In the first joint statement after nearly six months of fighting in Ethiopia’s northern region, the Security Council urges “unrestricted humanitarian access to all people in need”.
Nearly six months after fighting erupted in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, the UN Security Council issued its first joint statement on the ongoing crisis, expressing “deep concern” over allegations of human rights abuses, including reports of sexual violence against women and girls. .
The 15-member body also called on Thursday for a “larger-scale humanitarian response and unfettered humanitarian access” to address humanitarian needs, including people in the affected area in need of food aid.
“Today the Security Council broke its silence on the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region,” said Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s ambassador to the UN, who led negotiations on the text. “For the first time, this Council speaks with one voice to express our collective concern over the dire humanitarian situation on the ground.”
The Security Council has discussed the situation in Tigray behind closed doors several times but has been unable to agree on a statement due to opposition from its African members and Russia and China, according to reports citing diplomats who spoke on condition of anonymity.
In one of those closed-door meetings last week, the UN’s top humanitarian official said the “humanitarian situation in Tigray has worsened” and warned that the “vast majority” of the region of around six million people “is completely or partially inaccessible”. for humanitarian agencies.
“The conflict is not over and things are not getting better,” Mark Lowcock told the council in a sober assessment of events on the ground, calling “reports of systematic rape, gang-rape and sexual violence … particularly concerning and disturbing”. enlarged”.
Lowcock went on to say he had received a report of 150 people starving to death in one area of southern Tigray, calling it “a sign of what lies ahead if more measures are not taken”.
Ethiopia’s mission to the United Nations said in a statement Thursday that the situation in Tigray “is an internal matter regulated by the laws of the country, including human rights laws.”
The statement said the Ethiopian government “is providing a significant portion of the humanitarian aid delivered to those in need and will continue to allocate the maximum available resources” and stressed that the commitment to “investigate and ensure accountability” for alleged human rights violations “will be upheld.” “.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed ordered troops into Tigray in November 2020 after accusing the leader of Tigray’s then-ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), of launching an offensive to take over the northern command of the Ethiopian army. A senior official of the TPLF, which dominated Ethiopian politics until Abiy came to power in 2018, accused the federal government and its long-time enemy Eritrea of launching a “coordinated attack” against it.
Abiy, winner of the 2019 Nobel Peace Prize, declared victory after federal forces entered the regional capital of Mekelle on November 28, but fighting continued and analysts warned of a long-term stalemate in the conflict, which is believed to have killed thousands . and left millions in need of help.
For months, the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments denied that Eritreans were involved, contradicting testimony from residents, human rights organizations, aid workers, diplomats and even some Ethiopian civilian and military officials.
Abiy finally acknowledged the Eritreans’ presence in March when he spoke to lawmakers and promised they would leave soon after. On Friday, a day after Lowcock said the UN and its humanitarian partners had seen “no evidence” of Eritrean troop withdrawals, neighboring Eritrea for the first time explicitly acknowledged its role in the fighting in Tigray and pledged to withdraw its forces.
European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell on Monday called on Eritrea to “immediately” fulfill promises to withdraw its troops from the northern region. The United Nations and the United States are also demanding that Eritrea immediately withdraw its forces from the region.
The international community has also urged Ethiopia to allow humanitarian agencies greater access to Tigray. In a statement on Thursday, the Security Council said it recognized the Ethiopian government’s efforts to “provide humanitarian assistance and ensure better access to humanitarian assistance” but “recognized, however, that humanitarian challenges persist.”
There are also calls for a full investigation into allegations of widespread rights abuses, including sexual violence being used as a weapon of war.
“We have heard alarm bells about human rights violations and abuses, especially sexual violence against women and girls,” Nason said Thursday.
“Ongoing violence, deaths and sexual and gender-based violence are unacceptable. Those responsible, regardless of their affiliation, must be held accountable,” Nason added.
The Ethiopian government has set up a task force to investigate reports of sexual violence in Tigray, insisting it is taking the allegations seriously.
In addition, Ethiopia’s state-appointed human rights commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights announced in late March that they had agreed to conduct a joint investigation into “human rights violations and abuses allegedly committed by all parties” in Tigray.
SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES