Ethiopia + 2 more

Atrocity Alert No. 306: Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of the Congo and North Korea

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.

HUNDREDS KILLED IN “BLOODBATH” IN ETHIOPIA’S WESTERN OROMIA REGION

On 18 June hundreds of ethnic Amharas in the town of Tole, West Wollega Zone, in the Oromia region, were killed in one of the deadliest attacks against civilians in Ethiopia outside of the war in the northern Tigray region. The estimated casualty figures range from 260 to over 500, with some witnesses saying bodies are still being uncovered more than a week later.

Witnesses have blamed the massacre on members of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) – a breakaway ethnic Oromo armed group that has previously been accused of widespread abuses against minority ethnic groups. According to eyewitness testimony, the group entered the town and fired indiscriminately, killing primarily women, children and the elderly. Some victims were reportedly killed while sheltering in a mosque. The assailants also burned down homes and abducted civilians. The OLA denied these accusations and blamed government forces and local militia.

The massacre occurred in an area where there is an ongoing insurgency by the OLA. The group has increased its attacks in the Oromia region against ethnic Amhara communities since 2018, killing hundreds of civilians. Some of these attacks may amount to crimes against humanity. Meanwhile, the government’s counterinsurgency campaign against the OLA has been characterized by accusations of human rights violations and abuses.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed condemned the killings and proclaimed a zero-tolerance policy for groups committing “horrific acts” with a goal to “terrorize communities.” The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Michelle Bachelet, called on Ethiopian authorities to “ensure that investigations are promptly launched into the attack and to ensure that victims and their families have a right to truth, justice and reparations, including by holding those responsible to account.”

Although a national dialogue process has begun with the aim of addressing the root causes of recurrent and complex conflicts, results and resolutions could take years. In the meantime, the government and regional authorities must immediately prioritize negotiated political settlements with armed groups to minimize tensions, address long-standing grievances and end attacks on vulnerable populations. The government should allow human rights organizations and journalists to independently monitor the situation in rural areas. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission must undertake impartial and transparent investigations into all killings of civilians by armed groups and government forces, including in Tole.

ALARMING ESCALATION OF HATE SPEECH IN EASTERN DR CONGO

In recent weeks hate speech and incitement to discrimination and violence, particularly targeting Rwandan individuals, has dramatically escalated in eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) amidst ongoing fighting between the government’s armed forces (FARDC) and the March 23 Movement (M23). The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Secretary-General’s Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide expressed alarm at the escalation of inflammatory rhetoric in the country, stating that, “hate speech fuels the conflict by exacerbating mistrust between communities. It focuses on aspects that have previously mattered less, incites a discourse of ‘us vs. them,’ and corrodes social cohesion… Hateful messages heighten the risk of violence, including atrocity crimes targeting specific groups of people.”

Since the resurgence of M23 in November 2021, tensions have grown between the governments of DRC and Rwanda. Following the public accusation by Congolese authorities on 14 June that Rwanda is “supporting, financing and arming” M23, thousands of people began protesting against Rwanda. Xenophobia and the stigmatization of communities have subsequently gained momentum in Goma, the provincial capital of North Kivu, with some protesters pillaging Rwandan-owned shops and stopping and searching vehicles for Rwandans. Hate speech targeting people designated as “Rwandans” or “Tutsi” has spread online. People who speak Kinyarwanda have also faced threats and some have been attacked.

Some political party figures, community leaders and members of the Congolese diaspora have also engaged in incitement. In one such example, a video circulated on social media of North Kivu’s deputy police commander encouraging residents to take up machetes as “war against the enemy must become people’s war.”

Clashes between the FARDC and M23 in North Kivu continue to escalate and have resulted in at least 35 civilians killed since May. At least 158,000 people have been displaced in Rutshuru and Nyiragongo territories since March due to ongoing insecurity. On 12 June M23 fighters captured the town of Bunagana, Rutshuru territory, and reportedly restricted freedom of movement, as well as looted and destroyed official buildings, private businesses and media organizations.

The DRC government should take concrete steps to protect all people without discrimination, as well as hold individuals accountable for propagating hate speech and/or incitement to violence, discrimination or hostility. The UN peacekeeping mission in DRC, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide should continue to mobilize local, provincial and national authorities, as well as journalists and civil society, to condemn hate speech and the stigmatization and racial profiling of communities. Social media platforms must take steps to prevent and halt the spread of hate speech. The governments of Rwanda and DRC should engage in dialogue to prevent any further escalation.

NEW EVIDENCE OF CRIMES AGAINST HUMANITY IN DETENTION CENTERS IN DPRK

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) Supreme Leader, Kim Jong Un, and other high-level officials are likely responsible for crimes against humanity committed in detention centers in DPRK, or North Korea, according to a new report from the International Bar Association and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. The investigation found evidence of ten of the eleven crimes against humanity outlined in the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, including murder, extermination, enslavement, forcible transfer, imprisonment or severe deprivation of physical liberty, torture, sexual violence, persecution, enforced disappearance and other inhumane acts.

According to the investigation, Christians are particularly targeted for detention, and witnesses reported that they face “more severe and protracted” torture while detained than others. The government perceives Christianity as a particular threat to the loyalty required of citizens to the Kim regime. Some experts cited in the report asserted that the “relentless” persecution against Christians is the worst in the world, with authorities often arresting and detaining anyone practicing religion.

“This inquiry has added to the mountain of evidence that crimes against humanity continue to be committed in North Korean detention centers,” said former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay at the 27 June release of the report. This report reinforces the findings from a UN Commission of Inquiry, which stated in 2014 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. Last year the UN Secretary-General’s report on human rights in DPRK documented pervasive torture and forced labor among the country’s detainee population. The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has also documented accounts of state agents systematically inflicting severe pain and suffering on detainees, possibly constituting torture under international law.

The report’s findings underscore the international community’s failure, in particular the UN Security Council, to directly address the human rights crisis in DPRK rather than approaching the situation exclusively from the context of nuclear non-proliferation. Ms. Pillay stressed, “so, how is it that the international community possesses virtually irrefutable evidence that the Kim regime is committing such crimes and yet has failed to take meaningful action?”