Briefing on the agreement for lasting peace through permanent cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia

Briefing on the agreement for lasting peace through permanent cessation of hostilities in Ethiopia

Date | 9 November 2022

Tomorrow (9 November), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 1120th session to receive a briefing on the Agreement for Lasting Peace Through Permanent Cessation of Hostilities Between the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). This will be the second agenda item that Council will consider during its 1120th session.

Opening remarks is expected from the Permanent Representative of Namibia to the AU and Chairperson of the PSC for the month of November, Emilia Ndinealo Mkusa, followed by a statement from AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye. Former President of Nigeria and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, will brief the Council on the recently signed agreement between government and TPLF. The representatives of Ethiopia, the Secretariat of the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are also expected to deliver statements as concerned state and relevant regional mechanism, respectively.

The last time that Council convened a session on Ethiopia was during its 1115th session that took place on 21 October, just few days before the start of the AU-led peace talks to end the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia in Pretoria, Republic of South Africa. In that session, while welcoming the initiation of the AU-led peace talks slated for 24 October, Council laid down its expectation for ‘an immediate, comprehensive and unconditional ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian services’. It also welcomed the newly constituted High-Level Panel of eminent Africans by the Chairperson of the AU Commission, composed of Olusegun Obasanjo, AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Uhuru Kenyatta, former President of Kenya, and Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of the Republic of South Africa and Panel of the Wise Member.

Tomorrow’s session, which comes in the context of Council’s request form its last session for the AU Commission to provide regular updates on the situation in Ethiopia, presents members of the Council the opportunity to receive updates on the peace process. In this respect, a key development to be highlighted in the session will be the cessation of hostilities agreement (COHA) signed between the parties. The two parties were able to strike the deal after 10 days of intensive negotiation, which started on 25 October under the auspice of the AU and with the participation of IGAD, UN, and US in observer capacity.

The PSC is expected to welcome the signing of the agreement with a sigh of relief. It constitutes an embodiment of the hope that the talks would lead to a cessation of hostilities agreement and the concomitant expectation for it to bring the two-year conflict to an end. In so many ways, this agreement also represents marked improvements from the truce that only lasted for less than half a year. As such, main aspect of tomorrow’s briefing is expected to be on the main elements of the COHA, progress made thus far in its implementation, and issues that may require the attention of the Council. The first important element of the COHA is the agreement to an ‘immediate and permanent Cessation of Hostilities’, which include the cessation of ‘overt and covert acts of violence’ and all forms of hostile propaganda, rhetoric, and hate speech. The cessation of hostilities constitutes the first critical step that clears the deck for taking actions on the rest of the commitments entered by the two parties in the agreement. Indications over the last five days after the agreement are that it is largely holding.

The second important element is the agreement to a comprehensive disarmament, demobilisation, and reintegration (DDR) program for TPLF combatants pursuant to article 6 of the COHA. The agreement further outlines steps that need to be followed by the two parties to translate the DDR program into action. Accordingly, they have agreed to establish an ‘open channel of communication between senior commanders of both sides’ within 24 hours, and then to convene a follow-up meeting of senior commanders within 5 days from the signing of the agreement to ‘discuss and work out detailed modalities for disarmament for the TPLF combatants, taking into account the security situation on the ground’. The implementation of this part of the agreement is again fully on course with the establishment of hotline by the parties within 24 hours of the signing of the agreement. This was followed by the convening of the ‘Senior Commanders’ Meeting’ on 7 November in Nairobi, Kenya under AU’s Panel facilitation. On the Nairobi meeting, the expected outcome is to agree on the ‘modalities for silencing the guns, humanitarian access, and the restoration of services in the Tigray region’, according to AU’s 7 November press release. Once modalities are agreed, the two sides are therefore expected to start embarking on the delicate matter of the disarmament process.

Once the two sides agreed on the modalities for disarmament, the disarmament activities are envisaged to commence prioritizing the heavy armaments of TPLF combatants. The disarmament of heavy weapons is set to happen within a 10-days timeframe (with a possibility of extension) after the conclusion of the meetings of senior commanders while the overall disarmament of the TPLF combatants will be completed within 30 days from the signing of the COHA, which means before 3 December. It is worth noting that, the demobilization and reintegration part of the program is to take place taking into account the framework of the FDRE constitution and considering ‘Tigray region’s law-and-order needs’.

