At Least 400,000 ‘Living in Famine-Like Conditions’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray Region, Secretary-General Tells Security Council, Calling for End to Hostilities
Delegates Say Targeting Civilians Must Stop, Humanitarian Access Increased
The unity of Ethiopia and regional stability beyond its borders are at stake, United Nations Secretary-General António Guterres cautioned the Security Council today as it met to discuss the spread of the military confrontation in that country and the attendant humanitarian catastrophe.
Reiterating his call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and enable unrestricted humanitarian access, he noted that the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the Government of Ethiopia on 28 June did not lead to a comprehensive ceasefire. Further, the Tigray region has remained largely under a de facto humanitarian blockade, he said. At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions. While humanitarian partners have mobilized, their efforts are constrained by delays and arbitrary restrictions, he pointed out.
Also noting the escalation of the conflict through the activation of regional armed groups, inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling, he pointed out that the political, economic and social impact of the conflict is being felt beyond the borders of Ethiopia. Voicing concern about reports of horrific sexual and gender-based violence, as well as human rights violations, he said the fighting has already drained over $1 billion from the country’s coffers.
Stressing the importance of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue, he noted that it is particularly heart-breaking to see many of the country’s young people being mobilized in the war. Adding that all foreign forces should leave the country and reaffirming the Organization’s willingness to work together with the African Union and other key partners, he said, “there is an opportunity to address the conflict peacefully”.
In the ensuing discussion, Council members stressed the importance of improved access for humanitarian actors. The representative of the United States expressed regret at the lack of progress since the declaration of the ceasefire. With Eritrean forces re-entering the country, a wider regional war may erupt, he cautioned, also noting the killing of “heroic” humanitarian workers. Just 7 per cent of World Food Programme (WFP) projections of needed supplies reached Tigray, he said, describing this as a possible war crime that is “happening on our watch”. Noting that Ethiopia is the largest recipient of his country’s humanitarian and development assistance, he voiced his Government’s commitment to resolving this conflict.
China’s delegate called on the international community to respect the sovereignty of Ethiopia while scaling up humanitarian assistance. Voicing concern about foreign interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs in the name of human rights and humanitarianism, he stressed the importance of solving African problems in an African way. Cautioning that imposing unilateral sanctions on Ethiopia will only interfere with the political settlement, he voiced support for the efforts of the African Union and regional countries.
Also addressing the meeting today was Kenya’s delegate, speaking on behalf of the “African 3+1” group, which includes Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and his country. “Our values as a continent demand respect for the sanctity of human life and the condemnation and rejection of impunity,” he said. Recalling how Ethiopia’s resistance to colonialism raised African spirits, he reminded its people that they cannot break each other’s spirits and succeed in building a united country. Calling for an Ethiopian-owned process to mediate the deep divides, he cautioned against conflating political opposition with that identity. While recommending that the Council call on Eritrea to withdraw forces, he also called on Ethiopia’s Government to acknowledge the existence of legitimate grievances and urged armed actors in Tigray to withdraw from neighbouring regions. The targeting of civilians must stop immediately, he said, stressing the need for unfettered humanitarian access before famine returns to any part of Ethiopia.
Speaking at the end of the meeting, Ethiopia’s delegate expressed concern about the saviour mentality that seeks to undermine the sovereign rights of a State. Emphasizing that the Government of Ethiopia will apply any means necessary to ensure law and order, he called upon the Council to be cautious about facts. The Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front is not the victim, it is the culprit, he said, adding that there is clear coordination between internal treasonous elements and external actors.
The Front controlled Ethiopia for three decades until it was dislodged in 2018, he said, adding that it has since refused to disarm. The ceasefire declared in June was supposed to allow for a peaceful farming season, as well as rebuilding of the region. However, the Front called the ceasefire a joke, and blocked humanitarian aid, he said, adding that Ethiopian children in Tigray are now forced into recruitment to serve as cannon fodder. While public services cannot be resumed till there is peace in Tigray, he noted that Ethiopia will provide clearance to humanitarian convoys and has allowed humanitarian flights to operate.
Also speaking today were the representatives of Ireland, Estonia, France, Norway, United Kingdom, Viet Nam, Russian Federation, Mexico and India.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 4:34 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, drew attention to the immense human suffering caused by the spread of the military confrontation, which started 10 months ago in the northern region of Tigray in Ethiopia. Reiterating his call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities and enable unrestricted humanitarian access, he said it is vital to create the conditions for the start of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue. Noting that the declaration of a unilateral ceasefire by the Government of Ethiopia on 28 June and the withdrawal of the Ethiopian National Defence Forces from Mekelle did not lead to a comprehensive ceasefire, he added that the Tigray region has remained largely under a de facto humanitarian blockade.
The unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region are at stake, he underscored, noting that other actors in the country have entered the fight through mass mobilization and the activation of regional armed groups. Further, inflammatory rhetoric and ethnic profiling are tearing apart the social fabric of the country. The wider region is already witnessing the political, economic and social impact of the conflict beyond the borders of Ethiopia. Highlighting the humanitarian catastrophe, he said that more than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are in immediate need of life-saving humanitarian assistance. At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions, while 100,000 children face life-threatening acute malnutrition over the next 12 months.
Also voicing concern about reports of horrific sexual and gender-based violence, as well as human rights violations, he stressed, “there must be accountability”. A joint investigation by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission is concluding. While the Organization and its humanitarian partners have mobilized to reach more than 5 million people with food or other essentials, the capacity to respond is severely constrained by insecurity, delays and arbitrary restrictions on the work of humanitarian organizations, he pointed out. Humanitarian organizations require roughly 100 trucks worth of assistance and supplies to reach Mekelle every day; yet, since-mid July, an average of less than 10 trucks per day have been able to get through. Well beyond Tigray, the conflict in Afar and Amhara regions has displaced reportedly 300,000 more people, he added.
Also pointing to the heavy economic toll of the situation, he noted that the fighting has already drained over $1 billion from the country’s coffers, with debt mounting and access to credit drying up. Inflation is growing while basic food items are running low and Ethiopia is suffering from the fifth highest incidence of COVID-19 cases on the continent. Foreign forces should leave the country, he stressed, calling for unrestricted humanitarian access to all areas in need and re-establishment of public services. “There is an opportunity to address the conflict peacefully,” he said, noting his close contact with Ethiopia Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, as well as a letter from the President of the Tigray region. Voicing the United Nations commitment to work together with the African Union and other key partners, he said it is particularly heart-breaking to see many young Ethiopians being instrumentalized and mobilized in the war effort.
GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) pointed to the humanitarian emergency in Ethiopia, resulting in more than 5.2 million in need of assistance in Tigray alone. If not urgently addressed, the crisis will have long term consequences for Ethiopia, and jeopardize the stability of the wider region. Emphasizing that there is no military solution to the conflict, she pointed out three pressing needs, including a negotiated ceasefire, unimpeded humanitarian access and a political solution to the crisis in Tigray. The looming risk of famine has caused millions to be displaced, and hundreds of thousands are already starving, she continued, urging the Government to restore basic public services for the people of Tigray. She further called on the Tigrayan and external forces to withdraw from the Amhara and Afar regions. Expressing concern over the conflict-related sexual violence and atrocities on women and girls, she also urged all parties to refrain from using inflammatory rhetoric and dehumanizing language, which serves only to fuel ethnic and political tensions across Ethiopia.
ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) expressed concern over the escalating conflict, aggravating an already dire humanitarian situation and threatening regional stability. With alarming reports of growing civilian casualties, especially among children, he said it is essential that all parties adhere to international humanitarian law and do their utmost to protect civilians. Stressing there can be no military solution, he called upon the parties to cease hostilities immediately and open negotiations for a permanent ceasefire. Tigray forces must stop their offensive, particularly in neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions, and the Government of Ethiopia must also request the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops, ensure humanitarian access to the region and restore basic services including water, fuel, electricity, communications and banking. He warned that the conflict has pushed around 400,000 people into famine, with 4 million more people threatened. Amid continued reports of violations of international humanitarian law and international human rights law, including widespread sexual and gender-based violence, he reiterated the importance of the ongoing joint investigation by OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, as perpetrators must be held accountable and brought to justice.
