Laetitia Bader, the Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch (HRW), spoke to The EastAfrican’s Valerie Koga on the rights situation in Ethiopia and Sudan.
How does the Sudan war, and situation in Ethiopia, affect the Horn of Africa outlook?
Ethiopia has been facing conflict in the northern part of the country resulting in serious violation of civilians’ rights, especially in Tigray and Amhara. The conflict also led to violations committed against human rights workers, insurgency and counterinsurgency, and devastating attacks in Oromia, which has also had an impact on the rights’ situation in the country. Civilians were caught in between the fighting and retaliatory attacks, contributing to the humanitarian crisis in Ethiopia.
Cessation of hostilities led to an improved human rights situation, but the impact of the warring parties’ actions continues to impact the humanitarian front and there is concern about rights abuses that need to be investigated in depth.
On the other hand, Sudan has faced a deteriorating humanitarian context in the past two years with security clampdowns worsening the situation. However, international response to the conflict has been meek and mild, allowing warring parties to get away with actions that affect civilians.
What is the status of the refugees from Ethiopia who fled to Sudan?
When fighting broke out in northern Ethiopia, many Tigrayans, fled to Sudan. Another main refugee group in Sudan is Eritreans. The refugees in Sudan are usually hosted in camps and dependent on humanitarian support, with few hosted in urban areas.
After the war broke out in Sudan, the refugees were left with limited humanitarian assistance. Many of those in urban areas were stuck in the fighting in Khartoum. Fleeing the capital is both a security and economic question, where even people with funds and means to flee leave empty handed after they fail to access banks and other financial systems. For refugees, who are more vulnerable, the question on where and how to flee is critical.
What is the best approach on rights situation in Sudan?
We call for more concerted public pressure, especially from the UN Security Council and the African Union. What we have seen in Sudan is that words and public messaging is not enough. There is a need for consequences to warring generals. We need messaging plus action.
The Security Council needs to expand the arms embargo in Darfur to the whole of Sudan, and apply pressure on regional governments selling arms to Sudan.
The international community also needs to establish mechanisms for evidence, to hold people to account for crimes committed.
What are your thoughts on the progress of justice and accountability in Sudan and how they can be achieved?
In the region, there has been a tendency to perceive security as being in contradiction to accountability. But, they go hand-in-hand. We need political push to happen on both levels and bring warring parties to the table.
On May 11, representatives of the warring parties in Sudan signed a commitment to protect civilians. Are there elements of the agreement that should be prioritised?
The deal signed in Jeddah is a good step, and there is a need to ensure security is maintained. All the aspects of the agreement are quite important and all should be pursued. In addition, warring parties need to take added measures and precautions to ensure respect of human rights law and prevent further crisis.
Current role: Horn of Africa director at Human Rights Watch
Previous positions: Senior researcher, Human Rights Watch; consultant, Amnesty International; human rights officer, East and Horn of Africa human Rights Defenders Project, Uganda
2007: Columbia University, Masters of International Affairs, Human Rights
2006: Masters in International Affairs, Peace Studies and Conflict Resolution