The third element of COHA is what may be considered to be the item with immediate dividends for people caught up in the crossfire. This is the agreement to expedite humanitarian aid and restore essential services in Tigray that has been under blockade since withdrawal of Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) in June 2021. While the signing of the agreement on its own brings a respite for affected people, the immediate implementation of this commitment would be even more important for millions of civilians in a desperate condition due to the blockade and the disruption of services.

The COHA also provides for detailed terms on restoration of constitutional order and federal authority in Tigray. The specifics of how this would happen are stipulated in articles 3, 7, 9, and 10 of the agreement, covering the entry into and seizure by federal forces of Mekelle and other parts of Tigray and establishment of inclusive interim administration until elections are held in the region. Additionally, it also envisages the launch of a comprehensive national transitional justice system to ensure accountability for widespread human rights and humanitarian law violations and heal wounds through the ascertainment of truth, reconciliation, and redress of victims. Of course, it remains to be seen how this would be pursued in relation to pre-existing processes such as the dialogue process.

Unlike the failed truce, apart from the stipulation of negotiated terms, the COHA has a monitoring, verification, and compliance mechanism. As stipulated under article 11, the parties agreed to establish a Joint Committee comprising a representative from each party, a representative from IGAD and chaired by the high-level panel. The Joint Commission will be assisted by a team of African Experts with the mandate to monitor the implementation of the permanent cessation of hostilities as agreed under article 3 of the COHA. AU, through the high-level panel, will appoint the team comprising not more than 10 for a duration of six months after their deployment with a possibility of extension upon agreement with the parties to the agreement. In case of instances of violation of cessation of hostilities, the team of experts will inform the concerned party to immediately rectify violations. If no rectification measure is taken within 24 hours, the AU, through the high-level panel, will convene the Joint Committee to resolve the problem. However, the agreement does not inform next steps if the Joint Committee could not resolve the issue. The other concern is whether the Joint Committee would be able to effectively discharge its mandate with this small size of team of experts.

It has been only few days since the singing of the COHA. If the early signs are anything to go by, the implementation of the agreement is off to a good start. While the COHA is not without challenges on the ground, encouraging signs include the fact that the TPLF negotiation team stayed in Addis Ababa after the conclusion of the talks for the COHA in Pretoria. The convening of the military leaders of the two parties in Kenya in accordance with the terms in COHA is a further encouraging sign that the COHA is holding. Indeed, both of these are also indicative of the commitment that the parties are demonstrating to implement the agreement. Sustaining the momentum requires speedy follow up of the delivery of humanitarian assistance and the resumption of services. It is also important to guard against what the leader of the Ethiopian Federal Government’s negotiation team, Redwan Hussein, called disgruntled actors from either side of the two parties or third parties who don’t have interest in peace. Obviously, the future of the COHA and the peace it promises also depend on how various issues such as withdrawal of Eritrean forces and delicate aspects of the COHA are dealt with during implementation and in subsequent talks.

The expected outcome of tomorrow’s session is either press statement or a communique. Council is expected to warmly welcome the signing of the COHA and commend the AU high-level panel for the successful effort in facilitating the Peace talks. It may also commend both the federal government of Ethiopia and TPLF for the commitment to the peace talks and the conclusion of the agreement. It is expected that the PSC may call on the parties to show the same resolve for the implementation of the agreement as they did for negotiating the terms of the agreement during the talks. It may also call on all AU member states and partners to extend their full support for the peace process and help the parties in their efforts to the follow up to the COHA. The Council may express its gratitude to the government and people of South Africa and Kenya for hosting the AU-led peace talks and the Senior Commanders’ Meeting, respectively. Council may also commend other partners particularly IGAD, UN, and the US for their support towards the peace process and may encourage them to continue supporting the implementation phase of the agreement. It may also request the Commission to accompany the implementation of the agreement.


Briefing on the AU led peace process for Ethiopia

Briefing on the AU led peace process for Ethiopia

Date | 21 October 2022

Tomorrow (21 October), African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) is set to convene its 1115th session for a ‘Briefing on the AU led peace process for Ethiopia’. The meeting was not initially included in the monthly programme of work of the Council.

Following opening remarks by Mohammed Arrouchi, Permanent Representative of the Kingdom of Morocco to the AU and Chairperson of the PSC for the month of October, Bankole Adeoye, Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security is expected to deliver a statement. Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria and AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa is also expected to provide update to the PSC. The representatives of Ethiopia and the regional body the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are also expected to deliver statements as the concerned country and regional economic community, respectively.