NATHALIE BROADHURST ESTIVAL (France) said that, after almost 10 months of conflict, ending the violence and securing the territory of Ethiopia remains a priority and responsibility of the Council. Citing the parties of the Ethiopian Government, militias and Eritrean allies on one side, and Tigrayan forces on the other, she stressed that calling for dialogue does not apply any form of bias. Sexual violence and attacks on citizens must not go unpunished, whoever the perpetrators, she said, expressing regret that the joint inquiry into abuses has experienced difficulties in gathering evidence. The Ethiopian Government must respect commitments to humanitarian aid access and reconnect electricity, Internet and banking services. Condemning all violence against humanitarian and medical personnel, she said the Government must launch a national dialogue involving all parties, while Tigray must demonstrate openness to that initiative. She welcomed regional involvement, led by the appointment of Olusegun Obasanjo, former President of Nigeria, as High Representative for the Horn of Africa region.
TRINE HEIMERBACK (Norway) voicing “sadness and disbelief” that the Council is yet again discussing the prospect of a man-made famine in Tigray, noted the expansion of the armed conflict into the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. Outlining the immediate actions needed to address the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Tigray, she said the federal Ethiopian authorities must secure rapid, safe and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid to the region. Noting that repeated assurances from Ethiopian authorities of compliance with its humanitarian obligations have failed to materialize in unimpeded humanitarian access to Tigray, she also condemned the reported killings of civilians, and the widespread and systematic use of sexual and gender-based violence. Eritrea must fully withdraw from Ethiopian territory, Tigrayan forces must end their expansion into neighbouring regions, and Amhara federal forces and militia must withdraw from western Tigray, she stressed.
JAMES KARIUKI (United Kingdom) called on all parties to end the hostilities. Unfettered humanitarian access must be ensured, as more than 400,000 people in Tigray are experiencing famine — more than in the rest of the world combined. Banking, electricity and communications services remain suspended, obstructing humanitarian operations. He called on Tigrayan forces to immediately cease fighting in Amhara and Afar, and on Eritrean troops to withdraw completely from Ethiopia, similarly urging Ethiopia’s Government to remove bureaucratic barriers to aid delivery and allow sufficient cash and fuel into Tigray. All parties must ensure protection of civilians and comply with international humanitarian law. Citing reports of brutal and systematic sexual violence, massacres and indiscriminate shelling of towns, he called on the Government to uphold human rights and bring the perpetrators of atrocities to justice. He also pointed to increased hate speech and attacks on the humanitarian community, further underlining the urgency of pursuing political dialogue to end the crisis.
RICHARD M. MILLS, JR. (United States) recalled that since the Council’s 2 July session calling for a ceasefire and national political dialogue, there has been no progress on any of these fronts. The military conflict has escalated, with the Government calling for militia action, and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front expanding its campaign into the Afar and Amhara regions, displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians. Eritrean forces have re-entered the country, and a wider regional war may erupt. Noting that leaders on all sides are using inflammatory rhetoric, increasing polarization along ethnic lines, he called for an end to fighting, allowing humanitarian access and opening a ceasefire without preconditions. As the Government continues to cut Tigray from services, aid agencies recently ran out of food stocks, with “heroic” humanitarian workers targeted and killed. Just 7 per cent of World Food Programme (WFP) projections of needed supplies reached Tigray — a possible war crime that is “happening on our watch”, he said. Citing reprehensible attacks on Eritrean refugees, he also expressed concern over Eritrea’s role in prolonging the crisis, with its forces having engaged in serious human rights abuses. The United States remains committed to supporting Ethiopia, the largest recipient of his country’s humanitarian and development assistance in the world.
NGUYEN PHUONG TRA (Viet Nam), stressing the urgent need to address the humanitarian situation in Tigray, welcomed the Ethiopian Government’s efforts to improve humanitarian access, thanks to which an estimated 75 per cent of the area is now accessible. The conflict has contributed to other systemic issues, she said, echoing the call on all parties to immediately cease hostilities, ensure unrestricted humanitarian access and restore public services. Also condemning killings against civilians, including women, children, and humanitarian workers, and the destruction pf infrastructure, she said, “what needs to be done now is to stop fighting, start a dialogue and start a political process”. Ethiopia and all other concerned parties should give the highest priority to the interests of its people, she said, adding that the international community must uphold the principle of non-interference in the internal affairs of States.
ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) noted a unilateral humanitarian ceasefire has been broken, with units from the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front continuing to fight, even in Afar and Amhara, regions previously untouched by conflict. The humanitarian situation remains tough, she said, while the Government makes a significant contribution to ending it, including getting WFP convoys through and establishing an emergency coordination centre, and expressed hope that 100 trucks a day will eventually help refugees in dire straits. She opposed a biased approach in specifically aiding Tigray, as any efforts must also address other regions. Calling on the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs to advance dialogue, she added it should be led by Ethiopians themselves with the support of African community, respecting the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of the country. Unilateral sanctions only further stoke the conflict, she said, adding the crisis will not be solved by discussions in the Council, as each Member State should make its own contribution including through quiet diplomacy.
DAI BING (China) said maintaining stability and peaceful coexistence among all ethnic groups in Ethiopia is essential for the peace and security of the Horn of Africa, expressing hope that all parties in Ethiopia will resolve their differences through political dialogue, ease tensions, avoid further expansion of conflicts and create the conditions for peace and reconciliation. Drawing attention to the increasingly grave humanitarian situation in Ethiopia caused by the conflict, particularly in Amhara and Afar, he called on all parties to expand humanitarian access, and more broadly, on the international community to scale up its humanitarian assistance. Humanitarian agencies must respect Ethiopia’s sovereignty. He objected to foreign interference in Ethiopia’s internal affairs in the name of human rights and humanitarianism, he expressed support for efforts by the African Union and regional countries to “solve African issues in an African way”. Further, unilateral sanctions imposed on Ethiopia are inconsistent with international law, which only hinders the prospects for political settlement, he added.
ALICIA GUADALUPE BUENROSTRO MASSIEU (Mexico), thanking the Secretary-General for his frank and worrisome briefing, said the conflict has left thousands of civilians dead and displaced around 2 million people, with hundreds of thousands facing famine. The clashes have extended to the Afar and Amhara regions, increasing the need for additional assistance, she noted, also voicing concern that the conflict has involved other protagonists at national and regional levels. Noting that Mexico and Ethiopia have historic ties, she pointed to the latter’s role in the region, as well as within the African Union, while also pointing to Ethiopia’s immense contributions to peacekeeping as a troop-contributing country. All of this indicates a high risk of destabilization in the region due to the conflict. Calling for an immediate ceasefire and withdrawal of all non-Ethiopian troops from Tigray, she voiced alarm about sexual and gender-based violence against girls.
MARTIN KIMANI (Kenya), speaking on behalf of the “African 3+1” group including Niger, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tunisia and his country, stated the violence in Ethiopia is a product of conflicting views on the nation’s future. Resolution requires undertaking mediation of deep divides as part of an Ethiopian‑owned process. On every side, he noted the perception of ethnic identity is driving conflict, with all parties giving short shrift to others’ grievances. Oppositional constituencies along ethnic lines are uniquely dangerous, he said, as they conflate political opposition with that identity. Condemning violence including killings of boys and men not in uniform, and horrific human rights violations and acts of sexual violence against girls and women, he stated “our values as a continent demand respect for the sanctity of human life and the condemnation and rejection of impunity”.
