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Atrocity Alert No. 262: Ethiopia, Myanmar (Burma) and Afghanistan

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Ethiopia
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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.

HATE SPEECH AND ETHNIC TARGETING OF TIGRAYANS ON THE RISE IN ETHIOPIA

Since Tigrayan rebel forces retook the regional capital of Mekelle from Ethiopian federal troops on 28 June, police across the country have reportedly shuttered Tigrayan businesses and arbitrarily detained hundreds of Tigrayans. The detentions appear to be ethnically motivated, with the police allegedly checking identity documents that include information on ethnicity before making arrests. On 19 July police in Addis Ababa confirmed the arrest of over 300 Tigrayans, claiming that they are supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The TPLF governed Tigray until the outbreak of the conflict between the federal government and Tigrayan forces in November 2020 and has since been declared a terrorist organization by the Ethiopian government.

The conflict in Tigray has now displaced more than 2 million people and fears of wider conflict continue to grow. Over the last week, Tigrayan forces launched a military offensive in Afar region, while officials from other regions continue to mobilize regional militias.

Meanwhile, Amhara forces have promised to defend the long-disputed districts of Welkait, Tegede, Humera, Telemte and Raya in Western Tigray from Tigrayan forces who are trying to militarily retake the areas. Tensions have been further exacerbated by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s recent statements regarding the conflict in Tigray, including referring to the TPLF as “Ethiopia’s cancer” and as weeds that needed to be uprooted.

The situation facing the large Eritrean refugee population in Ethiopia is also grave. On 15 July the Representative of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Ethiopia, Ann Encontre, released a statement regarding Eritrean refugees in Mai Aini and Adi Harush camps in Tigray, who have been trapped by intense fighting in the area. Encontre stated that the refugees have also been subject to reprisal attacks, abductions, arrests and violence. The area where the camps are located is now inaccessible to the UN and aid agencies.

Global Centre Communications and Digital Media Officer, Sarah Hunter, said that, “the conflict in Ethiopia requires a negotiated political solution, not ethnic incitement, inflammatory rhetoric and calls to arms. It is essential that all sides establish a ceasefire and end this unnecessary war that has turned Tigray into a humanitarian and human rights disaster zone.”

DEADLY IMPACT OF THE MILITARY COUP AND COVID-19 ON MYANMAR’S CHILDREN

Since Myanmar’s military deposed the country’s civilian-led government on 1 February, 75 children have been killed by the security forces and an estimated 1,000 have been arbitrarily detained. On Friday, 16 July, Mikiko Otani, Chair of the UN Child Rights Committee (CRC) warned that, “children in Myanmar are under siege and facing catastrophic loss of life because of the military coup.”

The CRC condemned the violence, arbitrary arrests and detention that children face. This includes a five-year old girl who was paralyzed by a shrapnel wound after the military shelled civilian areas in Kalay, Sagaing Region, on 3 July. The girl’s family have been unable to secure necessary medical treatment for the child. It has also become common practice for Myanmar’s security forces to detain the family members, including young children, of those targeted for arrest because of their opposition to the military junta. Su Htet Wine, a girl from Mogok Township, Mandalay Region, spent more than two weeks in prison, including her fifth birthday on 28 June. She was detained along with her mother and sister when soldiers could not locate her father, for whom an arrest warrant had been issued.

The coup has also had a catastrophic impact on children’s access to essential medical services. According to the UN International Children’s Emergency Fund, an estimated one million children in Myanmar are missing key vaccinations and more than 40,000 children are no longer able to get treatment for severe acute malnutrition. The situation continues to deteriorate as the number of COVID-19 deaths in the country has surged in recent weeks. Children and their families are at extreme risk as COVID-19 infections continue to grow exponentially, with the positivity rate reaching nearly 40 percent of those tested this past weekend.

The CRC has warned that, “children’s rights in Myanmar are facing an onslaught that risks leaving an entire generation damaged.” It is essential that the international community support children’s welfare in Myanmar and increase assistance through the UN and other humanitarian entities. It is also vital that the UN Security Council, as well as individual governments and ASEAN, impose punitive measures on the junta and hold it accountable for its ongoing human rights violations and abuses, including those perpetrated against children. This should include targeted sanctions and the arms embargo recommended by the UN General Assembly on 18 June.

AFGHAN CIVILIANS FACE THREAT OF ATROCITIES AS TALIBAN ADVANCE CONTINUES

As the United States and other foreign military forces continue their withdrawal from Afghanistan, the Taliban have seized much of the countryside during their ongoing military offensive against the national government. Unlike previous years and despite requests from both the international community and Afghan government, the Taliban did not declare a temporary ceasefire during this week’s Eid al-Adha religious festival. On 21 July the local affiliate of the so-called Islamic State armed group also fired three rockets at the Presidential Palace during televised Eid prayers.

Since May the Taliban have captured dozens of districts – approximately 60 out of 370 – across Afghanistan, including the majority of Kunduz and Badghis provinces. Speaking to the UN Security Council on 22 June Deborah Lyons, Special Representative and Head of the UN Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA), warned that, “most districts that have been taken surround provincial capitals, suggesting that the Taliban are positioning themselves to try and take these capitals once foreign forces are fully withdrawn.”

UNAMA has expressed its concern regarding the human rights situation in areas under Taliban influence or control. There have been widespread reports of killings, ill-treatment, persecution, discrimination and retaliatory attacks perpetrated by Taliban fighters against civilians. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates that 270,000 civilians have fled their homes since January 2021, bringing the total number of internally displaced people to more than 3.5 million.

Civilians are fleeing myriad threats, including extortion by the Taliban and other non-state armed groups, loss of income and dangers posed by improvised explosive devices (IEDs). Targeted IED attacks have already resulted in over 900 civilian casualties so far this year. The UN Panel of Experts on Afghanistan has also alleged that the Taliban are responsible for the majority of targeted killings of civil servants and members of civil society organizations.

Meanwhile, negotiations for a peaceful resolution of the conflict have stalled. Recent talks hosted in Iran between the Taliban and the Afghan government – the first in months – did not yield any significant outcome.

Under international law, both the Taliban and the Afghan government are accountable for war crimes and other atrocities committed against civilians. All parties to the conflict in Afghanistan should immediately implement a comprehensive ceasefire and commit to meaningful negotiations on the country’s future.