It is to be recalled that the PSC held its last meeting on the situation in Ethiopia on 4 August 2022 at its 1097th session. Since that time, the situation in the conflict has dramatically changed for worse. Tomorrow’s meeting is expected to focus on two issues. The first relate to the current state of the hostilities that resumed on 24 August. The second area of focus of tomorrow’s session will be the preparations for the peace talks that the AU has been working to get off the ground.

Tomorrow’s session comes in the context of three important developments. The first relate to developments on the battle front where significant escalation of violence has been witnessed in recent weeks. Ethiopia’s federal government announced the capture of three strategic towns in Tigray (Shire in northwest, and Alamata and Korem in South of Tigray) after weeks of fighting in which Eritrean Defense Forces play major part in the hostilities between Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) supported by regional Amhara forces on one side and the Tigray forces on the other.

It is to be recalled that fighting resumed between federal government and Tigray region on 24 August after five months of lull in violence. The resumption of hostilities collapsed the truce that was in force following the 24 March 2022 declaration by the Federal Government declared an ‘indefinite humanitarian truce’ and its subsequent reciprocation by Tigray forces by expressing willingness to respect the truce and cessation of hostilities on condition that adequate and timely humanitarian assistance are provided. Between March and August, the diplomatic engagements by the AU High-Representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, along with his US, EU and UN counterparts were hoped to make headways towards the peaceful resolution of the conflict that has taken a heavy human toll since its eruption in November 2020. However, tension began to mount again as diplomatic interventions by the various special envoys failed to build up on and translate the momentum witnessed between March and August into meaningful peace talks towards an agreed cessation of hostilities and comprehensive political settlement. Meanwhile, as diplomatic efforts failed to make headways, concerns have been expressed about the inadequacy and unsustainability of the ‘indefinite humanitarian truce’, including deepening differences over the flow of humanitarian assistance and the resumption of basic services to Tigray, which has been cut off from electricity, telecom, banking, and other basic utilities. Against the background of military buildup on all sides and the failure of regional and international actors to take these differences seriously and mobilize stronger efforts to iron them out, attacks and subsequent seizure of territories in the neighboring Amhara region by Tigray forces triggered the resumption of hostilities in various border areas of Tigray.

The second context in which tomorrow’s session is held is the proposed convening of UN Security Council’s meeting on 21 October on the ongoing hostilities in Tigray. This meeting, being convened on the request of the African 3 (A3) members of the UN Security Council (UNSC),  brings the total number of Security Council’s meetings on this conflict situation to fifteen since the outbreak of the conflict in November 2020.

The proposed convening of the UNSC meeting comes in the context of growing anxiety about both the scale and gravity of the bloodshed the nature of hostilities are feared and reported to be precipitating and aggravating an already dire situation for civilians who have already endured enormous suffering since the start of the war. Regional and international actors as well as partners have intensified their call for the immediate cessation of hostilities as intensifying fighting continues deeper into Tigray, raising the alarm over worsening humanitarian crisis and the susceptibility of the context of the hostilities for atrocities. The AU, widely perceived as responding inadequately to this situation, was on the lead in calling for an end of the hostilities. In a statement issued on 15 October, the Chairperson of the AU Commission, Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed his ‘grave concern’ over the ‘reports of increased fighting in the Tigray Region’ and called for an ‘immediate, unconditional ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian services’. In the same statement, the Chairperson also urged the two parties to ‘recommit to dialogue as per their agreement to direct talks to be convened in South Africa by a high-level team led by the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa and supported by the international community’.

Mahamat was not alone in issuing such statement. On 17 October, United Nations Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres, characterized the situation in Ethiopia as ‘spiraling out of control’ while calling the hostilities in Tigray to end immediately and for ‘immediate withdrawal of and disengagement of Eritrean armed forces from Ethiopia’. In his 18 October tweet, Guterres further stressed the need for urgent resumption of talks and expressed UN’s readiness to support the AU in that regard. The following day UN Human Rights Chief issued a statement saying that ‘Since 31 August we have received numerous reports of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects due to airstrikes and artillery strikes in Tigray – disruptions to communication make it particularly difficult to verify reports, but it is clear that the toll on civilians is utterly staggering.’ He further held that ‘Under international law, indiscriminate attacks or attacks deliberately targeting civilians or civilian objects amount to war crimes’, although statements from the Federal Government of Ethiopia expressed that efforts are made for avoiding the targeting of civilians. Others particularly the European Union and the United States issued statements with similar firmness, urging both sides to cease hostilities and recommit to the AU-led peace process.

