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Ethiopia - Overview of ICRC actions - 31 May 2002

31-05-2002 Operational Update


Executive Summary 

 The border war between Ethiopia and Eritrea ended in December 2000 with the signing of a peace accord by both countries. The demarcation of a new border will soon be underway. But thousands of people, from prisoners of war (POWs) and those who fled their homes to landmine victims and families torn apart by the armed conflict, are still suffering the consequences of the two-year war. The ICRC focuses on ensuring that POWs, civilian internees and people of Eritrean origin in Ethiopia enjoy the protection accorded to them by the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions. The ICRC is also working to re-establish family links, ensure the war-wounded have adequate treatment and help those returning to their homes in the war-ravaged region of Tigray to rebuild their lives.  

· The ICRC carries out visits to monitor the treatment and detention conditions of 1,583 POWs and 282 civilians of Eritrean origin interned in Ethiopia, and 326 Ethiopian POWs in Eritrea.

· Since the December 2000 peace accord, the ICRC has assisted in the repatriation of 703 Ethiopian and 937 Eritrean POWs, and has provided safe passage across frontlines during the voluntary repatriation of some 21,000 Ethiopian and 1,500 Eritrean civilians.

· The ICRC and the Ethiopian and Eritrean Red Cross Societies help to re-establish contact between family members separated by the war. Over 30,000 Red Cross messages have been distributed in Eritrea and Ethiopia since December 2000, and some 100 people reunited with their families in both countries. 

· Since December 2000, four ICRC-supported prosthetic/orthotic centres in Ethiopia have fitted some 2,500 war-disabled. Over one-third are landmine victims.

· The ICRC provides basic shelter material and water and health facilities for over 1000 families in communities in Tigray.


 With the end of the two-year international armed conflict, the ICRC has been able to shift more attention to assisting victims of the increasing number of internal armed conflicts and disturbances in Ethiopia. The ICRC monitors closely violence-prone regions, provides emergency aid to the wounded and displaced, visits detainees to check on conditions and treatment, in accordance with international humanitarian standards, and sets up projects which aim to help people help themselves in the face of insecurity, drought and floods.  


· The ICRC has increased its visits to some 4,800 detainees held in connection with State security and the 1991 change of government.

· The ICRC is strengthening the Movement’s capacity to respond to emergencies. Following unrest in the western part of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People’s Regional State (SNNPRS) in March 2002, the ICRC and Ethiopian Red Cross distributed emergency supplies to 11 health centres and some 1,400 families.

· In the violence-prone Somali National Regional State (SNRS), the ICRC implements projects that aim to increase the amount of arable land and income for the most vulnerable population. The projects include training in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and health care, and the distribution of food in return for work constructing or repairing irrigation canals and dykes.

Ethiopia today 

 Aftermath of the international conflict  

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) announced its decision on the delimitation of the disputed border between the two countries on 13 April 2002 at The Hague, in accordance with the mandate conferred upon it in the 12 December 2000 peace accord. Despite disagreements on specific issues, both Ethiopia and Eritrea have committed themselves publicly to backing the ruling.

In the coming months, the physical demarcation of the border should take place, in accordance with the EEBC’s decision. The process will later involve a transfer of territory, the removal of mines and the eventual return of people to the disputed border areas. A full-scale return of internally displaced people (IDPs) is unlikely to be undertaken until the status of these returned areas and the procedures for the movements of populations are clarified. On 15 March the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) was extended for another six months.


 Internal conflicts continue  

Still recovering from the two-year war, Ethiopia also suffers the effects of ongoing internal armed conflicts, interethnic clashes, political disturbances and violent demonstrations, mainly in the southern part of the country. In early March 2002, unrest in the western part of the SNNPRS resulted in numerous casualties, the destruction of homes and thousands of people displaced. The situation is also volatile in northern SNNPRS, and sporadic clashes between government forces and armed opposition groups have been reported in the SNRS and in Oromia in the Bale, Borena, Hararghe and Aris zones. Ethnic tensions remain high in Gambella state and the Borena zone of Oromia. At the end of March, student demonstrations in several towns in western Oromia sparked a wave of arrests.

