Ethiopia & Eritrea
On 23rd May, the United States’ Department of State introduced visa restrictions on any current or former Ethiopian or Eritrean officials, members of the security forces or other individuals – including Amhara regional irregular forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) – deemed responsible for undermining a resolution of the Tigray crisis. These restrictions may also extend to family members of those affected.
The US warned of further action if those responsible do not reverse course. In addition, it imposed “wide-ranging” restrictions on economic and security assistance to Ethiopia, while continuing its “existing broad restrictions” on assistance to Eritrea. The department noted that civilians in Tigray “continue to suffer human rights violations, abuses, and atrocities”, with relief “being blocked by the Ethiopian and Eritrean militaries as well as other armed actors”. It called on Ethiopia to hold perpetrators to account and on Eritrea to withdraw its troops back to Eritrean territory.
Discussing the situation in Ethiopia, President Joe Biden expressed concern at the deterioration in “multiple parts” of the country. He condemned “widespread” human rights abuses in Tigray and urged all parties to act to “prevent a widespread famine” in the area. The president also emphasised that the US “is committed to helping Ethiopia address these challenges”. Separately, a bipartisan group in Congress is pushing the administration to target those violating human rights in Tigray under the Global Magnitsky sanctions regime.
The war in Tigray broke out in November 2020, following the deterioration in relations between the TPLF’s regional government and PM Abiy Ahmed’s federal government.
The United Kingdom’s Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation (OFSI) sanctioned the Kaniyat Militia and two of its leaders, Mohammed and Abderrahim al-Kani. The brothers are designated for being leaders of the militia, which was involved in “serious human rights abuses and violations of international law” during its period of control over the city of Tarhuna.
Following the action taken on 13th May, both individuals and the entity have been subjected to an asset freeze. Discussing the measures, James Cleverly, the UK’s Minister for the Middle East and North Africa, said that the targets “oversaw a reign of terror in Tarhuna” and that their designation “send a clear message that those responsible […] will face consequences”.
The militia and Mohammed al-Kani were sanctioned by the US under its Global Magnitsky regime in November 2020, before both were targeted alongside Abderrahim al-Kani by the EU under its Global Human Rights regime in March 2021. It should be noted that, although the UK also has a global human rights regime similar to the US’s and EU’s, this month’s designations occurred under OFSI’s Libyan sanctions regime.
As part of the same action, OFSI amended the listing of Aisha Gaddafi, daughter of former Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi. This was a minor administrative change to update her Libyan passport details. She has been under international sanctions since 2011.
Elsewhere, it emerged that Tohami Khaled – who is wanted by the International Criminal Court (ICC) – appears to have died in Cairo. It has been reported that he died in February 2021, having been “harboured” by the Egyptian government. In 2013, Mr Khaled was charged by the court with crimes against humanity and war crimes, which are said to have taken place in 2011 during the First Libyan Civil War. At the time, he was the head of Libya’s internal security agency under Gaddafi’s rule.
Mr Khaled’s apparent fate echoes that of Mahmoud al-Werfalli, who was reportedly killed in March 2021 and remains wanted by the court. In both cases, the ICC’s prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, added that the “credible” reports have not yet been officially corroborated.
Separately, the Swiss State Secretariat for Economic Affairs (SECO) delisted Abdul Majid al-Qa’ud from its Libyan sanctions list. The measure came into force a day later. Although no official explanation was provided, it is likely related to reports in the Libyan press that he died in March 2021. At the time of writing, Mr al-Qa’ud remains subject to UK sanctions.
He was first sanctioned in March 2011 for being the agriculture minister in Gaddafi’s government. Mr al-Qa’ud was also a former general secretary of the General People’s Congress, the national legislative body for Libya under Gaddafi, effectively making him prime minister between 1994 and 1997. Following the regime’s downfall, he was imprisoned before being released in May 2017.
On 24th May, Mali’s then President Bah Ndaw and Prime Minister Moctar Ouane were removed from their positions and detained by the military. This followed a government reshuffle that removed two officers in the transitional government. Both of the officers – Colonel Modibo Koné and Colonel Sadio Camara – had participated in the August 2020 coup which ousted President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta. The colonels were close to Assimi Goïta, who led the putsch against Keïta and then occupied the position of vice president in the transitional government.
Following this latest coup, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) suspended Mali from its bodies. It reiterated its stance that the military figures leading the country’s transitional process should not be candidates in the forthcoming presidential election “under any circumstances”. However, the organisation stopped short of imposing sanctions, in a contrast with its actions following the previous coup.
