Almost six months after fighting broke out in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the United Nations Security Council issued its first joint statement on the continuing crisis, expressing “deep concern” over allegations of human rights violations, including reports of sexual violence against women and the girls.
The 15-member body also called on Thursday for “increased humanitarian response and unhindered humanitarian access” to address humanitarian needs, including for people in the besieged region in need of food assistance.
“Today, the Security Council is breaking its silence on the current crisis in the Tigray region of Ethiopia,” said Geraldine Byrne Nason, Irish Ambassador to the UN who led the negotiations on the text. “For the first time, this Council speaks with one voice to express its collective concern at the terrible humanitarian situation on the ground.”
The Security Council has discussed the situation in Tigray behind closed doors several times before, but was unable to agree on a statement, due to opposition from its African members and from Russia and from China, according to reports citing diplomats speaking on condition of anonymity.
In the first joint statement on #Ethiopia / #Tigray, #A The Security Council called for “unhindered humanitarian access to all those in need” and expressed “its deep concern over allegations of human rights violations”, including sexual violence. @irishmissionun leads negotiations on the text: https://t.co/G0FHaSlMLR
– Amanda Price (@amandaruthprice) April 22, 2021
In one of those closed-door sessions last week, the senior UN humanitarian official said “the humanitarian situation in Tigray has deteriorated” and warned that the “vast majority” in the region of some six million people “is totally or partially inaccessible”. for humanitarian agencies.
“The conflict is not over and things are not improving,” Mark Lowcock told the council, giving a sobering assessment of the events on the ground, calling the “reports of systematic rape, gang rape. and sexual violence… particularly disturbing and alarming. widespread”.
In addition, Lowcock said he had received a report of 150 people starving to death in an area of southern Tigray, calling it “a sign of what lies ahead if further action is not taken.”
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered troops in Tigray in November 2020 after accusing leaders of the ruling Tigray party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of launching an attack to gain control of the Ethiopian army’s northern command. A senior TPLF official, who dominated Ethiopian politics until Abiy came to power in 2018, accused the federal government and its longtime nemesis Eritrea of launching a “coordinated attack” against it.
2019 Nobel Peace Prize winner Abiy declared victory after federal forces entered the regional capital Mekelle on November 28, but fighting continued and analysts warned of a prolonged standoff in a conflict that is said to have killed thousands of people. and left millions of people in need.
For months, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments have denied Eritrean involvement, contradicting testimonies from locals, rights groups, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Abiy finally acknowledged the Eritrean presence in March while addressing lawmakers, and pledged to leave soon after. On Friday, a day after Lowcock said the UN and its humanitarian partners had seen “no evidence” of the withdrawal of Eritrean troops, neighboring Eritrea made its first explicit recognition of its role in the fighting in Tigray and pledged to withdraw its forces.
On Monday, European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell called on Eritrea to “immediately” keep promises to withdraw troops from the northern region. The United Nations and the United States have also called on Eritrea to withdraw its forces from the region without delay.
The international community has also urged Ethiopia to allow better access for aid agencies in Tigray. In its statement on Thursday, the Security Council said it recognizes the efforts of the Ethiopian government “to provide humanitarian assistance and to increase humanitarian access”, but “nevertheless recognizes that humanitarian challenges remain”.
There are also calls for full investigations into accusations of widespread rights violations, including sexual violence used as a weapon of war.
“We have heard the alarm bells on human rights violations and abuses, especially sexual violence against women and girls,” Nason said Thursday.
“The continuing violence, deaths and sexual and gender-based violence are unacceptable. Those responsible, whatever their affiliation, must be held accountable, ”added Nason.
The Ethiopian government has set up a task force to investigate reports of sexual violence in Tigray, insisting it takes the allegations seriously.
In addition, the human rights commission appointed by the Ethiopian state and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights announced at the end of March that they had agreed to conduct a joint investigation “into human rights violations. human rights and alleged abuses committed by all parties ”in Tigray.