The third context is AU’s new call for the convening of peace talks on 24 October in South Africa. It is to be recalled that on 1 October, the Chairperson of the AU Commission dispatched a letter inviting both parties to the conflict to attend an AU-convened peace talk slated for 8 October in South Africa within the framework of the AU-led peace process for Ethiopia, which was envisaged to deliberate on the ‘guiding principles, agenda issues, modalities, format, and timelines for the negotiated settlement’. Regarding the mediation team, in the statement he issued on 6 October, Mahamat stated that ‘the peace talks will be conducted through a high level panel of eminent Africans, established purposefully for the Ethiopian peace process. The panel is led by H.E Olusegun Obasanjo, AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa and former President of Nigeria, along with H.E Uhuru Kenyatta, former President of Kenya, and H.E. Dr Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, former Deputy President of South Africa and Member of the AU Panel of the Wise. The Federal Government of Ethiopia announced the acceptance of the invitation on 5 October. On the same day, the Tigray side responded positively but sought two main clarifications: whether there would be additional actors to be invited to the negotiation and the envisaged role for the international community, and logistical details particularly the travel and security arrangements for its negotiating team. Just a day before the planned negotiation date, former President Kenyatta informed the Chairperson that he would not be able to attend the meeting due to a schedule clash. He also sought clarity from the AU Commission on the ‘structure and modalities of the talks, including but not limited to the rule of engagement for all the interlocutors invited’ and whether the issue of ‘immediate and unconditional cessation of hostilities’ would be on the agenda of the meeting. The proposed meeting was eventually postponed, given the lack of clarity around the modalities of the peace talks and tight schedule.

Since then the AU Commission has held wide consultations and been working hard for putting in place the necessary preparations for the commencement of the delayed peace talks. This process, among others, clarified the role of regional and international stakeholders stating that the peace talks will be held with the support of such stakeholders. The statements that AUC Chair issued on 6 October and on 15 October affirmed that the talks will be ‘supported by the international community.’ It was against this background that the AU Commission sent another letter to the members of the mediation panel and the parties to the conflict inviting them for starting the peace talks on 24 October in South Africa. No official statement has been issued by both sides as of yet, but Redwan Hussien, national security advisor to the Prime Minster of Ethiopia, in his 20 October tweet, confirmed federal government’s participation. There was no response from the forces in Tigray on the new proposed date of the peace talks.

The expected outcome of the session is a communique. The PSC is expected to express its deep concern about the resumption of hostilities and the toll the fighting is having on peoples in the effected territories. The PSC, reiterating that war cannot be a solution to the conflict, may welcome the 15 October statement of the AU Commission Chairperson and his strong call for an immediate, unconditional ceasefire and the resumption of humanitarian services’. The PSC may also call on all third parties to refrain from all acts that may further inflame the situation and may in this regard call on Eritrea to withdraw its troops. The PSC may also express the necessity for the parties to start peace talks and in this respect may welcome the preparations made by the AU Commission and the members of the mediation panel including the invitation sent for the parties for starting talks on 24 October in South Africa. The PSC may welcome the commitments that the parties have been expressing for engaging in AU-led peace talks and urge them to send their delegations for the peace talks. The Council, decrying the attacks that caught civilians and humanitarian actors, may also urge the parties to observe human rights and international humanitarian law rules at all times to ensure the protection of civilians and humanitarian actors. It may also reiterate its encouragement to the parties to the conflict ‘to place the supreme interests of Ethiopia and its people above all else and embrace inclusive political dialogue as the only viable approach towards finding a consensual solution to the current situation. The PSC may also reaffirm its ‘appreciation to all partners for their continued support and encourages them to scale up their support for the AU-led mediation process’ and commends South Africa for its willingness to host the peace talks and urge other member states to intensify their support to the efforts of the mediation panel.


Updated briefing on the situation in the Horn of Africa

Updated briefing on the situation in the Horn of Africa

Date | 04 August 2022

Tomorrow (4 August), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 1097th session for an updated briefing on the situation in the Horn of Africa.

The PSC Chairperson for August, The Gambia’s Permanent Representative to the AU, Jainaba Jagne, is expected to start the session with an opening remark. AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye, is also expected to make statement. AU Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, is expected to deliver an updated briefing on the situation in Ethiopia and his activities since the last meeting of the PSC. The representatives of Ethiopia, as a concerned country, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) are also expected to deliver statements through their representatives.

The last time the High Representative addressed the Council on the situation was during its 1064th session held on 10 February. It is to be recalled that a briefing session was planned to take place on 4 May and then on 5 July but both sessions were later canceled. Tomorrow’s briefing would provide update on the activities of the High Representative since his last briefing in February and overall developments regarding the situation in the country.

