The Urgent Need for the Kampala Convention in Tigray

The Urgent Need for the Kampala Convention in Tigray

A Crossroads of Aspiration and Uncertainty

The Tigray region has been ravaged by a genocidal war since November 2020, uprooting about two million people from their homes and leaving them displaced within and outside the region within Ethiopia and in neighboring countries. According to a December 2023 United Nations report, nearly a million people in Tigray remain internally displaced. This humanitarian crisis demands urgent solutions as Tigrayans continue to be displaced from occupied areas. One promising path towards mitigating these circumstances lies in the Kampala Convention, a treaty designed to protect the rights of internally displaced persons (IDPs) across Africa. By adhering to the principles enshrined in this convention, the Ethiopian Federal government, in collaboration with Tigray’s Interim Administration, can begin the long road to healing and ensure the safety and well-being of citizens.

The Kampala Convention

The Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa, also known as the Kampala Convention offers a vital framework for safeguarding the rights of IDPs. Adopted by the African Union in 2009, this treaty compels member states to prioritise preventative measures to curb displacement while also mandating signatory states to both protect IDPs and provide them with essential assistance.

Ethiopia ratified the Kampala Convention in 2020. However, implementation is lacking, particularly in the genocide-torn Tigray region. The ongoing genocide has displaced millions of Tigrayans within Ethiopia’s borders, highlighting the urgent need to translate the principles enshrined in the Kampala Convention into concrete action on the ground.

Security, Justice, and the Long Road to Peace in Tigray

The brutal genocide in Tigray, tragically exposes the critical need for a multifaceted approach to achieving lasting peace. While immediate security measures are essential to quell the violence, true stability requires a foundation built on justice and addressing the root causes that ignited the flames of genocide.

The Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons provides a valuable roadmap for navigating this complex situation. This international treaty mandates action on multiple fronts, all essential for restoring security, preventing future displacement, and the safe return of IDPs. 

Return of IDPs

The Convention compels states to confront the root causes of displacement. In the case of Tigray, this necessitates tackling issues like the forceful and illegal occupation of Tigrayan territories by Amhara and Eritrean forces, and the accompanying human rights violations, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing, and genocide. Only by confronting these underlying problems can we ensure the safe return of IDPs. 

The Kampala Convention outlines: “States Parties shall seek lasting solutions to the problem of displacement by promoting and creating satisfactory conditions for voluntary return, local integration or relocation on a sustainable basis and in circumstances of safety and dignity.” Further, it states “States Parties shall enable internally displaced persons to make a free and informed choice on whether to return, integrate locally or relocate by consulting them on these and other options and ensuring their participation in finding sustainable solutions.” Tigrayans who are internally displaced have unequivocally expressed their choice to return and repeatedly called for their government to facilitate this. However, this is not being pursued by the Ethiopian government. The Abiy administration has not facilitated the withdrawal of non-federal and foreign forces from Tigrayan territories–which would allow for the safe return of IDPs. 

Firstly, Amhara forces still occupy Western Tigray, as the zone is illegally under the administration of the Amhara regional government that is conducting ethnic cleansing. In a statement in November 2023, the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed proposed a referendum to determine the future of Western Tigray, which raises serious concerns for the future of Western Tigray and IDPs ability to return home. Some see this move as an attempt to deflect criticism of his handling of the genocide. Abiy may be attempting to divert attention from these allegations and portray himself as a leader dedicated to peace and democracy. Alternatively, the proposal could be seen as an effort to regain international support. Abiy was previously lauded by the international community for promoting peace and democracy, but his actions over the last several years have severely tarnished his image. By proposing a referendum, he might be aiming to win back the international community’s favour by projecting an image of continued commitment to democratic principles.

However, as I have previously outlined, in reality, his proposal is a thinly veiled attempt to annex the territory to the Amhara region after the area has been cleansed of Tigrayans by Amhara forces, as well as a maneuver aimed at diverting attention from his government’s consistent and widespread human rights abuses. Calling for a referendum after ethnic cleansing and wrongly claiming most Tigrayan IDPs have returned home is ultimately another step in the ethnic cleansing and annexation of historically Tigrayan lands, evident in the  language, religion, and cultural practices. 

