A humanitarian disaster stares Ethiopia’s Tigray in the face

Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
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Updated 25 February 2021

A humanitarian disaster stares Ethiopia’s Tigray in the face

Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, wait for their ration of food in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)
  • Hunger stalks region of six million people as federal government’s offensive against rebels enters its fourth month
  • Over a million people could starve if aid is not allowed into conflict zone, says Famine Early Warning Systems Network

DUBAI: With their few hurriedly packed belongings wrapped tightly in fabric, entire families, many with young children, are traversing vast distances on foot these days to escape fighting in northern Ethiopia between federal armed forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

Since the conflict erupted three months ago, nearly two million Ethiopians have been forced to flee the country’s Tigray region, many arriving in neighboring Sudan with axe and knife wounds, others with broken bones and severe mental trauma.

Those who have chosen to stay behind — the vast majority of Tigray’s six million inhabitants — now face shortages of food, medicine and drinking water. Ethiopia is facing accusations of blocking aid and the specter of mass hunger haunts the region.

Most concerning of all is the imminent risk of mass hunger, a phenomenon Ethiopians are tragically familiar with. The Great Famine that afflicted the country between 1888 and 1892 killed roughly one-third of its population. Another in 1983-85 left 1.2 million dead.

According to the Famine Early Warning Systems Network, presided over by the US government, parts of central and eastern Tigray are just a step away from famine, with fears more than a million could die of starvation if aid is not allowed in soon.

In a recent statement, a trio of Tigray opposition parties said that at least 50,000 civilians had been killed in the conflict since November. Aid agencies and journalists have not been permitted access to the region to verify the death toll.

Ethiopian authorities insist aid is being delivered and that nearly 1.5 million people have been reached. But experts on the Horn of Africa believe one of the worst humanitarian disasters in modern history is unfolding in the conflict zone.

“If the world averts its eyes, it is a bystander to one of the most grievous mass atrocities of our era,” Alex de Waal, executive director of the World Peace Foundation and a research professor at The Fletcher School at Tufts University, told Arab News.

“It will be an unforgivable ethical stain. It is also a matter of interest. Do the countries of the Arabian Peninsula want to see another Yemen-like calamity on the southern shores of the Red Sea — a little further away, but even bigger?”




Abiy Ahmed, Chairman of Oromo Peoples' Democratic Organization (OPDO) looks on in Addis Ababa. Spearhead in the fight against the Derg dictatorship, then a real power in Ethiopia for a long time, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF), which the Ethiopian army fights in its northern stronghold of Tigray, has shaped recent history of the country. (AFP/File Photo)

The TPLF, which had dominated Ethiopian politics after the fall of the military dictatorship in 1991 until Abiy’s election victory in 2018, had been in coalition with the current government until the two sides fell out in 2019.

In direct defiance of the federal government’s decision to postpone all votes until the COVID-19 pandemic was under control, Tigray authorities pressed ahead with their own parliamentary election in September. Federal authorities said the vote was illegal.

Tensions escalated further in November when Abiy accused the TPLF of seizing a military base in the regional capital Mekelle. His government responded by declaring a state of emergency, cutting off electricity, internet and telephone services, and designating the TPLF as a terrorist organization.

Although Abiy claimed victory when federal troops entered Mekelle on Nov. 28, the bloodshed has continued as Tigrayan leaders have vowed to fight on.

“The federal government called the conflict a law enforcement operation (intended) to remove from office the Tigray region’s rogue executive,” William Davison, International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Ethiopia, told Arab News.

“The reality was that Tigray’s defenses were overwhelmed by the full power of the Ethiopian federal military and allied forces.”

UN REPORT HIGHLIGHTS

* Reports from aid workers on the ground indicate rise in acute malnutrition across Tigray region.

* Only 1% of the nearly 920 nutrition treatment facilities are reachable.

* Aid response is drastically inadequate, with little access to rural population off the main roads.

* Some aid workers have to negotiate access with armed actors, even Eritrean ones.

As the campaign got underway, the Ethiopian government presented the TPLF as a treasonous entity that had attacked the military and violated the constitutional order, saying that it had no choice but to act.

It also moved against those who questioned whether the intervention would be as quick and painless as claimed, such as Davison, who was deported on November 20.




Ethiopian refugees who fled intense fighting in their homeland of Tigray, gather in the border reception centre of Hamdiyet, in the eastern Sudanese state of Kasala, on November 14, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

Abiy, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2019 for restoring relations with Ethiopia's long-time foe Eritrea, is now being accused by some of war crimes in Tigray.

Seyoum Mesfin, a former Ethiopian foreign minister, peacemaker and an elder statesman of Africa, was among three TPLF leaders killed by the military in early January in a move that sparked an international outcry.

Pramila Patten, the UN envoy on sexual violence in conflict, has said there are “disturbing reports of individuals allegedly forced to rape members of their own family, under threats of imminent violence.”

Recently, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said 108 cases of rape had been reported over the last two months in the whole of Tigray. It admitted that “local structures such as police and health facilities where victims of sexual violence would normally turn to report such crimes are no longer in place.”