One of the major developments Obasanjo is likely to highlight is the 24 March declaration of an ‘indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately’ by the government of Ethiopia. This was reciprocated by the Regional Government of Tigray expressing their commitment to respect the truce and cessation of hostilities provided that humanitarian assistance is delivered adequately and timely. Regional and international actors including AU, UN, and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) also welcomed the said truce. The Chairperson of the Commission, in a statement issued on 25 March, welcoming the truce, stated that he ‘continues to advocate for a negotiated permanent comprehensive ceasefire.’ The 25 March statement by UN Secretary-General, António Guterres, also commended the humanitarian truce while stressing that the positive development should ‘translate into immediate improvements on the ground’. Guterres further urged for the ‘restoration of public services in Tigray, including banking, electricity and telecommunications’ and for all sides to ‘enable and facilitate the delivery of desperately needed humanitarian assistance across all affected areas’.

PSC members may be interested to hear about the state of the implementation of the declared truce and how far it moved the needle on the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Northern Ethiopia, particularly Tigray. The first humanitarian convoy of 20 trucks since mid-December arrived in Tigray through the Semera-Abala-Mekelle route a week after the declaration of the truce on 1 and 2 April.

On the activities he carried out, Obasanjo is expected to brief the Council about the outcome of his interaction with the Federal Government and the leadership of the Tigray region in late May and early June. During his media engagement on 1 June, Obasanjo told BBC Focus on Africa that the peace process was progressing ‘very slowly but steadily’. Indeed, the ‘truce’, though fragile, has continued to hold. While highlighting next steps, Obasanjo is likely to point out his expectations that the truce would translate into a negotiated ceasefire, paving the way for peace talks for a comprehensive political agreement for the full resolution of the conflict.

Both sides have reaffirmed their commitment to the peaceful resolution of the conflict. The government announced the establishment of a seven-member committee for the peace talk. On the other side, the President of the regional government of Tigray in an open letter he issued on 13 June expressed readiness to participate in a ‘credible, impartial, and principled peace process’. But, the same letter also raised concern that ‘the proximity of the High Representative to the Prime Minster of Ethiopia has not gone unnoticed by our people’. On 18 July, the regional state also reportedly set up a team of negotiators for the talks with the federal government. There is apparently disagreement between the two parties on who should lead the negotiation – the federal government wants the peace talk to be held under the auspice of the AU while Tigray regional state prefers peace talks facilitated by Kenya with the support of international partners, including US, EU, UAE, UN, and the AU. There are reports that peace talks may start soon in Kenya. In this respect, members of the PSC may seek from Obasanjo on the level of preparations for the start of the talks and ways of addressing the deficit of trust undermining progress for starting peace talks.

On the security front, the situation remains relatively calm, although tense and volatile. In May, clashes were reported between Tigray forces and Eritrea though it did not worsen into a full blown conflict. The leaderships in Tigray and the federal government have also continued trading accusations of mobilization of forces, raising the spectre of renewed conflict.

During his last engagement with the PSC, Obasanjo stated that ‘we …continue to call on all parties to fully withdraw from occupied territories and to return to their original positions…in order to lay the foundation for the commencement of dialogue and negotiations.’ On 12 April, the authorities in Tigray announced the withdrawal of their forces from Erebti, in the Afar region. Subsequently, they also announced the withdrawal of all their forces from Afar and declared their expectations for unhindered delivery of humanitarian aid into Tigray. One territory that remains major site of contention from which Tigray forces call for withdrawal of forces that seized the region since the start of the war is Western Tigray.

Obasanjo’s briefing is also expected to touch on the humanitarian situation in the northern part of the country. In this connection, the High Representative may highlight the relative increase of aid deliveries to Tigray region following the humanitarian truce. According to OCHA’s 22 July situation report, ‘in Tigray Region, since the resumption of humanitarian convoy movement on 1 April, and as of 19 July, 4,308 trucks have arrived in Mekelle via Afar through 30 humanitarian convoys.’ The convoy movement also included 1,081,155 liters of fuel, though partners requires 2 million litres each month. Although the government rejected it as ‘myth’, an EU official who visited Tigray pointed out that shortage of fuel is preventing the delivery of much-needed humanitarian aid. In a press conference after the meeting of the Council of the EU, Joseph Borrrel, High Representative of the EU for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, told reporters that progress made ‘not enough for full normalization of relations’ and underscored the need for ‘restoring basic services in Tigray and lifting restrictions on fuel and fertilizers…to save millions of people from death.’ Given that this is also a farming season, Obasanjo may also touch on the need for ensuring that fertilizers and other farm inputs are promptly released and availed to farmers.