Secondly, Eritrea continues to occupy Tigrayan territories with impunity as human rights violations, including sexual violence and enforced disappearances, are daily occurrences. Though the Eritrean government claims their forces are on Eritrean land based on the 2002 Border Commission Decision, per Irob Anina Civil Society, they occupy double the amount of land they were awarded in the decision. Furthermore, ensuring a successful resolution requires moving beyond the 2000 Algiers Agreement and subsequent 2002 Border Commission Decision since Eritrea’s invasion of Tigray as part of its genocidal campaign nullifies the agreement and was a blatant violation of Ethiopia’s sovereignty. As such, neither the Ethiopian government nor the international community should use this agreement as a reference point.

Pursuant to the November 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement between the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, the Ethiopian government has the responsibility of ensuring all non-Ethiopian federal forces withdraw from Tigray. Yet, 16 months since the CoHA, the Ethiopian government has done nothing to ensure the withdrawal of these forces, leaving IDPs unable to return home due to the ongoing occupations.

Protecting Vulnerable Groups in the Wake of Genocide: The Case of Tigray

The ongoing genocide in Tigray has highlighted the critical need for robust measures to protect vulnerable groups, including IDPs. Article 9 of the Kampala Convention recognizes the specific vulnerabilities faced by women, children, and the elderly during displacement. In the context of Tigray, translating these principles into concrete action is paramount to ensure a just and sustainable recovery.

Women in Tigray are particularly exposed to various forms of violence, including sexual assault and gender-based violence. This is ongoing in the lands forcefully occupied by Eritrean and Amhara Forces. Targeted measures are crucial to guarantee their safety and well-being. This could involve establishing safe spaces for women within displacement camps, ensuring access to female healthcare providers, and implementing robust reporting mechanisms for abuse. Children are another highly vulnerable group during displacement. Disrupted education, malnutrition, and psychological trauma are just some of the challenges they face. Ethiopia has an obligation to prioritize access to quality education for displaced children, provide adequate nutrition programs, and offer specialized services to address the psychological impact of genocide. The elderly within IDP camps often face unique challenges. Limited mobility, chronic health conditions, and social isolation can leave them particularly vulnerable. Targeted interventions are needed, such as ensuring accessible sanitation facilities, providing healthcare services catering to their specific needs, and fostering a sense of community within the camps.

Beyond these specific groups, it is crucial to recognize the intersectionality of vulnerabilities. For instance, a displaced elderly woman might face compounded risks of violence and health concerns. A holistic approach that considers the unique needs of each individual is essential.The Ethiopian government has an obligation to not only protect these populations, but the entire community. This requires sustained commitment to ensuring the safety and well-being of all vulnerable IDPs. Independent monitoring mechanisms are also crucial to ensure transparency and accountability.

The genocide on Tigray serves as a stark reminder of the devastating impact of internal displacement on vulnerable populations. Prioritizing their protection and implementing targeted interventions is essential.

Uprooted Yet Unbroken: Education and Livelihoods for Tigray’s IDPs

While IDPs in Tigray wait to be able to return home, their human rights should be upheld by the Ethiopian government. IDPs face a multitude of challenges, with the rights to education and livelihood hanging precariously in the balance. The international legal framework, embodied in the Kampala Convention on the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons, provides a powerful roadmap for addressing these issues.

Education is the cornerstone of a brighter future. Disrupted schooling not only hinders academic progress but also disrupts the crucial social and emotional development of children. And this is exactly what’s happening in Tigray. The Convention guarantees IDPs the right to education on equal footing with the host community. In Tigray, where educational institutions have been deliberately targeted and attacked by invading forces, restoring access to education must be a top priority. This entails repairing damaged schools, providing psychosocial support to traumatized students, and ensuring a safe learning environment. Initiatives offering accelerated learning programs can help displaced children bridge the gap in their education.

Livelihoods are equally important for IDPs’ dignity and well-being. Uprooted from their homes and occupations, many struggle to meet basic needs. The Convention encourages support for income-generating activities, empowering IDPs to rebuild their lives. This can take various forms, such as microloans for small businesses, vocational training programs, and facilitating access to markets for locally produced goods.

The Federal government has a responsibility to protect and assist IDPs. It should provide funding, expertise, and logistical support for initiatives addressing education and livelihood needs. Additionally, it is essential to create safe spaces for IDPs to participate in decision-making regarding their education and economic opportunities.  

