What's In Blue

Posted Wed 13 Apr 2022

Ethiopia: Meeting under “Any Other Business”

Tomorrow (14 April), following the briefing and consultations on Yemen, Security Council members will discuss the situation in Ethiopia under “any other business”, a standing item in closed consultations. The meeting was requested by the A3 members of the Council (Gabon, Ghana and Kenya). Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Martin Griffiths is expected to brief.

This is apparently the first time that a meeting on the situation in Ethiopia has been requested solely by the A3. The 8 November 2021 open briefing on Ethiopia, which was held under the agenda item “Peace and Security in Africa”, was requested by Mexico, Ireland and the “A3 plus one”–then comprising Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines. The first meeting on the conflict in Ethiopia was held on 24 November 2020 under “any other business” at the request of the Council’s European members, who called for the meeting after the African members of the Council had withdrawn their initial request for a discussion, citing the need to give regional engagement more time to bear fruit.

Council members last met to discuss the situation in Ethiopia on 27 January, also under “any other business”. The meeting was requested by Albania, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US and had a humanitarian focus. It was held after the Tigrayan forces announced in December 2021 that they would withdraw to the borders of Tigray and declared an immediate cessation of hostilities, which was followed by a declaration by the Ethiopian government that its forces would not continue their counter-offensive within Tigray.

It seems that tomorrow’s meeting will focus on the humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia in light of recent developments. On 24 March, the Ethiopian government declared “an indefinite humanitarian truce effective immediately”. The declaration came shortly after a visit of US Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa David Satterfield to Addis Ababa. (On 12 April, Foreign Policy reported that Satterfield, who was appointed in January, is expected to leave his post, although the timeline for his departure is currently unclear.) In response to the federal government’s declaration, the Tigrayan leadership said on the same day that they are committed to the cessation of hostilities, provided that adequate and timely humanitarian assistance reaches Tigray. Several international interlocutors–including Secretary-General António Guterres, Chairperson of the AU Commission Moussa Faki Mahamat, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Executive Secretary of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) Workneh Gebeyehu–welcomed the truce.

On 1 and 2 April, a humanitarian convoy consisting of 20 trucks of food and nutrition supplies and one fuel tanker entered the territory controlled by Tigrayan forces. While humanitarian supplies have been reaching Tigray by air, this was the first time since mid-December 2021 that aid arrived to the region by road. In a 6 April statement, Guterres welcomed the trucks’ arrival to Tigray and Afar and called on “all parties to keep the momentum and to follow through on their commitments to facilitate the provision of humanitarian assistance to all people in need”. He further reiterated previous calls for commercial access and the restoration of public services in Tigray, including telecommunications, electricity and banking.

Tomorrow, Griffiths is expected to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in northern Ethiopia. The latest OCHA Situation Report, issued on 7 April, says that airlifted supplies “cannot fill in the significant gap between the needs on the ground and the supplies delivered”. It notes that, as at 4 April, the total amount of medical and nutrition supplies airlifted since 24 January is equivalent to only 11 trucks of humanitarian supplies. (According to the UN, around 100 trucks per day are required to meet humanitarian needs in Tigray.) The report says that only eight percent of the cash needed for humanitarian operations and programmes has entered Tigray since 12 July 2021. Council members may be interested in Griffiths’ assessment of the challenges of humanitarian access to Tigray.

Yesterday (12 April), the Tigrayan leadership announced the withdrawal of their forces from Erebti, in the Afar region, adding that they expect to see immediate improvements in humanitarian access. It is possible that this step may allow a new humanitarian convoy to travel to Tigray. In January, the Tigrayan leadership stated that, despite the ceasefire, they were forced “to take robust actions” in Afar in response to attacks from an armed entity, which they identified as the “Red Sea Afar Force”, claiming that this group is “organized by [President of the Afar region] Awol Arba’s special police forces along with the Eritrean government”.

An outcome is not expected in connection with tomorrow’s meeting. However, it seems that on 1 April Ireland circulated a draft presidential statement welcoming the humanitarian truce and calling for unimpeded humanitarian access and restoration of public services. It appears that the statement did not garner sufficient support and was later abandoned. Some members, including China and Russia, were apparently not persuaded of the need for a statement at this stage. It seems that the A3 expressed the view that a Council product might be redundant after Guterres’ 6 April statement, and even potentially counterproductive. These members apparently preferred to allow space for the humanitarian truce to be implemented and the ongoing diplomatic efforts to bear fruit.

At tomorrow’s meeting, several Council members may acknowledge the humanitarian truce as a positive development, stress the importance of its implementation and express hope that it provides a stepping-stone for the parties to reach a negotiated solution to the conflict. At the same time, Council members are also likely to stress that the current level of humanitarian access remains insufficient and may reiterate calls for unfettered access. Some may also highlight the importance of re-establishing telecommunications, electricity, banking and other key services in Tigray. Council members are also likely to restate their support for the diplomatic efforts of AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa Olusegun Obasanjo.

While it appears that tomorrow’s meeting will focus on humanitarian aspects, some members may also raise issues relating to human rights. In this regard, they may reference the 5 April joint report by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. The report found that since the outbreak of the conflict in November 2020, security forces from the Amhara region and their allies have perpetrated a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Tigrayans in western Tigray. It says that the documented violations–including killings, rape and mass detention–amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity and were committed “with the acquiescence and possible participation of Ethiopian federal forces”.

An 8 April statement by the spokesperson for the US Department of State expressed concern at reports of ethnically-motivated atrocities committed by Amhara authorities in western Tigray and, in particular, at the joint report’s findings of ethnic cleansing. In a 9 April statement issued in response to the joint report, the EU Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy condemned all violations of international human rights and humanitarian law committed in northern Ethiopia since the start of the conflict. Both statements also urged the Ethiopian government to cooperate with the international commission of human rights experts on Ethiopia established by the Human Rights Council (HRC) in December 2021.

On 31 March, a draft resolution proposed by Ethiopia at the UN General Assembly’s Fifth Committee, which would have blocked the financing of the commission, failed to be adopted. Security Council members China, Gabon, Kenya and Russia voted in favour of the draft proposed by Ethiopia. During the meeting, Ethiopia’s representative stated that Ethiopia does not recognise the commission and will not grant it access to its territory. (On 7 April, Ethiopia voted against the General Assembly resolution which suspended Russia from the HRC because of reports of its human rights violations in Ukraine.)

During the 13 April annual open debate on conflict-related sexual violence, several Council members referred to the situation in Ethiopia, as did Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten. Hilina Berhanu, the first Ethiopian civil society representative to brief the Security Council since the conflict erupted, highlighted several cases of conflict-related sexual violence in Ethiopia. She said that rape has been systematically perpetrated and used as a tactic of war, that sexual violence has been ethnically motivated and that it has been used to humiliate survivors and their communities. Among other issues, Berhanu stressed that the conflict has undermined women’s rights, including access to reproductive healthcare and psychosocial support.

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