Despite progress in aid delivery, the humanitarian situation in the northern part of the country remains alarming with high levels of food insecurity and malnutrition. The 27 June OCHA humanitarian update indicates that the number of people in need of food assistance in northern Ethiopia has increased from 9 million in November of last year to more than 13 million people, of which 4.8 million in Tigray, 1.2 million in Afar and over 7 million in Amhara regional states. The other issue that the High Representative may also touch on is the non-resumption of basic services such as banking, electricity, telecommunication. In his last briefing on 10 February, he pointed out that ‘the continued limitations in access to essential services is worsening the dire humanitarian situation in Tigray and other areas directly affected by the conflict.’ He went on to tell the PSC that ‘[w]e should collectively continue to urge the Federal Government to lift the blockade and restore services as critical confidence-building measures.’

The other issue that Obasanjo touched on from his last briefing was release of prisoners. It is to be recalled that Tigray forces reportedly announced the release of over 4000 prisoners of war, while it is reported that a few thousands more remain in prison in Tigray. In a statement it issued on 30 June, Ethiopian Human Rights Commission report called for the immediate release of 8560 Tigrians held in two camps in Afar region noting that they ‘are detained illegally and arbitrarily based on their ethnic identity.’

It is to be recalled that no outcome document by way of communique or press statement came out of the previous sessions including the previous 1064th session during which the High Representative briefed the Council. This time, the PSC may issue a communique. The PSC may recognize the humanitarian truce as an encouraging development towards addressing the dire humanitarian situation in the north, but at the same time, express concern over the prevailing gap between the humanitarian needs on the ground and the level and pace of delivery of aid so far. In this respect, members of the Council may appeal to all parties to ensure that the humanitarian truce holds and act in good faith to allow flow of aid commensurate with the needs on the ground including by creating conditions such as increased access to fuel that enable humanitarian actors to execute emergency relief efforts. The PSC may also reiterate Obasanjo’s call from his February briefing for release of all political prisoners and prisoners of war. Members of the Council may also stress on the importance of building on the humanitarian truce and reiterate the call made by the High Representative during his February briefing for the restoration of disconnected social services including telecommunication, banking and electricity and urgent distribution of fertilizers and other farm inputs for farmers. The PSC may also recognize as positive step withdrawal of Tigray forces from Afar and may reiterate the call Obasanjo made in February for ‘all parties to fully withdraw from occupied territories and to return to their original positions.’ On security and peace process front, while welcoming the fact that the truce the parties declared is holding, PSC may request that further steps are taken towards negotiating permanent ceasefire and peace agreement. It may encourage the parties to build on the pronouncements they made expressing their commitment for starting peace talks.


Updated briefing on the situation in the Horn of Africa

Ethiopia

Date | 10 February, 2022

Tomorrow (10 February), the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene its 1064th session to receive updated briefing on the situation in the Horn of Africa as one of its agenda items. This agenda item is added on the request of the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa.

Following the opening remarks by Kenya’s Permanent Representative and Chairperson of the PSC for the month, Jean Kamau, AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security (PAPS), Bankole Adeoye, is expected to make statement. The main focus of the session is to receive updated briefing from AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, H.E. President Olusegun Obasanjo, who is undertaking visits to various parts of Ethiopia. The focus of the briefing is accordingly expected to be on the activities of the High Representative for peace process in Ethiopia since the last briefing.

This is the third time that the High Representative briefs the PSC since his appointment in August 2021. It is to be recalled that the last time the Council convened a dedicated session on the situation was during its 1045th meeting that was held on 08 November 2021. It is expected that during tomorrow’s session his briefing will address two issues. The first of these that PSC member states expect him to brief them on is his work plan and strategies for implementing the peace process. Second, the High Representative is expected to provide an overview of peace and security developments on the situation in Ethiopia since his last briefing in November 2021. He is also expected to highlight his diplomatic engagements since he last updated the Council, and may outline next steps.