A medic disinfects his tools inside a medical facility for Ethiopian refugee who fled fighting in Tigray province at the Um Raquba camp in Sudan's eastern Gedaref province, on November 21, 2020. (AFP/File Photo)

All this amounts to a sharp reversal of fortune for a country that just months ago was being feted as Africa’s fastest growing economy. Now, Ethiopian journalists and human-rights activists are afraid to speak out, many of them avoiding the border areas and letting military atrocities go unreported.

“We’ve been on our toes for months now. You need to be very careful with your comments,” one Addis Ababa-based political analyst, who did not wish to be identified, told Arab News.

“Human-rights abuses are being committed on all sides: the Amhara militias (one of the two largest ethnic groups in Ethiopia), the federal troops themselves and the Eritreans too.

“The humanitarian aspect of the conflict is frightening and especially the lack of indication from the government’s side in providing aid. They say they will, publicly. But large sections of Tigray are still inaccessible. It’s very difficult to say how long they intend to keep it this way, which is of great concern.”




A member of the Amhara Special Forces holds his gun while another washes his face in Humera, Ethiopia, on November 22, 2020. Prime Minister Ahmed, last year's Nobel Peace Prize winner, announced military operations in Tigray on November 4, 2020, saying they came in response to attacks on federal army camps by the party, the Tigray People's Liberation Front (TPLF). (AFP/File Photo)

Eritrean soldiers have compounded the problem by reportedly attacking the TPLF on behalf of Abiy’s government, prompting calls from Joe Biden’s administration for their immediate withdrawal. (Both Asmara and Addis Ababa deny that Eritrean forces are present in Tigray.)

Reports say many of the estimated 100,000 Eritrean refugees residing in the region are at risk of getting caught in the crossfire or being forcibly returned. Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, has said he is “deeply alarmed by reports of refugees being killed, abducted and forcibly returned to Eritrea that would constitute a major violation of international law.”

De Waal of the World Peace Foundation says if the war causes a humanitarian catastrophe and the economic collapse of Ethiopia, there is no doubt that the consequences will be felt far and wide.

“The human and economic price will be paid by the people of the Horn of Africa, but those people will also start moving en masse towards Europe, and the humanitarian cum economic bailout bill will be presented to Europe and the US,” he told Arab News.

“At a time of austerity and reduced aid budgets, this presents aid donors with a terrible dilemma.”

Summing up the Tigray crisis and its potential solution without mincing words, De Waal said: “With every passing day there is more suffering, killing, starvation, deeper bitterness and wider repercussions. Withdraw Eritrean troops. Then start political talks.”

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Twitter: @rebeccaaproctor


Japan condemns Sudan military leaders

Japan condemns Sudan military leaders
Updated 13 sec ago

Japan condemns Sudan military leaders

Japan condemns Sudan military leaders
  • Japan called for an immediate, safe, and unconditional release of Prime Minister Hamdok and other detained senior government officials

TOKYO: Japan strongly condemned the Sudanese security and armed forces’ actions of detaining prime minister Hamdok and other senior government officials and opening fire on the anti-military demonstrators, leaving many casualties.

“The government of Japan is deeply concerned about Sudan’s situation and condemns dissolving the Transitional Government by the arms forces,” an official statement by the foreign ministry said. “Such actions undermine the transition to civilian rule based on the Constitutional Declaration.”

Japan called for an immediate, safe, and unconditional release of Prime Minister Hamdok and other detained senior government officials.

“Japan closely cooperates with the international community and calls for the restoration of transition to civilian rule in Sudan,” the statement said.

This story was originally published in Japanese on Arab News Japan


Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases
Updated 26 sec ago

Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases

Poland reports over 8,000 daily COVID-19 cases
  • Since the pandemic began, Poland has reported 2,990,509 cases and 76,672 deaths

Poland reported 8,361 daily COVID-19 cases and 133 deaths on Wednesday, the health ministry said.
Since the pandemic began Poland, a country of around 38 million, has reported 2,990,509 cases and 76,672 deaths.


India’s top court probes spying charges against government

India’s top court probes spying charges against government
Updated 8 min 55 sec ago

India’s top court probes spying charges against government

India’s top court probes spying charges against government
  • India’s opposition has been demanding an investigation into how the Israeli spyware, known as Pegasus, was used in India