Rebuilding education and livelihoods in Tigray is more than just reconstruction; it is about fostering resilience and hope. By upholding the principles enshrined in the Convention, the international community can empower IDPs to not only survive but also thrive. Investing in their education equips them with the knowledge and skills to navigate the challenges of displacement and contribute meaningfully to society. Supporting livelihood opportunities fosters self-reliance and a sense of agency, allowing IDPs to regain control of their lives.

Rebuilding Tigray: Addressing Basic Needs and Long-Term Solutions

The genocide on Tigray has caused a severe humanitarian crisis. The region urgently requires solutions that address both immediate basic needs and long-term recovery. The principles enshrined in the Kampala Convention offer a valuable framework for this critical task.

The Convention rightly emphasizes the importance of fulfilling fundamental human needs during conflict. Food insecurity, water scarcity, inadequate shelter, and a lack of access to healthcare have become pervasive issues in Tigray. Unimpeded humanitarian access is paramount for ensuring the delivery of life-saving aid. However, the Ethiopian government has yet to ensure humanitarian access and adequate aid, instead actively hindering the response. Bureaucratic hurdles and security concerns are not addressed to allow aid organizations to reach all affected populations efficiently, while funding for the response remains grossly inadequate.

Addressing immediate needs is only the first step. The Kampala Convention goes beyond emergency relief highlighting the necessity of long-term solutions. Rebuilding Tigray requires a multifaceted approach. Reconstruction efforts are crucial for restoring basic infrastructure like roads, bridges, and communication networks. This will facilitate the movement of people and goods, enabling economic activity to fully resume. Livelihood development is another critical long-term solution. The genocide has disrupted agricultural production and destroyed businesses, leaving many Tigrayans without a source of income. Supporting farmers with seeds, tools, and training will help them get back on their feet. Similarly, providing microloans and vocational training can empower entrepreneurs and create new job opportunities. Psychosocial support is also often-overlooked yet crucial long-term need. The trauma inflicted by the genocide has lasting psychological consequences. Providing counselling and mental health services will be essential for fostering healing and promoting a sense of well-being within the Tigrayan community.

The success of these efforts hinges on the active participation of the Tigrayan people. Locally-driven initiatives and community ownership are vital for ensuring that reconstruction and development projects are sustainable and meet the specific needs of the population. Addressing the crisis in Tigray necessitates a comprehensive approach guided by the principles of the Kampala Convention. From ensuring unhindered access to basic necessities to fostering long-term recovery through infrastructure rebuilding, livelihood development, and psychosocial support, the road to rebuilding Tigray is a long one. However, by prioritizing both immediate needs and long-term solutions, with the active involvement of the affected communities, a brighter future for Tigray can be secured.

Central to the Convention’s principles is also the investigation of human rights abuses. Lack of accountability for atrocities and violent acts fosters resentment and erodes the rule of law. Independent and impartial investigations are crucial for holding perpetrators accountable, deterring future violations, and offering a path towards healing for victims. Justice, accountability, and redress are key to long-term peace and stability.

Conclusion: A Call to Action

The genocide on Tigray demands a unified global response. The Ethiopian government must be held accountable for failing to uphold its obligations under the Kampala Convention. The international community, including the African Union, needs to exert significant pressure to ensure:

  1. Unimpeded Humanitarian Access: Life-saving aid must reach all affected populations in Tigray without bureaucratic hurdles or security concerns.
  2. Independent Investigations and Accountability: A thorough investigation into human rights abuses is essential to deter future atrocities and offer a path to healing.
  3. Addressing Root Causes: The issues of forced occupation and ethnic cleansing  must be addressed to prevent future displacement.
  4. Long-Term Solutions: Reconstruction efforts, livelihood development programs, and psychosocial support are crucial for sustainable recovery in Tigray. Prioritizing education opportunities will empower IDPs to contribute to their communities.

The situation in Tigray is a critical test for the international community’s commitment to protecting the rights of IDPs. By working together and applying the principles enshrined in the Kampala Convention, a brighter future for Tigray can be secured. The time for action is now.

Batseba Seifu – Omna Tigray External Contributor, March 2024