2023 was a consequential year for human rights suppression and wartime atrocities, especially in the Horn of Africa, according to a new report by Human Rights Watch published Thursday. The rights group blames regional blocs and the international community for not doing enough to protect civilians.
Governments in the Horn of Africa dealt with large-scale humanitarian crises in 2023. With no checks on abuses in Sudan and Ethiopia, civilians withstood the worst of atrocities committed in the name of war, the report by Human Rights Watch says.
“We … saw blatant flouting of very basic laws of war, human rights laws, by governments,” said Laetitia Bader, deputy director in the Africa division at the rights group.
In Sudan, a war that broke out last April between the Sudanese army and the paramilitary Rapid Support Forces has killed thousands and displaced millions of civilians, sparking a humanitarian crisis.
The report says the warring parties repeatedly used heavy weapons in densely populated areas and that instead of treating this crisis as a priority, influential governments and regional bodies have pursued short-term gains at the expense of rights-driven solutions.
“Time and time again, we saw how there was limited diplomatic willingness at the regional level but also at the international level to really press for a sort of accountability, which is needed to end these cycles of impunity,” Bader said.
Several countries, including the U.S. and Saudi Arabia, tried to broker cease-fires in Sudan but weren’t successful.
In Ethiopia, after parties to the conflict in the northern part of the country signed a cessation of hostilities agreement in late 2022 — which Bader says resulted in improvement in the human rights and humanitarian situation in parts of Tigray — the limited international efforts to promote meaningful accountability and an end to abuses quickly dissipated, the report says.
“Over the last six months in particular, we’ve seen a deteriorating rights situation and fighting in the Amhara region,” Bader said. “And again, we’ve seen the impact on the civilian community. We’ve documented extrajudicial killings, sexual violence, but also the devastating impact that this ongoing cycle of fighting is having on civilians’ ability to access basic care.”
Fighting erupted in Tigray in late 2020 after the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) attacked army bases across the region. The attacks initially overwhelmed the federal military, which later mounted a counteroffensive alongside Eritrean soldiers and forces from the neighboring region of Amhara.
In 2021 alone, 5.1 million Ethiopians became internally displaced, a record for the most people internally displaced in any country in any single year at the time, according to the Council on Foreign Relations.