Since the PSC’s last briefing from the High Representative, there have been significant developments in the conflict in northern Ethiopia. The conflict has taken a heavy toll on civilians and the economy since its eruption in early November 2020. In the course of 2021, the conflict expanded beyond Tigray and spilled over to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar. Since November, the dynamics of the conflict have changed, with the military balance of power shifting in favour of Ethiopian Government forces. Tigrayan forces, under pressure from drone reliant counter-offensive from Federal Government forces, announced on 21 December their withdrawal from territories they seized in Amhara and Afar regions and retreated to their own region. On 23 December 2021, the government of Ethiopia announced a pause to the fighting stating that it will not move further into Tigray region.

Some other notable developments include the announcement on 7 January 2022 by the government on the release of high-profile political prisoners including senior members of Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF). The Chairperson of the AU Commission issued a statement dated 8 January 2022 expressing that he is ‘pleased to learn of the release of political opposition figures detained in Ethiopia.’ The government also issued a law setting up a national dialogue Commission, which is being viewed by international actors as a welcome development despite uncertainties and contestations about inclusivity and representativeness of the process. It was against this background that the UN also issued a statement. In a statement that the UN Secretary-General issued on 19 January, he stated that Obasanjo ‘briefed him about the efforts being made by the government of Ethiopia and the Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF) to move towards a resolution of the violent conflict.’

Though the PSC discussed the situation in Ethiopia during the summit level session in last March under AOB, a formal and substantive engagement happened only at its 1045th emergency session of November 2021. In that session, the Council, among others, urged parties for an immediate cessation of hostilities and pursue political dialogue. The Council also highlighted the imperative of ensuring an impartial, effective, transparent and prompt investigation into alleged violations. It further requested at the session, to receive periodic updates on the situation and tomorrow’s session is also convened within this framework. It is to be recalled that Ethiopia requested the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) to conduct a joint investigation into the alleged human right violations in Tigray during the March summit level session. The ACHPR launched investigation independently on its own in June 2021, despite lack of agreement with the government of Ethiopia on the modalities for such investigation.

On the side-lines of the AU Summit held on 5-6 February, Obasanjo held consultations. One such consultation he held was with Djibouti’s President Ismail Guelleh. The discussion led to the expression of support by Guelleh to the mandate of Obasanjo and approval of the assignment of Mohamed Idriss Farah, former Permanent Representative of Djibouti to the AU and a well-known figure in the diplomatic circles in Addis Ababa, to Obasanjo’s mediation team.

Continuing with his effort to achieve ceasefire and progress towards establishing the ground for peace talks, Obasanjo undertook visits to parts of Ethiopia including Kombolcha and the capital of Tigray, Mekelle. He also travelled to the Afar region along with President Sahelework Zewde. Since his appointment in August, Obasanjo has been engaged in shuttle diplomacy between Addis Ababa and Mekelle, and further interacting with key actors such as Kenya and US. In tomorrow’s session, Obasanjo is expected to brief the Council about his recent diplomatic engagements to end the conflict and update the Council where the process currently stands. Among others, he is expected to highlight on-going efforts to address the humanitarian situation in various parts of the country and potential for progress for the release of prisoners of war which may serve as catalyst for progress in other fronts.

On the battle front, despite the suspension of ground offensive, there have been reports that drone attacks targeting places in Tigray have continued. Similarly, most recently reports have emerged that fighting has erupted and continues in Afar involving Tigrayan forces. These have resulted in the needless loss of innocent lives and the displacement of others. On the other hand, essential services such as banking and electricity remain disconnected.

Two issues may be of interest to the Council in tomorrow’s discussion. The first is how to secure an immediate cessation of hostilities and unhindered humanitarian access, which would further pave the way for a broader political settlement to the conflict. Second, some positive developments notably the delivery through air of much needed aid by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) highlights the importance of addressing the dire humanitarian situation in the region and other parts, including by resolving the conditions limiting the delivery of emergency food aid and medical assistance. According to a 20 January OCHA situation report, an estimated 9.4 million people need food assistance in northern Ethiopia, and 3.9 million people in Tigray are in need of health services. In this respect, it remains critical for the AU to intensify its engagement through the High Representative, particularly in terms of encouraging the expansion of the current efforts and openings in the delivery of humanitarian assistance towards full humanitarian access to those most in need of such assistance.

