Ethiopia: Meeting under “Any Other Business”
This morning (27 January), following the closed consultations on the UN Regional Centre for Preventive Diplomacy for Central Asia (UNRCCA), Security Council members will discuss the situation in Ethiopia under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths is expected to brief. No outcome is expected in connection with today’s meeting.
Several important and, at times, conflicting developments have marked the recent period. On 19 December 2021, the Tigrayan forces announced that they would withdraw to the borders of Tigray and declared an immediate cessation of hostilities. This followed a drone-supported federal government counter-offensive which blocked the Tigrayan advance towards Addis Ababa (see our 19 December 2021 What’s In Blue story on Ethiopia for more context). On 23 December 2021, the Ethiopian government said its forces would not continue their counter-offensive into Tigray’s borders. At the same time, reports of aerial bombardments targeting Tigray continued until at least mid-January, often resulting in civilian casualties and the destruction of civilian objects. On 14 January, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Liz Throssell, said that since the start of 2022, at least 108 civilians had reportedly been killed and 75 injured as a result of “air strikes allegedly carried out by the Ethiopian air force”. The 7 January airstrike which hit an internally displaced persons (IDPs) camp in the town of Dedebit, leading to the death of at least 56 people, was one of the deadliest incidents.
It seems that a key focus of today’s meeting will be the humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia. Council members may be interested in receiving an update from Griffiths about the status of humanitarian access in the area. On 26 January, the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) delivered medical supplies to the Tigrayan capital Mekelle for the first time since September 2021. In a press briefing on the same day, Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric announced that on 24 January the UN Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) delivered 3.5 metric tonnes of medical supplies and equipment into Tigray, an amount sufficient for approximately 35,000 people.
According to a 20 January OCHA situation report, an estimated 9.4 million people need food assistance in northern Ethiopia, and 3.9 million people in Tigray are in need of health services. While Griffiths may welcome the recent deliveries, he may also stress that much more needs to be done to address the continuing humanitarian needs in northern Ethiopia. The 24 and 26 January deliveries follow a 23 January announcement by the Ethiopian government that it is working with the UN and the ICRC to facilitate daily humanitarian flights. The announcement followed a particularly difficult period for the delivery of humanitarian assistance. On 20 January, Dujarric said that because of the persistent lack of fuel, the UN and its partners were forced “to reduce, postpone or cancel distributions of food, medicine, and nutrition supplies” in Tigray. He added that while between 6 and 12 January approximately 10,500 people received food aid in Tigray, more than 800,000 people need food assistance every week, noting that this marked “the lowest level of food assistance since operations expanded in March of last year”. At today’s meeting, Council members are likely to underscore the need for the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that their commitments regarding improved and unhindered humanitarian access are fulfilled.
Council members are also likely to discuss recent political developments, including initial indications from the Ethiopian government of a willingness to start a political dialogue. On 29 December 2021, the Ethiopian parliament voted to establish a national dialogue commission. However, the commission will apparently not be open to participation from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) —an armed group which seeks self-determination for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group. On 7 January, the federal government announced the release of several prisoners, including members of the TPLF and Oromo opposition leaders. On 26 January, the Ethiopian government announced its decision to lift the state of emergency which it had imposed on 2 November 2021 during the TPLF’s advance, citing changes in the security situation which allow threats to be “neutralised through regular law enforcement mechanisms”. (The government’s proposal will need to be approved by the Ethiopian parliament.)
The recent moves by the government reportedly prompted hostile reactions from some Ethiopian actors. For instance, the publication Africa Confidential reports that the National Movement of Amhara (NAMA) opposition party called the prisoner releases “a historical mistake”, which is rewarding “rebels and severely harming peaceful and legal politics”. As reported by Reuters, on 21 January, Ethiopian Defence Forces (EDF) Deputy Army Chief Abebaw Tadesse stated that the army would eventually enter Tigray and said that the “enemy is still there, and it has to be absolutely eliminated”. Fighting has also apparently continued in some areas of northern Ethiopia. On 9 January, TPLF spokesperson Getachew Reda tweeted that the previous day the “Eritrean military launched fresh attacks” against the Tigrayan forces in north-western Tigray. On 25 January, the TPLF issued a statement saying that, despite the ceasefire, they were forced “to take robust actions” in response to attacks from an armed entity which the statement identifies as the “Red Sea Afar Force”, claiming that this group is “organized by Awol Arba’s special police forces along with the Eritrean government”.
Today’s meeting may also provide an opportunity for Council members to exchange information on several ongoing diplomatic initiatives among key interlocutors, including several Council members. In January, AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo visited Mekelle and Addis Ababa and later briefed Secretary-General António Guterres on the efforts by the Ethiopian government and the TPLF to move towards a resolution of the conflict. As reported in a 19 January statement by the Secretary-General, Obasanjo expressed “optimism that there is now a real opportunity for political and diplomatic resolution of the conflict”.
The US has also been conducting exchanges with key actors, including Kenya, which through the endeavours of President Uhuru Kenyatta, is also participating in efforts towards ending the conflict. On 6 January, outgoing US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Jeffrey Feltman visited Addis Ababa. On 10 January, US President Joe Biden held a phone conversation with Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed. According to a senior US official, one of the objectives of the call was to “reinforce some of the more constructive steps and inclinations Prime Minister Abiy may be demonstrating”. Incoming US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield and Department of State Assistant Secretary Molly Phee travelled to Riyadh, Khartoum, and Addis Ababa from 17 to 20 January. A US Department of State statement issued before their trip said that in Ethiopia, the US representatives would “encourage government officials to seize the current opening for peace by ending the air strikes and other hostilities, negotiating a ceasefire, releasing all political prisoners, restoring sustained humanitarian access, and laying the foundation for an inclusive national dialogue”. Following their visit to Addis, Satterfield travelled to Nairobi for a meeting with Kenyatta on 24 January. According to a statement issued by Kenya, the US and Kenya “agreed to continue engaging the conflicting parties in Ethiopia with the aim of seeing a speedy resolution to the conflict”.