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Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Briefing to the Security Council on Ethiopia, 2 July 2021

Thank you, Mr. President.

Ethiopia is at a critical juncture. Recent developments demonstrate the need to address issues plaguing the country in a comprehensive and sustainable way. The consequences of not doing so could be disastrous.

After almost eight months of conflict the Federal Government of Ethiopia announced on 28 June a unilateral ceasefire in Tigray, citing the need to address the humanitarian crisis in the region. Subsequent to the announcement, the Ethiopian National Defense Force (ENDF) and the Provisional Tigray Administration withdrew from Tigray’s capital, Mekelle.

On 27-28 June, the Tigray Defense Force (TDF) entered major towns and cities of Tigray, including Adwa, Aksum, Shire and Humera.  The TDF are now in Mekelle.  The situation in Mekelle is reportedly calm and the TDF appear to be in control of the city. Reports indicate that leaders of the previous Tigray regional administration, including its former president, have returned to Mekelle.  As of today, the TDF has yet to agree to the ceasefire.

While there have been no reports of serious incidents, basic services to support humanitarian delivery are absent. Mekelle has no electrical power, or internet. Key infrastructure has been destroyed, and there are no flights entering or leaving the area.

Elsewhere in Tigray, the Eritrean Defense Force (EDF) has withdrawn to areas adjacent to the border, while in the west of Tigray, the Amhara regional force remains in place despite advances by the TDF. On 29 June, the Amhara branch of the ruling Prosperity Party issued a statement warning that Amhara regional forces would oppose any attempts by the TDF to take territory in western Tigray, which was seized during the conflict. In short, there is potential for more confrontations and a swift deterioration in the security situation, which is extremely concerning.

The ceasefire announcement provides an opportunity that all parties to the conflict, including the TPLF, must seize and build upon. In this regard, we urge the TDF to endorse the ceasefire immediately and completely.  As the Acting Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator will outline, our immediate concern is focused on those in urgent need of assistance in Tigray.  Food insecurity has only continued to worsen in recent days. We must scale-up the response.

All parties must ensure the safe passage of humanitarian workers for the continued delivery of supplies. The destruction of the Tekeze bridge on 1 July effectively cut off Central Tigray from Western Tigray, closing a vital artery for humanitarian assistance.

A ceasefire observed by all parties would not only facilitate the provision of humanitarian aid but would also be a starting point for the necessary political efforts to chart a way out of the crisis. The conflict in Tigray is a result of deep-rooted political grievances that can only be resolved through dialogue and a credible political process.

This morning, in a briefing to the diplomatic corps in Addis Ababa, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister said that once the election results were announced and a new government formed, the government would take steps to hold an all-inclusive dialogue process. This is a welcome development. Such a process could be part of a broader effort to address the country’s structural challenges, encourage reconciliation and foster consensus on the way forward for Ethiopia’s transition.

Mr. President,

Once again, and predictably, civilians have paid the heaviest price in an armed conflict.

An estimated 1.7 million people have been displaced, with more than 60,000 refugees crossing into Sudan. I call on the parties to place paramount concern on the protection and well-being of civilians. That requires strict respect for international humanitarian law and human rights law.

I also call on the parties to offer all necessary assistance to the ongoing joint investigation of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. There must be accountability for the grievous human rights violations committed during the conflict, including acts of sexual violence against children and adults and mass killings.

This morning, the Federal Government of Ethiopia reiterated its commitment to the joint investigation and to accountability. We look forward to seeing the concrete results of that undertaking.

Further, Ethiopia’s neighbours can play a constructive role in supporting the country’s transition while respecting its sovereignty. The withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray must be fully implemented.

Mr. President,

The 2018 rapprochement between Ethiopia and Eritrea and the reforms introduced by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed raised hopes for a new era of stability and peace in the Horn of Africa. The wide-ranging transition has proven to be both challenging and hopeful. It has brought to the fore disagreements around fundamental issues such as the federal structure of the state and the role and status of ethnicity, as well as how such disputes should be addressed.

The recent national elections were an important milestone in this regard. They were, by many accounts, an improvement on previous polls in the country and were held in a generally peaceful manner.  They were, however, affected by insecurity and technical problems.  Some opposition groups did not participate. It is my hope that the electoral process can be concluded in a peaceful and secure environment and that any disputes are addressed in accordance with the laws and constitution of Ethiopia.

But elections are just one part of the democratic process.  I urge the Federal Government, to deepen efforts to open the political space and facilitate the meaningful participation in public life for all Ethiopians, including women, youth and civil society.

Many of the political parties who chose not to participate in the recent polls cited the need for something more than the ballot box to heal the deep divisions in Ethiopia’s body politic and society. Many asked for a national dialogue as a space or platform where Ethiopians could reflect about reconciling the many competing visions of the future of the country’s political system.

In its recent ceasefire announcement, the government stated, referring to the elections: “Ethiopians from all walks of life have sent a strong signal that they are ready to work together to build a stronger, united, and democratic Ethiopia, removing the seeds of discord and division sown within the Ethiopian body politic.”

I encourage the government to follow through on today’s announcement and harness these sentiments. In this regard, I offer the full expertise and support of the United Nations, including assistance to domestically-driven, inclusive, and comprehensive mediation and dialogue processes. We hope that such a dialogue would include discussions at the federal member state level encouraging as many sectors of the population as possible to have an input into consolidation of the reform process and the future of the country.

The promise of the Ethiopian transition remains real and can be fulfilled, with the necessary political will. Peace and stability in the country, the cornerstone of the Horn region, may well depend on it.

Mr. President,

Allow me to offer some areas of concerted international support to Ethiopia as it traverses the current crisis.

  • The international community must continue to call for a permanent ceasefire to be honored by all parties.
  • We should urge Ethiopia’s leaders to work swiftly to restore national unity through a process of inclusive dialogue and reconciliation. Again, the Government’s recent indication of its intent to do so is positive.
  • As delivery of humanitarian services to those who have suffered this tragic conflict is vital, I urge Member States to generously support these efforts.
  • The Federal Government of Ethiopia, has committed to “not allow impunity, as this would severely harm the cause of justice and sustainable peace”. This is an important commitment to ensure accountability for crimes and atrocities committed during this conflict. The international community must encourage the government and the TDF to live up that commitment.

The United Nations will continue to stand alongside Ethiopia.  We are ready to extend all the means of support at our disposal to help put the country back on track.

Thank you, Mr. President.