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Atrocity Alert No. 268: Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and North Korea

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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.

AT LEAST 210 KILLED IN ETHNIC-BASED ATTACKS IN ETHIOPIA’S OROMIA REGION

On 18 August at least 150 people were killed in ethnically-motivated attacks in Gida-Kirimu in the Oromia region of Ethiopia. According to a press release by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), victims say they were attacked by the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) – a rebel armed group that is seeking self-determination for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. Local sources have reported those initially targeted in the violence were ethnic Amhara. The EHRC also stated that at least 60 others had been killed in reprisal attacks in subsequent days.

The attacks in Gida-Kirimu are the most recent in an ongoing escalation of ethnic violence across Ethiopia that has resulted in hundreds of civilians killed so far this year. At least 300 people were killed in March alone when clashes broke out between ethnic Amhara and Oromo communities in the Amhara region.

The devastating 10-month-long conflict in Tigray between the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the federal government and its allies has also exacerbated tensions across the country, particularly as fighting has now spread to neighboring Amhara and Afar regions. Calls to arms by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and regional leaders, as well as an alliance between the OLA and TPLF, have deepened concerns of a wider ethnic-based conflict.

During a UN Security Council meeting on 26 August, UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that many young Ethiopians were being “instrumentalized and mobilized in the war effort.” Guterres further warned that, “inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country… In every sense, the future of Ethiopia is at stake.” The Secretary-General’s warnings echo the concerns of the UN Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide, Alice Wairimu Nderitu, who expressed alarm on 30 July regarding escalating hate speech and ethnic violence in the Afar, Amhara, Oromo, Somali and Tigray regions.

The Ethiopian government, as well as armed groups operating across the country, must work towards sustainable political solutions that confront the root causes of ethnic-based and inter-communal conflict. All perpetrators of alleged atrocities must be held accountable for their crimes, regardless of rank or affiliation.

THE ADF’S ATROCITIES IN DR CONGO

On Friday, 27 August, suspected fighters from the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) armed group attacked Kasanzi village in North Kivu Province, Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), killing 19 civilians. The victims were reportedly burned and hacked to death by the group who also set fire to homes. Kasanzi is located within Beni Territory, which has been the epicenter of the ADF’s violence against civilians since 2014. The ADF killed over 1,000 civilians and kidnapped at least 600 between January 2020 and March 2021, predominantly in North Kivu, and has been responsible for attacks that the UN alleges may amount to crimes against humanity and war crimes.

During April President Félix Tshisekedi declared a “state of siege” in North Kivu and Ituri provinces, pledging to combat the threat of armed groups like the ADF and provide better protection to civilians. Despite this, violence has continued. On 31 May the ADF launched multiple attacks on displacement sites and villages near Boga and Tchabi, Ituri Province, killing 57 civilians. Last Tuesday, 24 August, Radio Okapi reported that more than 17,000 people had recently fled Boga and nearby localities due to “the atrocities of the ADF rebels.”

Following a series of ADF attacks in North Kivu during July the UN Refugee Agency’s Spokesperson, Babar Baloch, said that, “there is a sense of panic and anxiety among the community, as well as a lack of confidence in security forces given the high expectations of improved security conditions following the new measures.”

The UN Joint Human Rights Office in the DRC documented 492 human rights violations throughout the country during July, the majority of which were perpetrated in eastern DRC, including 245 violations in North Kivu and 46 in Ituri. State agents were responsible for 50 percent of violations, including the extrajudicial execution of 27 people. Some of these violations were perpetrated in the context of the “state of siege.” The ADF were responsible for 40 of the violations documented by UNJHRO and the Kivu Security Project collected evidence of more than 50 people killed as a result of ADF attacks.

The government of the DRC must prioritize the protection of civilians in all operations aimed at combating the threat of armed groups in North Kivu and Ituri. It should also provide additional security and humanitarian relief to populations forcibly displaced and still vulnerable to ongoing ADF attacks.

CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY CONTINUE IN NORTH KOREA

The latest report of the UN Secretary-General on human rights in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), or North Korea, adds to the growing body of evidence regarding ongoing human rights violations in one of the most authoritarian and repressive countries in the world. Notably, the report documents pervasive torture and forced labor among the country’s large detainee population, which includes labor camps, prisons and other detention centers.

Between August 2020 and July 2021 the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights documented accounts of state agents systematically inflicting severe pain and suffering on detainees, which may constitute torture under international law. One woman described a Ministry of State Security Officer beating her in the face with a piece of wood “so the skin on my face tore open, my chin became dislocated and four of my teeth were knocked out.”

DPRK continues to rely on forced penal labor in construction, agriculture, logging, mining and other major areas of its economy. Escapees describe long hours of hard labor with virtually no health and safety measures and no compensation. One former detainee described forced agricultural labor, with humans dragging “the cart that cows normally pull.” Others described getting frostbite while working in a prison yard.

In 2014 a UN Commission of Inquiry reported that DPRK’s government systematically violated the human rights of its people and found that individuals at the highest level of government were responsible for potential crimes against humanity. During February the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, said that, “seven years after the historic Commission of Inquiry report on the DPRK, not only does impunity prevail, but human rights violations that may amount to crimes against humanity continue to be committed.”

All countries should respect the international legal principle of non-refoulement and not forcibly repatriate individuals to DPRK who are at risk of serious human rights violations and abuses. The UN Security Council should urgently discuss potential crimes against humanity that continue to be perpetrated in North Korea and refer the situation to the International Criminal Court.