What's In Blue

Posted Wed 14 Apr 2021

Ethiopia (Tigray) Meeting under “Any Other Business”*

Tomorrow (15 April), Security Council members will discuss the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia under “any other business”. The meeting, which will be held via videoconference (VTC), was initiated at the request of the US. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Mark Lowcock is expected to brief.

This will be the fifth 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. At tomorrow’s meeting, Council members may be interested to hear from Lowcock updates on humanitarian actors’ access to the region, gaps in the delivery of humanitarian aid and the disruption of fundamental services such as water, sanitation and health. Lowcock reported challenges in those areas during the Council’s latest meeting on Tigray, which took place on 4 March.

According to OCHA’s latest humanitarian update on the Tigray region, published on 13 April, challenges to the delivery of aid have persisted. The update describes a fluid access situation which is subject to levels of insecurity in any given area. Delivery of aid is reportedly hampered by attacks on humanitarian aid personnel and gaps in capacity and resources. The Ethiopian government estimates that the number of displaced persons who have fled the fighting stands at approximately 1.7 million. The situation is marked by continued reports of sexual violence and other gross violations and abuses, as well as high levels of food insecurity.

Some Council members may inquire about the role of the Ethiopian government in facilitating humanitarian access and assistance. During the 4 March meeting on Tigray, several members argued for an increased engagement of the UN and other humanitarian actors, while others claimed that the government should lead humanitarian efforts. Since then, the UN reported a shift from a system requiring government approval for humanitarian access and delivery of supplies to a notification system, which has reportedly improved aid delivery.

As preparations are underway for a joint investigation mission to be conducted by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and OHCHR, some Council members may express alarm over reported human rights violations and abuses. In a 2 April statement, the foreign ministers of the G7 and the High Representative of the EU recognised recent commitments made by Ethiopia’s government to hold perpetrators accountable and stated that they “looked forward to seeing these commitments implemented”.

Another issue likely to be raised at tomorrow’s meeting is the status of the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from Ethiopia. Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced on 26 March that Eritrea will remove its military forces from Ethiopian territory, without specifying a timeline for the withdrawal. Since November 2020, several sources, including international human rights NGOs, have reported killings of the Tigrayan population perpetrated by Eritrean troops.

Although tomorrow will be the fifth time that Council members have met on Tigray, they have yet to take action in the form of an outcome that reflects members’ views on the situation or conveys clear messages to the parties. To date, Council members have been divided over how to respond to the situation in Tigray, which is not currently on the Council’s formal agenda. Some members seem to argue for increased Council attention, while others defer to Ethiopia in addressing the situation. This division was reflected in the most recent attempt to issue a press statement following the 4 March meeting on Tigray. Council members apparently disagreed on the scope of the possible text, with some arguing for the focus to be on the humanitarian situation, while others advocated for a more comprehensive statement that would address the human rights situation and call for increased government action.

Some Council members may continue to pursue additional avenues to discuss the situation in the Tigray region. Members did so in their interventions during the 11 March high-level open VTC debate on conflict and food security and in the context of the open VTC debate on conflict-related sexual violence held today (14 April), in which the Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Pramila Patten, presented the annual Secretary-General’s report on the topic, which documented acts of sexual violence in north and central Tigray.


*Post-script: On 22 April, Security Council members issued a press statement expressing concern over the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia. Acknowledging efforts made by the Ethiopian government to provide humanitarian assistance, they noted that challenges still remained and called for a scaled-up humanitarian response. This was the first Security Council product on Tigray since the Council first convened on the issue in November 2020.

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