Sunday, July 14, 2024

HRW says growing authoritarianism causing huge suffering


Authoritarianism across the world is leading to a “sea of human suffering”, Human Rights Watch has said in its annual world report on human rights in more than 100 countries and territories.
But while a “litany of human rights crises” emerged over the past year, 2022 also presented new opportunities to strengthen protections against violations, the watchdog said.
HRW’s 712-page report put a spotlight on the deterioration of civil liberties for women and girls in Afghanistan, as well as human rights in war-torn Ukraine, the two-year armed conflict in northern Ethiopia that continued to inflict a terrible toll on civilians and that governments around the world were called to do more to uphold civil liberties.
Governments in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East also have to step up and recognise that they have an important role in promoting human rights.
The two-year armed conflict in northern Ethiopia, which began in November 2020, continued to inflict a terrible toll on civilians. A truce was reached by the main warring parties in November. State security forces and armed groups committed serious abuses, in other regions, notably Oromia. Authorities sporadically cut internet and telecommunication services in conflict-affected areas, with internet and other forms of communications cut in Tigray since June 2021.
Conflict and unrest in several regions, followed by drought also exacerbated one of the world’s largest humanitarian catastrophes. Over 20 million people required humanitarian assistance in 2022.
In western Oromia, fighting between government forces and armed groups resulted in serious abuses committed by all sides.
Journalists, civil society organizations, and outspoken public figures in the country faced an increasingly hostile and restrictive reporting environment.
The report states that despite mounting evidence of international law violations by warring parties in northern Ethiopia, as well as in Oromia, government efforts toward accountability for past and present abuses have been inadequate, lacked transparency, and independent oversight.
Conflict in Northern Ethiopia
The report mentioned that in Western Tigray Zone, an ethnic cleansing campaign, amounting to crimes against humanity, against the Tigrayan population by newly appointed officials and Amhara regional security forces and militias, continued.
“On January 7, a government drone strike hit a school compound in Dedebit hosting thousands of Tigrayans displaced from Western Tigray, killing at least 57 civilians and wounding more than 42,” the report further state.
“Basic services, key to people’s basic survival, notably banking, electricity, and communications remained shut off. An August report by the United Nations highlighted dire food crisis in Tigray, finding food insecurity in 89 percent of areas surveyed and one out of three children under the age of five acutely malnourished. In Afar, clashes along the border with Tigray, between Tigrayan forces and Afar forces, starting in late December 2021, intensified in early 2022, with reports of killings, shelling, and looting by Tigrayan forces. Afar forces also rounded up around 9,000 Tigrayans in detention sites in Afar’s regional capital, Semera, in late December 2021 and held them for months. Detainees received limited assistance with reports that several dozen died as a result of conditions there,” the report reveals.
“Fighting in the Amhara and Afar regions in September resulted in further displacement, humanitarian access constraints, as well as reports of extrajudicial killing of Amhara residents by Tigrayan fighters, looting, and property destruction in Kobo town during their control. On November 2, the Ethiopian federal government and Tigrayan authorities reached a cessation of hostilities agreement in South Africa following 10-days of African-Union led negotiations.”
Security force abuses, attacks by armed groups
Extrajudicial killings, mass arrests, arbitrary detentions, and violence against civilians occurred in other regions facing unrest, insecurity, and conflict, the report states.
“On June 14, government forces clashed with Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) and Gambella Liberation Front armed groups in the Gambella regional capital. After controlling the town, government forces conducted house-to-house searches and summarily executed residents suspected of collaborating with the armed groups,” the report states.
“Parts of Oromia experienced protracted fighting due to government operations against the OLA. On June 18, heavily armed gunmen killed about 400 Amhara civilians, many women and children and destroyed homes and businesses in villages in West Wellega Zone, in Oromia, and in neighboring Benishangul-Gumuz region. Two weeks later, on July 4, assailants attacked Amhara civilians in Kellem Wellega Zone in Oromia, killing scores.”
“Fighting intensified between Ethiopian government forces and the OLA in early November, with civilian casualties reported due to fighting and airstrikes. In western Oromia there were reports of fighters from the Amhara region operating in Zone. The UN reported that the violence in the area led to a drastic increase in internal displacement and the destruction of infrastructure.
In late July, the armed group Al-Shabab carried out incursions on three towns hosting regional special forces in Ethiopia’s Somali region, the first such attack on Ethiopian territory in over a decade.”
Freedom of expression, media, and association
Authorities arrested several journalists, holding them without charge for several weeks despite court orders for their release. In November 2021, authorities arrested Oromia News Network journalists Dessu Dulla and Bikila Amenu, who covered the conflicts in Tigray and Oromia. Dessu and Bikilia were held without formal charges until April, when prosecutors charged them with offenses against the constitution and sought the death penalty. Authorities released both Dessu and Bikila in mid-November.
Journalists and individuals offering a critical or different narrative to that of the federal government faced threats, arrests, and expulsion. In May, security forces arrested Solomon Shumye, an Addis Ababa-based talk show host who has been critical of the government and the war in northern Ethiopia. Solomon was among 19 journalists, including Gobeze Sisay and Meaza Mohammed, detained between May 19 and early July as part of broader government crackdown in which over 4,500 people were arrested in the Amhara region alone. Gobeze and Meaza were both subsequently released, and then rearrested by authorities in September.
On September 6, security forces broke up a peace conference organized by a group of 35 local civil society organizations in Addis Ababa. The event was later held online, and the group subsequently issued a joint statement calling for peace. Two days later, a federal official intimidated the group to get them to retract their statement.
Internally displaced persons and refugees
Ethiopia continued to face large-scale internal displacement due in large part to armed conflict, followed by drought and other natural hazards. Figures shifted throughout the year, with 5.6 million internally displaced persons (IDPs) nationally as of March 2022, in addition to 2.8 million returnees (former IDPs).
Refugees were also impacted by conflict and unrest in the country. On January 18, a camp hosting more than 10,000 refugees from Sudan and South Sudan in the Benishangul Gumuz region was looted and burned after fighting broke out between unidentified groups and federal forces.
A January 5 airstrike on Mai Aini refugee camp in Tigray killed three Eritrean refugees, including two children. On February 3, armed men entered the Berahle refugee camp hosting Eritrean refugees in Afar, looted belongings, killed five refugees, and kidnapped several women. The attack caused thousands of refugees to flee. At various points in September, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees lost access to several refugee camps and IDP sites in northern Ethiopia due to renewed fighting. In October, UN human rights experts cited reports of abductions of refugees and internally displaced women and girls fleeing conflict in northern Ethiopia.

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