Remarks to the Security Council on Ethiopia, Under-Secretary-General Rosemary DiCarlo
Thank you for this opportunity to brief the Security Council on the situation in Ethiopia. And I welcome today the participation of President Olusegun Obasanjo, African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa.
The year-long conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia has reached disastrous proportions. The fighting places the future of the country and its people, as well as the stability of the wider Horn of Africa region, in grave uncertainty.
In recent days, Tigrayan forces have advanced southwards towards Addis Ababa, acting in coordination with the Oromo Liberation Army. The Government of Ethiopia has declared a nationwide state of emergency and has stated it is fighting “an existential war”. Elsewhere, insecurity in the Oromia region continues to worsen, while the situation in parts of the Benishangul-Gumuz region remains tense.
There has been much speculation regarding how this crisis will unfold over the coming weeks. In a country of over 110 million people, over 90 different ethnic groups and 80 languages, no one can predict what continued fighting and insecurity will bring. But let me be clear: What is certain is that the risk of Ethiopia descending into a widening civil war is only too real. That would bring about a humanitarian catastrophe and consume the future of such an important country.
The political repercussions of intensifying violence in the wider region would be immense, compounding the many crises besetting the Horn of Africa.
Just in northern Ethiopia today, more than 7 million people need humanitarian assistance. Efforts to mobilize assistance in Tigray, where more than 5 million people need food and an estimated 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, continue to be undermined by an inability to move cash, fuel and supplies into the region. No aid trucks have reached Mekelle since 18 October amid continued airstrikes.
United Nations Humanitarian Air Service (UNHAS) flights have remained suspended since airstrikes on 22 October forced a flight to return to Addis Ababa. We have been unable to move fuel into Tigray since August. While some emergency supplies have been moved, it has been four months since the last major shipment of medicines and health supplies into Tigray.
Lack of access means that humanitarian organizations have had to scale back core, life-saving activities, including water trucking, food distributions, mobile clinics and support for acutely malnourished children and mothers.
Needs and protection concerns are also rapidly escalating in the Amhara and Afar regions, with large numbers of people fleeing from their homes as the fighting continues to expand.
Let us recall that this expanding crisis is happening in a country that was already grappling with enormous humanitarian challenges, including local conflicts, flooding, drought and infectious disease outbreaks. While needs are most acute in the north, across Ethiopia as a whole, more than 20 million people are estimated to need some form of humanitarian support. More than 5 million people are internally displaced.
Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths traveled to Ethiopia over the weekend to review Ethiopia’s increasing needs and plan for a greater humanitarian response should the fighting continue as is feared. Unfettered access to conflict areas remains key.
Last week, the report of the joint OHCHR-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation into the conflict in Tigray, which covered the period between November 2020 and June 2021, shed light on the horrific suffering civilians have endured.
The report concludes that there are reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict – including the Ethiopian National Defence Force, Eritrean Defence Force, Amhara Special Forces and allied militia on one side and Tigrayan forces on the other – committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law, to include attacks on civilians and civilian infrastructure, indiscriminate attacks resulting in civilian casualties and extrajudicial killings, torture, arbitrary detentions, sexual and gender-based violence and forced displacement.
The report states that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been committed. It also outlines steps that should be taken to ensure accountability for these acts. High Commissioner Bachelet highlighted in her remarks last week that incidents of serious human rights violations have continued.
More recently, incidents of hate speech and targeting of ethnic groups have increased at an alarming rate. In this regard the Security Council’s call on 5 November for refraining from inflammatory speech and incitement to violence is welcome and timely.
There must be an immediate cessation of hostilities. This has been the call of the Secretary-General, African Union Commission Chair Faki, IGAD Executive Secretary Workneh, the leader of Ethiopia’s key neighbour Kenya President Ururu Kenyatta, and the UN Security Council.
They have also called for negotiation of a lasting ceasefire and for the creation of conditions for an inclusive Ethiopian dialogue to resolve the crisis and create the foundation for peace and stability throughout the country.
The Secretary-General has been in frequent contact with Prime Minister Abiy, urging restraint and dialogue and offering his good offices. Further, the Secretary-General has offered President Obasanjo the full support of the United Nations to his efforts to resolve the conflict. UN colleagues on the ground continue to urge all sides to this conflict to show restraint and provide unfettered access to vulnerable populations.
The recently concluded elections in Ethiopia demonstrated the people’s commitment to the democratic process. At the ceremony to mark his new mandate last month, Prime Minister Abiy spoke of his Government’s commitment to resolve the ongoing challenges and his intention to launch a national dialogue. The urgency for such an inclusive initiative has never been greater.
In closing, let me stress that the UN is steadfastly committed to stay and deliver in Ethiopia in support of all the people of the country. We continue our work there, including thanks to the dedication of our Ethiopian national staff, who must be provided full protection by national authorities, regardless of their background.
Ethiopia, a founding member of the United Nations, needs our support. We urge Ethiopians to come together to build a shared, prosperous future before it is too late.