NEW DELHI: India’s top court on Wednesday established a committee of experts to look into accusations that Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government used Israeli military-grade spyware to monitor political opponents, journalists and activists.
The Supreme Court order came in response to petitions filed by a group of Indian journalists, rights activists and opposition politicians following an investigation by a global media consortium in July. The committee, headed by a retired judge, is expected to give its findings by year-end.
India’s opposition has been demanding an investigation into how the Israeli spyware, known as Pegasus, was used in India.
Modi’s government has “unequivocally” denied all allegations regarding illegal surveillance. India’s information technology minister Ashwani Vaishnaw in Parliament dismissed the allegations in July, calling them “highly sensational,” “over the top” and “an attempt to malign the Indian democracy.”
But the government in an affidavit did not tell the court whether it used the Israeli equipment for spying, citing security reasons.
On Wednesday, the court said the state cannot get a free pass every time by raising security concerns.
“Violation of the right to privacy, freedom of speech, as alleged in pleas, needs to be examined,” the Press Trust of India cited Chief Justice N.V. Ramanna as saying.
Based on leaked targeting data, the findings by a global media consortium provided evidence that the spyware from the Israel-based NSO Group, the world’s most infamous hacker-for-hire company, was allegedly used to infiltrate devices belonging to a range of targets, including journalists, activists and political opponents in 50 countries.
The company said in July it only sells to “vetted government agencies” for use against terrorists and major criminals and that it has no visibility into its customers’ data.
Critics call those claims dishonest and have provided evidence that NSO directly manages the high-tech spying. They say the repeated abuse of Pegasus spyware highlights the nearly complete lack of regulation of the private global surveillance industry.
Pegasus infiltrates phones to vacuum up personal and location data and surreptitiously controls the smartphone’s microphones and cameras. In the case of journalists, that allows hackers to spy on reporters’ communications with sources.
Rights groups say the findings bolster accusations that not only autocratic regimes but also democratic governments, including India, have used the spyware for political ends.


Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96
Updated 27 October 2021

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96

Hiroshima nuclear bomb survivor and campaigner dies at 96
  • Sunao Tsuboi was on his way to engineering school in 1945 when the first nuclear bomb attack was launched by the US

TOKYO: Hiroshima A-bomb survivor Sunao Tsuboi, who became a prominent campaigner for nuclear disarmament and met Barack Obama on his historic visit to the city, has died aged 96, his advocacy group said Wednesday.
Tsuboi was on his way to engineering school in 1945 when the first nuclear bomb attack was launched by the United States, turning the bustling metropolis into an inferno.
“I suffered burns all over my body,” he said in 2016. “Naked, I tried to run away for about three hours on August 6 but finally could no longer walk.”
Then aged 20, he picked up a small rock and wrote on the ground “Tsuboi dies here,” before losing consciousness and waking up several weeks later.
He later developed cancer and other diseases but became a prominent advocate for atomic bomb survivors and a lifelong campaigner for a nuclear-free world.
“I can tolerate hardships for the sake of human happiness. I may die tomorrow but I’m optimistic. I will never give up. We want zero nuclear weapons,” he said.
Tsuboi was among a handful of Hiroshima survivors who met then US president Obama when he visited the city in 2016.
He smiled broadly as he shook Obama’s hand, with the two men conversing for upwards of a minute. “I was able to convey my thoughts,” a satisfied Tsuboi said afterwards.
Tsuboi “passed away on Saturday due to anaemia,” an official from Nihon Hidankyo — a group that represents survivors of the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, of which Tsuboi was a key leader — said.
There are 127,755 survivors of both attacks still alive and their average age is 84, according to the health ministry.
Around 140,000 people died in the bombing of Hiroshima, a toll that includes those who survived the explosion but died soon after from radiation exposure.
Three days later the US dropped a plutonium bomb on the port city of Nagasaki, killing about 74,000 people and leading to the end of World War II.


US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’
Updated 27 October 2021

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’

US envoy: Iran nuclear deal effort is at ‘critical phase’
  • Iran has said for more than a month that it would ‘soon’ return to indirect talks in Vienna with the US on resuming compliance with the accord

WASHINGTON: Efforts to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear deal are at a “critical phase” and Tehran’s reasons for avoiding talks are wearing thin, a US official has said while raising the possibility of further diplomacy even if the deal cannot be resuscitated.

US Special Envoy for Iran Robert Malley told reporters Washington was increasingly worried Tehran would keep delaying a return to talks, but said it had other tools to keep Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and would use them if need be.

“We’re in a critical phase of the efforts to see whether we can revive the JCPOA,” Malley said, referring to the deal formally called the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. “We’ve had a hiatus of many months and the official reasons given by Iran for why we’re in this hiatus are wearing very thin.”

While saying that the window for both the US and Iran to resume compliance with the agreement would eventually close, Malley said the US would still be willing to engage in diplomacy with Iran even as it weighed other options to prevent Tehran from getting the bomb.

He also hinted at the economic benefits that might flow from Iran’s return to the agreement, under which Tehran took steps to limit its nuclear program in return for relief from US, EU and UN economic sanctions.

While saying the window for returning to the JCPOA will not be open forever because eventually Iran’s nuclear advances will have overtaken it, Malley said Washington would continue to look for diplomatic arrangements with Tehran.

“You can’t revive a dead corpse,” he said, stressing that the US had not reached that point yet. “We will continue to pursue diplomacy, even as we pursue other steps if we face a world in which we need to do that.”

Malley refused to describe those other steps. Since talks in Vienna on reviving the deal adjourned in June, Washington has increasingly spoken of pursuing other options, a phrase that hints at the possibility, however remote, of military action.

The envoy, who spent last week consulting US partners in the Gulf and in Europe, emphasized that all sides had “a strong preference for diplomacy, for an effort to revive the JCPOA and, were that to happen, to find ways to engage Iran economically.”