Citing democracy above all, he said the mandate awarded by millions of voters in the last election must include every Ethiopian citizen — perhaps especially in Tigray and other regions, where the vote was not held due to insecurity. He welcomed the appointment of the High Representative of the Horn of Africa region, with a mandate to promote peace, security and stability, reminding that the sovereignty, territorial integrity and independence of Ethiopia must be assured. Stating that the Government must acknowledge the existence of legitimate grievances, he expressed concern over the rallying of civilians to the conflict, and called on armed actors in Tigray to withdraw from neighbouring regions, as escalating political tensions in other parts of the country will only widen the divide. He urged Ethiopian leaders to announce that targeting civilians must stop immediately. Parties must deconflict military movements in Tigray, Afar and Amhara to enable unfettered access to humanitarian aid before famine returns to any part of Ethiopia, with lines of communication between military leaders being opened for that purpose. He further recommended the Council’s and international community’s call on Eritrea to withdraw forces and urged organizations and wealthy countries to provide adequate humanitarian resources. Noting “the Ethiopia of old” inspired Africa with its resistance to colonialism and fascism, he appealed to its current leaders and people “to understand that they cannot break each other’s spirits and succeed in building a united and prosperous country”.
T.S. TIRUMURTI (India), Council President for August, speaking in his national capacity, said that the conflict in Tigray has intensified recently, and spread to the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, leaving a severe impact on the civilian population, particularly women, children and the elderly, and has resulted in civilian casualties, human rights violations and use of child soldiers. Acknowledging the efforts of the Government of Ethiopia to improve the humanitarian access, he urged sustained, close coordination between humanitarian agencies and the Ethiopian authorities to bridge the remaining gaps. Noting that the Government has undertaken investigations into cases of serious human rights violations, he strongly denounced and condemned all atrocities committed by armed groups against civilians including children, and insisted that perpetrators should be prosecuted. Despite the unilateral ceasefire announced in June by the Government of Ethiopia, aggression from one side continues and spreads beyond the Tigray region, he added, calling upon the Council to strengthen efforts towards a ceasefire.
TAYE ATSKESELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia), voicing appreciation for the Secretary‑General’s good faith engagement, said the current state of affairs in his country did not transpire overnight. They were in the making long before the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front unleashed its attack, he said, adding that, three decades ago, the group had hegemonic control over the political and economic life of the Ethiopian people. It was sustained popular protest that dislodged the Front from power in 2018, however, the group refused to disarm and surrender, he said. The unilateral humanitarian ceasefire his Government declared in June was supposed to bring calm to the region, he noted, and the plan was to allow a peaceful farming season. The ceasefire would have allowed the Government to embark on rebuilding the region and repair the infrastructure. Noting that the Front called the ceasefire a joke, he said that members of the international community enabled the group to follow its destructive path.
“We now have Ethiopian children in Tigray subjected to forced recruitment to serve as cannon fodder,” he said, adding that farmers there and in adjacent regions are now unable to farm their land. Further, the Front has blocked humanitarian aid, he said, adding that there is clear coordination between internal treasonous elements and external actors from near and far. His Government is fully cognizant of its obligation to its citizens, he stressed, adding that Ethiopia will provide clearance to humanitarian convoys and is committed to reducing the number of checkpoints. To fast‑track the scanning process, the Government is working with partners to introduce modern scanning technology. WFP and another partner are administering their humanitarian flights with no impediment, he said.
However, he said, the resumption of public service requires peace and rule of law in Tigray. The Front is not the victim, it is the culprit, he said, adding that the people of Ethiopia, especially those in Afar, Amhara and Tigray regions are suffering. Emphasizing that the Government of Ethiopia will apply any means necessary to ensure law and order, he called upon members of the Council to be cautious about facts. There is no discrimination based on any ground, including ethnicity or religion, in his country, he stressed, expressing concern about the saviour mentality that seeks to undermine the sovereign rights of a State.