3 September Ethiopian forces have allegedly killed at least 70 civilians in the town of Majete, in Ethiopia’s Amhara region. Survivors of the killings said the forces went door-to-door looking for members of the irregular ethnic Amhara “fano” militia and accused civilians of supporting the group with supplies. One witness said the forces questioned her husband about his involvement with the fano, stating, “My husband tried to explain that he is a civilian and begged them not to kill him. But the soldiers did not listen. They shot dead my husband in front of me. Then they said to me to bury him, kicking his dead body as if he was not a human being.” Other witnesses reported that the forces looted civilian property, including cattle, during the searches and rounded up young men before executing them.
These killings come after the federal government declared a state of emergency in the Amhara region on 4 August following months of escalating tensions and clashes between federal forces and the fano. As of 29 August, the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) found that at least 183 people had been killed in the fighting since July. The killing of civilians, including along ethnic lines, is prohibited under international law and may amount to crimes against humanity. According to the Spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner on Human Rights, Marta Hurtado, OHCHR has received reports that over 1,000 people have been arrested under the state of emergency, including many young ethnic Amharas who were suspected of supporting the fano. Previous states of emergency in Ethiopia have been fraught with similar patterns of human rights abuses that include ethnically-motivated arrests and arbitrary detentions.
As the situation in the Amhara region continues to deteriorate, this month the European Union and UN member states are debating the renewal of the mandate of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) at the Human Rights Council (HRC). Sarah Hunter, Ethiopia expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “With conflict flaring in the Amhara region and elsewhere across Ethiopia, as well as ongoing challenges to the effective implementation of the Tigray cessation of hostilities agreement, populations remain at grave risk of international crimes. The renewal of the ICHREE provides the international community with the best opportunity to keep the spotlight on Ethiopia and allow for the continued documentation of atrocities in hopes that Ethiopians will one day see the justice they deserve.”
On Thursday, 7 September, the Special Criminal Court (SCC) in the Central African Republic (CAR) charged Abdoulaye Hissène with crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in 2017 in his capacity as leader of the armed group Popular Front for the Rebirth of Central African Republic. According to the SCC, Hissène was arrested on 4 September and held in detention awaiting trial.
Hissène was an important leader within the mainly Muslim Séléka rebel alliance and a government minister during the 2013-2015 conflict in CAR. Formerly a diamond and gold trader, Hissène was responsible for an attempted coup in late 2015 and for targeted violence against UN and humanitarian staff, as well as inciting hatred and sowing divisions between ethnic and religious communities. Later Hissène became a leader of a splinter armed group commanded by Noureddine Adam, who is currently wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) for alleged war crimes and crimes against humanity. International human rights groups and the UN have documented countless atrocities by Hissène’s fighters between 2014 to 2017 and Hissène has been sanctioned by the UN since 2017.
Hissène was initially arrested in 2016, however, “a heavily armed commando” attacked the building where he was detained and freed him hours after the arrest. In 2018 a criminal court in Bangui, the capital, tried and convicted him in absentia on charges of association with criminals, possession of illegal weapons, undermining state security and rebellion. Despite this, Hissène had been in good standing with the CAR government since December 2020 following his refusal to back a new alliance of armed groups.
CAR has a history of political instability and widespread impunity that has fueled cycles of armed conflicts and atrocities. The SCC was established as a hybrid, independent judicial mechanism in 2015 to try international crimes committed during conflicts in the country since 2003. While there are several mechanisms mandated to deal with international crimes perpetrated in CAR, including the SCC and ongoing trials at the ICC, accountability remains limited with few alleged perpetrators having been arrested, prosecuted or tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity since 2013. The SCC opened its first session in October 2018, but has faced operational difficulties and jurisdictional barriers, including with arrest and detention of suspects.
Christine Caldera, CAR expert at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “The arrest of Hissène is a positive step toward combating impunity and should signal to all perpetrators of atrocity crimes in CAR that they cannot rely upon the permanence of impunity, regardless of how powerful they may currently seem.” CAR authorities must cooperate with the SCC to ensure that suspects subject to its arrest warrants are taken into custody, regardless of the political or military status of the individual. Countries should provide increased international support to ensure the SCC has the necessary funds to function effectively.
On 9 September the international community marked the fourth International Day to Protect Education from Attack, calling attention to the plight of millions of children living in countries experiencing armed conflict.
Across conflict zones around the world, students and teachers have been killed, raped or abducted while education facilities are bombed, burned down or used for military purposes. According to the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA), at least 3,000 attacks on education were documented in 2022, a 17 percent increase compared to the previous year. Nearly one-third of all attacks occurred in only three countries – Ukraine, Myanmar (Burma) and Burkina Faso, with the war in Ukraine comprising the majority. More than 6,700 students and educators were reportedly killed, injured, abducted, arrested or harmed by attacks on education, an increase of 20 percent from 2021, according to GCPEA. Explosive weapons, both targeted and indiscriminate, have often been used in attacks on education, resulting in widespread damage and heightened protection risks. Armed forces and non-state armed groups using schools for military purposes also increased last year, with over 510 cases reported, compared with around 450 the previous year. Millions of children around the world are also being deprived of an education due to school closures in areas with conflict and insecurity.
Ahead of the International Day, GCPEA released a new report on non-state armed groups and attacks on education, finding that these groups were responsible for perpetrating more than half of all attacks on education between 2020 and 2021. Non-state armed groups continued to perpetrate a significant proportion of all attacks in 2022 and 2023. In one example from 2022, the armed extremist group Al-Shabaab perpetrated a car bomb attack against the Ministry of Education building in Mogadishu, Somalia, killing at least 121 civilians and wounding 300 others.
In a positive step, last year some non-state armed groups took measures to safeguard education. In October several groups in Burkina Faso signed unilateral declarations committing to protect educational institutions. In Yemen, the Houthis signed an Action Plan with the UN in April 2022 to end and prevent grave violations against children, including attacks on schools.
Savita Pawnday, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said, “The proliferation and intensification of conflicts around the world is having a devastating impact on access to learning, affecting the future of generations of children. All UN member states should endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration and put its commitments into action to safeguard the right to education.” UN member states should also call for the implementation of Security Council Resolution 2601. All state forces and non-state armed groups who target and attack education must be held accountable and cease using explosive weapons with wide-area effects and using schools for military purposes.