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.
STARVATION GROWS AMIDST AID BLOCKADE IN TIGRAY, ETHIOPIA
According to the Tigray External Affairs Office – the foreign affairs department of the regional government in Ethiopia’s war-torn northern Tigray province – at least 150 people starved to death in the province during August. International aid agencies have reported that at least 400,000 people are living in famine conditions in Tigray.
The UN reported that deliveries of humanitarian aid were once again blocked from reaching the 5.2 million people in need in the Tigray region between 22 August and 6 September. Acting UN Humanitarian Coordinator for Ethiopia, Grant Leaity, stated that, “the region remains under a de facto humanitarian aid blockade,” with logistical and bureaucratic impediments hampering delivery efforts. According Mr. Leaity, 100 trucks a day are needed to supply those in need, but only 335 arrived between mid-July and the end of August.
Ten months since the start of the conflict, aid convoys and warehouses continue to be targeted and looted by various parties. Aid workers also continue to face attacks, abductions and threats. Since November at least 23 humanitarian workers have been killed. The United States Agency for International Development (USAID) recently reported that forces allied to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front looted several of their warehouses and trucks in the neighboring Amhara region. Blockading or attacking humanitarian convoys is a violation of International Humanitarian Law and may amount to a war crime.
Amidst the deteriorating humanitarian situation, reports also continue to emerge of the ethnic-based targeting of civilians. According to local authorities, at least 120 civilians, including children, women and the elderly, were killed during the first week of September in the town of Dabat, Amhara region, by alleged Tigrayan forces. Thousands of civilians have fled since Tigrayan forces have seized territory in the region. According to a CNN report on Humera town in Western Tigray, which is currently controlled by Amhara regional forces, thousands of Tigrayan men, women and children are being held in detention camps. Escaped detainees who fled to Sudan recall men being taken at night to the banks of the Tekezé River and never returning. Since early August Sudanese officials reported finding over 60 bodies floating downstream from Humera. Forensic experts in Sudan have indicated that many of the recovered bodies had execution-style bullet wounds or exhibited signs of torture.
All parties to the conflict in Tigray should commit to a humanitarian ceasefire and must ensure the safety of all civilian populations under their control, regardless of ethnicity or political affiliation. All those responsible for potential war crimes in northern Ethiopia must be held accountable.
THREAT OF POTENTIAL ATROCITIES GROWS FOLLOWING COUP IN GUINEA
On Sunday, 5 September, Col. Mamady Doumbouya and a group of soldiers appeared on state TV in Guinea, announcing that they had ousted President Alpha Condé and dissolved the government. According to local reports, heavy gunfire was heard earlier on Sunday near the Presidential Palace in the capital, Conakry. The so-called “National Rally and Development Committee” (CNRD) claimed they were taking power in order to confront corruption, government mismanagement and human rights abuses. The CNRD also promised that a new “more inclusive” constitution would be issued.
For nearly two years Guineans have protested President Condé’s leadership, particularly ahead of a controversial constitutional referendum in March 2020 that allowed him to run for a third term. Following an election campaign characterized by hate speech, incitement and ethnic mobilization, at least 20 people were killed during protests surrounding Condé’s re-election in October last year. During the protests, security forces reportedly clashed with opposition supporters and used live ammunition against protesters. The leading opposition candidate in the election, Cellou Dalein Diallo, welcomed Sunday’s coup, calling it “a victory of our people and the failure of the dictatorial regime.”
However, international leaders and regional organizations, including the African Union (AU), have criticized the coup. UN Secretary-General António Guterres said that, “I strongly condemn any takeover of the government by force of the gun and call for the immediate release of President Alpha Condé.” On 6 September the President of Ghana and current Chairperson of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo, demanded President Condé’s release and threatened regional sanctions if Guinea does not return to constitutional order. ECOWAS met today, 8 September, and agreed to send a high-level mission to Guinea.
Political conflict, military repression and ethnic tensions have previously resulted in atrocities in Guinea. On 28 September 2009 opposition groups organized a demonstration in a stadium in Conakry to protest junta leader Captain Dadis Camara’s reported intention to break his promise to cede power to civilian rule in the January 2010 elections. Security forces opened fire on the crowd, resulting in over 150 deaths and 1,200 injuries, and also committed widespread rape and sexual violence.
A UN-mandated Commission of Inquiry later concluded that crimes perpetrated by the security forces were part of a “widespread and systematic attack,” possibly amounting to crimes against humanity. Dozens of people were also killed during violence between demonstrators and security forces ahead of the country’s 2013 legislative elections.
Elisabeth Pramendorfer, Senior Human Rights Officer at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “regardless of the outcome of this week’s coup, ECOWAS, the AU and UN must ensure that the human rights of all of Guinea’s people are upheld and protected.”
INTERNATIONAL DAY TO PROTECT EDUCATION FROM ATTACK
Tomorrow, 9 September, marks the second International Day to Protect Education from Attack, calling attention to the plight of millions of children living in countries experiencing armed conflict.
The Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack has documented more than 2,400 attacks on education facilities, students and teachers during 2020 – a 33 percent increase from 2019. This increase occurred despite the forced closure of many schools due to COVID-19. In Yemen, more than 400,000 children have been forced out of school by the ongoing war, which has also seen over 2,500 schools damaged, used as shelter by internally displaced people or occupied by armed groups. In northern Nigeria, meanwhile, more than 1,000 schoolchildren have been kidnapped by armed extremist groups and bandits since December 2020. The attacks have prompted regional authorities to order the forced closure of many education facilities.
Attacks on schools involving explosive weapons were also recorded in over 20 countries in 2020 and 2021. In Afghanistan, over 185 teachers and students – mostly women and girls – were killed or injured in attacks on 40 schools during the first six months of 2021 as the Taliban consolidated its control over territory. Similarly, since the military coup in Myanmar on 1 February, education facilities have also been routinely attacked or damaged and the armed forces have occupied schools and universities across the country. There were over 100 attacks on schools in Myanmar during May alone.
Despite international legal protections for students and schools during armed conflict, perpetrators of attacks on education are seldom held accountable. In a rare moment of accountability, two members of the Islamist armed group, Ansaroul Islam, were sentenced to 20 years in prison on 10 August for attacking a primary school in Burkina Faso during 2018. Armed groups in the Central Sahel – Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger – have targeted secular state education across the region. Such groups have been accused of killing, beating, abducting or threatening education professionals, intimidating students and parents, and damaging, destroying and looting schools. Christine Caldera, Research Analyst at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, said that, “at the end of 2020 more than 4,000 schools in the Central Sahel remained closed due to insecurity. This endangers the future of tens of thousands of children.”
All UN member states should endorse and implement the Safe Schools Declaration and work to ensure that schools, teachers and children are consistently protected in keeping with international law.