 Weak Economy  

Ethiopia’s economy is fragile. Eight out of ten Ethiopians earn their living from the land, mainly at subsistence level. Many have to cope with the extremes of flood and drought.

Humanitarian priorities 

Both former warring countries have signed a peace agreement. The demarcation of a new border will soon be underway. But thousands of people, from prisoners of war to homeless civilians, are still suffering the effects of the international conflict. The ICRC’s priority in Ethiopia is to protect and assist, in accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the most vulnerable victims of the war as well as those most at risk from the internal conflicts and disturbances.

 People affected by the international conflict  

The ICRC continues to conduct regular visits to POWs and civilian internees detained in connection with the international armed conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It monitors their treatment and detention conditions, in accordance with the Third and Fourth Geneva Conventions, and makes confidential reports to the authorities. As a neutral humanitarian intermediary, the ICRC assists in the release and repatriation of POWs. The ICRC has regularly reminded both Ethiopia and Eritrea to do everything necessary to ensure that all remaining POWs are released and repatriated as soon as possible in line with the relevant pr ovisions of the Geneva Conventions.

In the confusion of war, families become separated. The ICRC, with Red Cross volunteers, delivers family news written on Red Cross messages (RCMs). Many of these messages are collected and distributed during detention visits to POWs and civilian internees, allowing them to keep in touch with their families. Through the combined efforts of the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross, the most vulnerable - children, the elderly, the disabled and the very sick- are reunited with their families.

Many people who were wounded in the war, in particular amputees, still need treatment, and landmines continue to take their toll. An artificial limb does not last a lifetime. The prostheses of a child has to be replaced every six months, that of an adult every three years. Ethiopian hospitals have had difficulty meeting the need. Four ICRC-supported prosthetic/orthotic centres in Addis Ababa, Mekele, Harar and Dessie provide physical rehabilitation for the war-disabled throughout the country. The ICRC’s Special Fund for the Disabled organizes training for local technicians on the manufacture and fitting of artificial limbs and appliances. 

The region of Ethiopia most ravaged by the international war is northern Tigray on the border with Eritrea. Thousands of people who fled the area have returned to find their homes and community infrastructure in ruins. To help those people rebuild their lives, the ICRC is providing building materials and getting water-supply systems and health facilities up and running.

 People affected by the internal conflict  

Since the official end of the two-year border war in December 2000, the ICRC has been able to redirect more of its resources to the most urgent problems arising from Ethiopia’s internal conflicts. It has, for example, increased the number of visits to peopl e detained for reasons of State security or in connection with the 1991 change of government.

To better respond to crises, the ICRC regularly monitors the violence-prone areas of SNRS, Oromia and SNNPRS. Large displacements of people take place in these regions, and IDPs and residents alike suffer frequent food shortages. The ICRC is working with the Ethiopian Red Cross to strengthen its capacity to provide emergency aid in these areas.

The SNRS is particularly affected by under-development and internal conflict. The ICRC has introduced projects that aim to increase food production and, through a food- for-work approach, provide a more diversified source of food and income for the most vulnerable people. The projects include training in agriculture, animal husbandry, fishing, and health care, and the distribution of food in return for work constructing or repairing irrigation canals and dykes.

ICRC action 

· 42 expatriates and 217 national staff 

· ICRC delegation: Addis Ababa

· Three sub-delegations: Harar (covering Dire Dawa, Harari, Afar Regional State, eastern Oromia); Gode (SNRS); and Mekele (Tigray National Regional State)

· Additional offices in Jijiga (SNRS) and Adrigat (Tigray).