At that time, ECOWAS closed its borders with Mali and halted trade and financial transactions with the country. In addition, the West African Monetary and Economic Union (UEMOA) and the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO) ceased their operations in Bamako. Those punitive measures, which hit Mali’s economy hard last year, have not yet occurred following last month’s coup, although they are not thought to be off the table.
The African Union (AU) also condemned and rejected the coup, suspending Mali from participation in all of its institutions “until normal constitutional order has been restored”. It echoed ECOWAS’s stance on transitional leaders not running for the presidency next year. Mali was likewise suspended by the International Organisation of La Francophonie (OIF).
In the days after the removals of Messrs Ndaw and Ouane, the international community expressed its solidarity with the stances of ECOWAS and the AU. These included: the United Nations Security Council (UNSC); the UK; the European Union, which threatened the use of “targeted measures” against “political and military leaders” who “obstruct the Malian transition”; and the US, which expressed readiness to “consider targeted measures” against those it deems to be impeding the transition.
Washington also announced that it is “suspending security assistance” provided to the Malian military. Similarly, France has threatened to withdraw its troops from the country if the new leadership makes overtures towards jihadists operating in the Sahel.
The US Department of Justice unsealed a federal indictment on 24th May which has brought charges against Chad’s former Ambassador to the US and Canada, Mahamoud Adam Béchir, and Chad’s former Deputy Chief of Mission for the US and Canada, Youssouf Hamid Takane. Both are accused – alongside Béchir’s wife and a Canadian citizen – of engaging in a “scheme” between 2009 and 2014 that “demanded a bribe” from a Canadian energy company in exchange for influencing Chadian government policy. According to the department, this was a “multimillion dollar bribery scheme” which served to “launder bribes to conceal [the defendants’] conduct”.
Elsewhere, following the rise to power of the Transitional Military Council in Chad, the AU’s Peace and Security Council denounced what it called the “unconstitutional change in government” on 14th May. The council also urged the new leadership to abide by its promise to restore democracy within 18 months. It has been observed that the AU effectively endorsed the junta’s transitional plan and did not take any action against Chad, which contrasts with its recent response to similar circumstances in Mali.
Reportedly, some member states favoured a suspension, while others noted the extraordinary circumstances that led to the change in government. One possible reason for this leniency is the reliance placed on Chad for maintaining security in the Sahel and Lake Chad regions. In addition, it appears that France has preferred to co-operate with the new leadership, which may also have been taken into consideration by the AU.
The constitutional crisis began in April, when President Idriss Déby was killed, supposedly on the frontline of the battlefield during a military engagement against rebels in the country’s north. He was replaced by the military council, chaired by his son, Mahamat Idriss Déby Itno.
Subsequently, Chad’s government and parliament were dissolved, despite the fact that the speaker of parliament should have been appointed as president, according to Chad’s constitution, which has since been replaced by a new charter. Mahamat Déby – now the country’s de-facto leader – is a four-star general who played a leading role in the military and presidential guard.
On 19th May, the US’s Office of Foreign Assets Control amended its Terrorism List Governments Sanctions Regulation to remove references to the Government of Sudan and Sudanese nationals. This action, which removed one general licence in full and amended another, took effect from 20th May. Consequently, financial transactions with the Sudanese government are no longer prohibited by the US Treasury.
This development came in the wake of the US’s decision to rescind Sudan’s designation as a State Sponsor of Terrorism, which officially occurred in December 2020, during the final days of Donald Trump’s presidency.
President Biden continued the US’s national emergency with respect to the Central African Republic (CAR) for an additional year. According to the White House, the situation in the country “continues to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to the national security and foreign policy of the US”. The national emergency was due to expire on 12th May, before the president’s intervention on 6th May.
In notifying Congress of the extension, President Biden noted the “breakdown of law and order, inter-sectarian tension, widespread violence and atrocities, and the pervasive, often forced recruitment of child soldiers” in the country’s ongoing conflict. The national emergency was first declared in Executive Order 13667 of 2014 by President Barack Obama, at the height of the CAR’s ongoing civil war.
On 28th May, the UNSC extended its restrictive measures on South Sudan until 31st May 2022 and the mandate of its panel of experts until 1st July 2022. The sanctions – which include an arms embargo, travel bans and assets freeze – will be kept under “continuous review” in light of positive developments in the country. The embargo was first imposed by the UNSC in July 2018, during an escalation of South Sudan’s civil war.
Former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen was sentenced to 25 years in prison by the ICC on 6th May. His legal team said that he will appeal the decision. Mr Ongwen was found guilty by the court in February on 61 charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity.