Practice Relating to Rule 55. Access for Humanitarian Relief to Civilians in Need
Under Ethiopia’s Penal Code (1957), it is a punishable offence to organize, order or engage in “measures to prevent the … continued survival” of the members of a national, ethnic, racial, religious or political group, or its progeny.
In the context of the conflict in Ethiopia, it has been reported that food was used as a weapon:
[At the time of the 1984–1985 famine in northern Ethiopia,] to make matters worse, Mengistu refused to allow food to be distributed in areas where inhabitants were sympathetic to the EPLF [Eritrean People’s Liberation Front], TPLF [Tigray People’s Liberation Front], or other antigovernment groups, a strategy that resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands. When a new famine emerged in late 1989, threatening the lives of 2 million to 5 million people, Mengistu again used food as a weapon by banning the movement of relief supplies along the main road north from Addis Ababa to Tigray and also along the road from Mitsiwa into Eritrea and south into Tigray. As a result, food relief vehicles had to travel overland from Port Sudan, the major Red Sea port of Sudan, through guerrilla territory into northern Ethiopia. After an international outcry against his policy, Mengistu reversed his decision, but international relief agencies were unable to move significant amounts of food aid into Eritrea and Tigray via Ethiopian ports.
In the context of the conflict in Ethiopia, it has been reported that “to combat new famine threats, in early 1991 the EPLF [Eritrean People’s Liberation Front] and the Ethiopian Government agreed on a joint and equal distribution of UN famine relief supplies”.
According to the Report on the Practice of Ethiopia, “this and similar practices tend to indicate that, however recent, the right to humanitarian relief is gaining respect” in Ethiopia.