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Ethiopia (Tigray) Meeting under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow (4 March), Security Council members will discuss the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Ireland, with the support of Estonia, France, Norway, the UK, and the US. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is expected brief.

This will be the fourth time that Council members have discussed Ethiopia since the crisis erupted in the Tigray region on 4 November 2020. The meetings have all been held under “any other business”, a standing agenda item in closed consultations. Lowcock briefed during the most recent of these meetings, on 3 February. In that meeting, he emphasised the need to protect civilians, to promote unfettered humanitarian access, and to restore certain key services in Tigray.

Since the 3 February meeting, the humanitarian and human rights situation in Tigray has remained dire. In its 28 February situation report on Tigray, OCHA noted that there have been continued reports of fighting across the region, as well as of killings, looting and gender-based violence against civilians. It further observed that “despite large amounts of food aid reportedly dispatched across Tigray, better monitoring is needed to ensure that aid is reaching those most in need”. OCHA has also said that “a fluid security situation and bureaucratic and logistical constraints have seriously compromised the food response”.

In tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may want an overview of the difficulties of securing humanitarian access since their last briefing on Tigray, and to hear Lowcock’s ideas on how these difficulties can be overcome. They may be interested in an assessment of the Ethiopian government’s approach to addressing the humanitarian challenges in the region and to working with the UN and other humanitarian actors in this regard. There might be references to the 26 February and 3 March statements of the Office of the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, indicating that humanitarian agencies have been accorded unfettered access to operate in Tigray; the 3 March statement also refers to specific actions that Ethiopia had taken to provide humanitarian assistance in the region. Some members may be interested in Lowcock’s views of these statements, including whether he has discussed them with Ethiopian officials, and if so, what these discussions entailed.

Concerns are likely to be expressed during the meeting about reports of significant human rights violations committed by the parties to the conflict in Tigray. Some members may emphasise the importance of investigating these reports and the need to hold culpable actors accountable. They may raise the findings of the 26 February Amnesty International report that said that Eritrean troops had “kill[ed] hundreds of civilians” in Axum, Tigray, on 19-29 November 2020. This was preceded, according to the report, by indiscriminate shelling of the city by Ethiopian and Eritrean forces. In its 26 February statement, the Office of the Prime Minister indicated that the Ethiopian government “welcomes international technical assistance to undertake the investigations [of alleged crimes in Tigray] as well as invites the potential to collaborate on joint investigations”. In its 3 March statement, the Office of Prime Minister said that federal authorities had conducted “a criminal investigation relating to the atrocities that have been committed in Humera and Maikadra”—which had resulted in the apprehension of 21 suspects—and that they were currently investigating “other credible allegations of atrocities and serious human rights abuses in other parts of the region, including Axum”.

A number of members may acknowledge or welcome the government’s statements promising unfettered humanitarian access, welcoming international assistance with investigations, and making a commitment to accountability. However, some will probably underscore the importance of tangible progress on these matters. In this respect, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken issued a press statement on 27 February in which he noted the need for the international community to work together “to ensure that these commitments are realized”. In a call yesterday to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, Blinken also “asked that the Government of Ethiopia work with the international community to facilitate independent, international, and credible investigations into reported human rights abuses and violations and to hold those responsible accountable”, according to a readout of the conversation by his spokesperson.

All Council members have been concerned about the conflict in Tigray and recognise the importance of humanitarian access to the region. Despite this widespread concern, Council members have had divergent views on the crisis. Some members have maintained that the difficulties in humanitarian access have largely been the result of insecurity, the difficulties of working in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic, and limited resources. These members believe that the government has been making a good faith effort to address the humanitarian crisis in Tigray. While recognising the operational challenges in Tigray, other members have been more critical of the Ethiopian government, maintaining that security concerns should not prevent granting principled humanitarian access; they may emphasise the need for the government to follow through expeditiously on the promise it has made to allow for unfettered humanitarian access in the 26 February and 3 March statements of the Office of the Prime Minister.

There are some members who have expressed concerns about impinging on Ethiopia’s sovereignty. For example, at the 3 February meeting, Russia apparently recalled the “UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance”, which are included in UN General Assembly resolution 46/182 of 19 December 1991 and emphasise that the “sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States” be fully respected in accordance with the UN Charter.

Although tomorrow will be the fourth time that Council members have met on Tigray, they have yet to take concrete action in the form of a Council product that reflects members’ views on the situation or conveys clear messages to the parties. A number of members have been reluctant for the Council to pursue an outcome on this issue, which is not currently on the formal agenda; however, at time of writing, some members were hopeful that a product would result from tomorrow’s discussion.

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