The expected outcome of tomorrow’s session is a communique. The Council may particularly reiterate its call for immediate cessation of hostilities and unhindered access to humanitarian access as a first step towards a broader political settlement to the conflict. The Council may however welcome the recent developments that contribute to reducing tension including the release of prisoners and the decision not to enter into Tigray as well as the retreat of Tigrian forces to Tigray. Commending the efforts of the High Representative to the Horn of Africa, the Council may urge the Representative to seize the moment and step-up diplomatic engagement with parties to the conflict as well as regional leaders and actors for sustaining some of the initial positive measures taken. The PSC may also welcome the delivery of aid by the ICRC and encourage the easing of the conditions that have impended humanitarian access for reaching those in desperate need of humanitarian assistance before it is too late. It may also call on the international community to extend full support to the efforts of Obasanjo and to encourage all sides to enhance measures that facilitate the smooth delivery of humanitarian aid, the end of the resumption of essential services, the achievement of ceasefire and the process towards peace talks.


Update on the situation in Northern Ethiopia

Ethiopia

Date | 08 November, 2021

Tomorrow (8 November) the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council (PSC) will convene an emergency session. The session, prompted by recent changes in the context of the conflict, is set under a theme ‘update on the situation in Northern Ethiopia’.

The session will receive the statement of the AU Commissioner for Political Affairs, Peace and Security, Bankole Adeoye, after the opening remark by the Chairperson of the PSC for the month of November, Mohamed Gad, Permanent Representative of Egypt to the AU. Initially, it was envisaged that former President of Nigeria Olusegun Obasanjo, who was appointed as the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa in August 2021, would provide the update on the situation in Northern Ethiopia. However, the session may proceed without his briefing due to him traveling to Northern Ethiopia. The Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) as the concerned regional body and Ethiopia, as the country concerned, are also expected to deliver a statement.

It is to be recalled that in March 2021 during the Heads of State Meeting of the PSC, Ethiopia’s Prime Minister presented a ‘Statement to the African Union Peace and Security Council (AUPSC) on the current situation in Northern Ethiopia. The statement was delivered under AOB and as such there was no formal deliberation on the situation. Tomorrow’s session will thus be the first session for the PSC to deliberate on the situation formally.

The session comes against the background of reports of increasing fighting and in a context of reports of declaration by Tigrian forces of taking control of the towns of Dessie and Kombolcha. On 3 November, the AU Commission Chairperson, Moussa Faki Mahamat, issued a statement calling for ‘the immediate cessation of hostilities, the full respect for the life and property of civilians, as well as state infrastructure.’ The statement additionally called on ‘the parties to urge their supporters against acts of reprisal against any community, and refrain from hate speech and incitement to violence and divisiveness.’ After reminding ‘their obligations regarding compliance with international humanitarian and human rights law, with particular regard to the protection of civilians and ensuring access to humanitarian assistance by communities in need,’ the statement called on ‘the parties to engage with the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President H.E Olusegun Obasanjo.’

In the briefing, it is expected that PSC will be informed about Obasanjo’s engagements on the situation thus far. It is to be recalled that, he briefed the PSC on 28 October broadly on his mandate and plans on execution of the mandate. For purposes of tomorrow’s session, it would be of interest for the PSC to learn about his engagements regarding the situation in Northern Ethiopia, including meetings held with the key stakeholders both in Ethiopia and in the region.

PSC members would in particular be interested to hear about AU’s assessment of the situation and how the PSC lends further support towards AU’s effort to help avert further deterioration of the situation. Recent developments have attracted increased attention both in the region and outside of the region as well. In a statement issued on 4 November, IGAD Executive Secretary, Workneh Gebeyehu, among others, called for the cessation of hostilities and for immediate ceasefire. Kenya also issued a statement appealing ‘to the parties on the urgent need to bring an end of the conflict’. On Friday 5 November, the UN Security Council held a meeting on the situation and issued a statement. Expressing deep concern about the intensification and expansion of military clashes and the impact of the conflict on the humanitarian situation, stability of the country and the region, the statement of the UNSC called for respect for international humanitarian law, for safe and unhindered humanitarian access, the reestablishment of public services, and scaling up of humanitarian assistance. The statement additionally called to put an end to hostilities and to negotiate a lasting ceasefire, and for the creation of conditions for national dialogue.

The expected outcome of the session is a communiqué. The PSC is expected to express concern about the escalation and expansion of the fighting and the human toll of the situation as well as its impact on the stability of the country and the region. Considering the geo-strategic location of the country and the implications of further deteriorations, the PSC may underscore the importance of peace in Ethiopia for the entire region and the continent. The PSC, taking note of efforts and expressions of commitment to address the situation, reiterate the AU Commission Chairpersons call for the cessation of hostilities and the need for starting a political process for ending the escalating fighting. To this end, the PSC may express its support for the role of the AU High-Representative for the Horn of Africa and urge full cooperation for enabling him to help achieve a negotiated settlement.