People deprived of their freedom 

 Prisoners of war, civilian internees  

In accordance with the Geneva Conventions, the ICRC carries out regular visits to follow up individually the treatment and detention conditions of POWS and civilian internees. At the time of the December 2000 peace accord, the ICRC had registered and visited some 2,600 Eritrean POWs. There are now 1,583 POWs and 282 civilian internees of Eritrean origin registered by the ICRC in Dedessa Camp in Ethiopia. After each visit, the ICRC makes a confidential report to the authorities. Since the December 2000 peace accord, the ICRC has assisted in the repatriation of 937 Eritrean and 703 Ethiopian POWs


 Detainees of Ethiopian origin  

About 4,800 detainees are followed up individually by the ICRC in more than 150 places of detention in Ethiopia. The majority of detainees are held in connection with State security and the 1991 change of government. The ICRC regularly informs the authorities of its findings regarding the treatment of prisoners and their detention conditions, in accordance with international humanitarian law. To combat the spread of infectious diseases such as AIDS, tuberculosis (the number one killer in prisons), bloody diarrhea, relapsing fever (a tick-borne disease) and intestinal worm infestation, the ICRC trains prison health staff, provides basic medical supplies and builds or repairs water and sewerage systems, kitchens and latrines.

 Restoring family links  

The Red Cross message (RCM) network links thousands of families who were separated during the war. With telecommunication facilities still down between Eritrea and Ethiopia, an RCM is, for many, the only means of sending family news to loved ones. Since the December 2000 peace accord, the ICRC, with the Red Cross, has distributed some 36,000 RCMs between Eritrea and Ethiopia, many of them for POWs and civilian internees. During the same period, the ICRC has, at their request, reunited 94 people, 29 of whom were minors, with their families in Eritrea. In cases where all contact has been lost with a family member, the ICRC and Red Cross offer a tracing service. In 2001, about 65 people were successfully located. In the first three months of this year alone, the ICRC has been able to locate 50 people at the request of worried family members. 


 Nationals of Eritrean origin  

Some 400 destitute civilians of Eritrean origin, waiting for repatriation, had their medical costs covered by the ICRC. Between January and March of this year, five required hospitalization, 85 were treated for illness and 107 received home care from an Eritrean nurse working for the ICRC.

 Reconstruction in war-torn Tigray  

For communities in Tigray, the Ethiopian regional state hardest hit by the international war with Eritrea, the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross are working to ensure people have the basics- shelter, water and health care- to rebuild their lives. Seven water points have been built or repaired and 1,500 families in eight villages have received basic roofing materials. At the request of the regional Health Board, the ICRC is currently participating in discussions on a project to repair or rebuild a health centre in the area.

 Conflict and natural disasters in Somali National Regional State  

The almost four million nomadic and semi-nomadic people in the SNRS attempt to live in semi-arid to desert conditions amid sporadic armed conflict and political instability. Most public services, from health and education to water and electricity, are rudimentary or non-existent. The ICRC has set up a number of projects to help provide the most vulnerable people with an additional source of food and income.

In the Afder zone where there is no health-care system, the ICRC has trained and continues to supervise a total so far of 29 ‘Village Health Women’ who treat the most common ailments and diseases from open wounds to malaria in some 20 villages.

Since the start of the ICRC’s Veterinary Project in 1997 in the Gode and Afder zones, 914 herders have received instruction on how to identify and treat diseases in their cattle and camels. The training continues.

Another initiative, the food for work, flood-management programme, involves communities in building or repairing irrigation canals, ponds, dykes and dams, in return for food and tools. The main aim is to increase the amount of arable land through better management of the floods during the Gu season and, to a lesser extent, during the Deyr season. To date, more than one hundred kilometres of canals have been dug or repaired in some 100 projects benefiting over 20,000 households. As part of this programme, at the start of 2002 the ICRC distributed 11,000 saplings –mango, lemon and neem- to 4,500 families in 64 villages along the river Wabi Shebele. The trees should control erosion, act as a wind break/shelter for crops, eventually bear fruit and, in the case of neem, provide insect repellent. Some 7,000 destitute farmers, also living along the river Wabi Shebele, have received fishing twine and hooks and training in fishing techniques, allowing them to supplement their diet and income.

