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

Today (1 October), Security Council members will discuss the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK and the US. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths is expected to brief.

The meeting follows the 30 September announcement by the Ethiopian government that seven UN officials working in Ethiopia were declared “persona non grata” and given 72 hours to leave Ethiopian territory. In a letter sent by the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Ethiopia to officials from UNICEF, OCHA, and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Addis Ababa accused the UN personnel of “meddling in the internal affairs of the country”.

The Ethiopian government’s announcement came after Griffiths’ 28 September remarks to Reuters that a “de-facto blockade” has hindered the delivery of aid to Tigray, allowing humanitarians to supply only 10 percent of the necessary assistance. Noting that earlier UN warnings that 400,000 people in Tigray may soon be living in famine-like conditions might now have come true, Griffiths further described the blockade as “man-made” and said that it can “be remedied by the act of government”. According to the news agency, the Ethiopian mission to the UN rejected claims of any blockade and attributed the difficulties to a shortage in trucks returning from aid delivery in Tigray.

In the hours following the announcement, Secretary-General António Guterres said that he was “shocked” by the news of the imminent expulsion. Stressing that the UN is delivering “life-saving aid” in Ethiopia, Guterres said that the UN was in the process of engaging with the Ethiopian government “in the expectation that the concerned UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work”.

Yesterday (30 September), several Council members also expressed their concern regarding the announcement. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason (Ireland) said during a press stakeout that “we want to see the weight of the Council come behind the work of the UN in Ethiopia” and noted that Ireland is consulting with other Council members on possible Council action on the issue. At the same stakeout, Ambassador Nicolas de Rivière (France) said that the Council would soon discuss the situation in Ethiopia, and Ambassador Barbara Woodward (UK) said that “the latest developments will only intensify determination to try and get a breakthrough” on Ethiopia.

During a news briefing yesterday (30 September), White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that the US government “condemns in the strongest possible terms the government of Ethiopia’s unprecedented action”. Psaki also called on the Council “to take urgent action to make clear to the government of Ethiopia that impeding humanitarian operations and depriving your own citizens of the basic means of survival is unacceptable”. She further suggested that the US may consider imposing sanctions on Ethiopia.

Today’s meeting will be the ninth time that Council members have discussed Ethiopia since the crisis erupted in the Tigray region in November 2020. Council members are likely to be interested to hear from Griffiths if there has been any progress in persuading the Ethiopian authorities to rescind the UN officials’ expulsion. Council members may also inquire into the potential consequences of the expulsion on the worsening humanitarian crisis in northern Ethiopia.

According to a 30 September OCHA report, the humanitarian situation in Tigray remains dire, with the expansion of the conflict to the Amhara and Afar regions resulting in an increase in the number of internally displaced people and in the general humanitarian needs of the population affected by the conflict. In the report, OCHA notes an “unprecedently high” rate of malnutrition among pregnant and lactating women and a “huge price hike due to severe shortages of essential commodities” in Tigray. OCHA further said that the levels of moderate malnutrition among children under five is exceeding the global emergency threshold. According to the report, humanitarian deliveries to Tigray remain “heavily constrained via the only access route to the region ([the] Semera-Abala-Mekelle corridor)”.

So far, the only Council product on Tigray is a press statement issued on 22 April, in which members “called for a scaled-up humanitarian response and unfettered humanitarian access to all people in need, including in the context of the food security situation”. The press statement also expressed members’ “deep concern about allegations of human rights violations and abuses, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls in the Tigray region”.

While a draft press statement on the situation in Ethiopia was proposed following the Council’s last meeting on the issue, which took place on 26 August, Council members failed to reach an agreement on the product due to opposition from several members, including China and Russia. It seems that the proposed statement would have called for a cessation of hostilities and for the granting of full and unimpeded humanitarian access, among other things. It appears that at least one Council member has proposed a press statement to be issued after today’s meeting. At the time of writing, however, it was unclear if this proposed product would garner sufficient support.

Earlier this year, the government of Ethiopia suspended the operations of the humanitarian organisations Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders), the Norwegian Refugee Council and Al Maktoume Foundation in the country.

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