 Emergency aid  

To be in a better position to respond to emergencies, the ICRC monitors closely regions prone to violence, malnutrition and disease, mainly in the SNRS, Oromia and SNNPRS. For example, directly following the unrest in the western part of the SNNPRS in early March, the ICRC and the Ethiopian Red Cross distributed emergency medical supplies to local hospitals and health centres, and basic shelter and cooking materials for 1000 displaced families. Because of the recent upsurge in violence in the SNNPRS, the ICRC is now providing medical supplies for 20 health centres in the Hadiya and Kambata zones.

The ICRC also responded quickly to help control an outbreak of meningitis in January 2002 in the SNNPRS. As most health centres lacked the drugs to treat the potentially deadly disease, the ICRC distributed the necessary antibiotics and serums. 

Wounded and Sick    

There are still thousands of people with war disabilities in Ethiopia as a result of the recent international conflict and the prevalence of landmines. Diseases such as polio and leprosy as well as internal fighting are claiming new victims. In the past 15 months, four ICRC-supported prosthetic/orthotic centres in Addis Ababa, Dessie, Harar and Mekele have fitted 2,487 war-disabled with artificial limbs or appliances. Over one-third of the amputees are landmine victims.

A major obstacle to providing patient rehabilitation services is the lack of local, qualified technicians. In response, the ICRC’s Special Fund for the Disabled set up a training centre in Addis Ababa in 1995. Since then, 244 prosthetic/orthotic technicians from 45 countries, including 41 Ethiopians, have taken the one-month intensive course. The Fund provides materials and technical expertise for 34 similar projects in 18 countries, mainly in Africa and the Middle East.

To treat the war-wounded and sick, the ICRC works closely with the Ethiopian Defense Forces and provides medical supplies to the military hospital and three civilian hospitals in Tigray. In October 2002, ICRC surgeons plan to hold a fourth seminar on war surgery. At the request of Ethiopian doctors, the seminar will include maxillofacial surgery, or reconstruction of the upper jawbone and face.

Authorities, Armed Forces and other bearers of weapons, Civil Society    

To limit the damage of war and conflict, the ICRC promotes the understanding and acceptance of international humanitarian law (IHL) and ICRC activities. It organizes regular dissemination sessions for members of the Ethiopian Defense Forces, police personnel, the media, civilian authorities and the civil society.

This year, dissemination programmes for the military will focus on high-ranking officers and soldiers of the Eastern and Southern Commands. Between January and March 2002, some 3000 soldiers in the Harar/Hararghe zones, the SNRS and SNNPRS attended introductory seminars on the ICRC and IHL.

Using a similar approach with the police, this year the ICRC is focussing on promoting its activities and IHL to special investigators and members of the special police force. In the first three months of 2002, seminars were held for a total of 130 investigators in Addis Ababa, at the airport in Dire Dawa, and in Harar and Hararghe regions.

Following the unrest in the western part of the SNNPRS in March, the ICRC, for the first time, held a one-day session for local journalists in the regional state, with briefings on IHL and ICRC work in conflict zones.

To spread knowledge of IHL among adolescents and develop their understanding of humanitarian issues, the ICRC has produced a training resource pack for secondary schools called “Exploring Humanitarian Law” (EHL). For 2002, the ICRC is working to adapt and translate the five modules, and train teachers on how to integrate EHL into the educational system in the regional states of Harar and Tigray.

Cooperation with the Ethiopian Red Cross 

The Ethiopian Red Cross Society (ERCS), with three regional offices, 31 branches and 41 sub-branches, is the ICRC’s main partner in Ethiopia. The role of the ICRC is to enhance the ability of the ERCS to provide humanitarian assistance to the community. This year, given the recent rise in internal disturbances, cooperation with the ERCS will focus on conflict preparedness and response. The ICRC and ERCS have already carried out several joint emergency interventions in 2002 related to armed conflicts, ethnic clashes and disturbances in the SNNPRS, Borena and Tigray. The ICRC also continues to provide funds, material assistance and expertise to help the ERCS to strengthen its other traditional activities of restoring family links through RCMs and tracing, and disseminating knowled ge of IHL and the work of the Red Cross Movement.