Thank you for convening this meeting on the situation in Ethiopia — a matter that is increasingly preoccupying the African continent and the wider international community.

A military confrontation, which started some 10 months ago in the northern region of Tigray, is spreading.  And the level of human suffering is growing — with serious political, economic and humanitarian implications for Ethiopia and the broader region.  All parties must recognize a simple truth:  there is no military solution.

Last week, I issued an appeal for action on three fronts.  First, calling on all parties to immediately cease hostilities.  Second, ensuring a commitment for unrestricted humanitarian access everywhere — and fully re-establishing public services.  Third, creating the conditions for the start of an Ethiopian-led political dialogue to find a solution to this crisis.

These steps are essential for two critical reasons.  First, the unity of Ethiopia and the stability of the region are at stake and they are very important.  The military front lines in Tigray have now reached the regions of Amhara and Afar.  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.

The Tigray region remains largely under a de facto humanitarian blockade and cut off from key public services such as electricity and communications.  Tigrayan forces have since expanded their presence into neighbouring Amhara and Afar regions where fighting has escalated.  Other actors in Ethiopia have entered the fight through mass mobilization and the activation of regional armed groups.

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.

Second, the human price of this war is mounting by the day.  A humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding before our eyes.  More than 2 million people have been displaced from their homes, and millions more are in immediate need of life-saving humanitarian assistance, including food, water, shelter and health care.

At least 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions.  Last month, UNICEF [United Nations Children’s Fund] warned that 100,000 children face life‑threatening severe acute malnutrition over the next 12 months.  Refugee camps have been destroyed.  Health-care systems have been decimated, with hospitals and clinics attacked and looted.  This has all been exacerbated by electricity and communications blackouts.

I am also deeply concerned by reports of horrific sexual and gender-based violence from survivors, including women and children.  I condemn these atrocious acts in the strongest possible terms.  This is compounded by other serious allegations of human rights violations and abuses against civilians, reportedly perpetrated by all parties to the conflict.

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.  The United Nations and its humanitarian partners have mobilized to reach more than 5 million people with food or other essentials.

But, the capacity to respond is severely constrained by insecurity, delays and a host of restrictions on the work of humanitarian organizations.  Overland access into Tigray now depends on a single route, through the Afar region, which involves passing through numerous checkpoints.  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.  No trucks have arrived for over a week, while food warehouses are now empty.  Sadly, humanitarian workers have been harassed and even killed.

Well beyond Tigray, the conflict in Afar and Amhara regions has displaced reportedly 300,000 more people.  This is taking place alongside efforts to maintain broader humanitarian support across Ethiopia in response to intercommunal violence, flooding, locust infestation and other challenges.

The conflict is also taking a heavy economic toll, illustrating once again the utter folly of war.  The fighting has already drained over $1 billion from the country’s coffers.  Debt is mounting.  Access to credit is drying up.  Inflation is growing higher.  Basic food items are running low.  Meanwhile. Ethiopia is suffering from the fifth highest incidence of COVID cases on the continent.

For all these reasons, I repeat my fundamental call:  all parties must immediately end hostilities without preconditions and seize that opportunity to negotiate a lasting ceasefire.  Foreign forces should leave the country.  Unrestricted humanitarian access to all areas in need must be guaranteed and humanitarian workers must be respected.  Public services must be re-established.

I believe there is an opportunity to address the conflict peacefully, which the parties must seize in the interest of Ethiopia.  Conditions must be created for the start of an inclusive national political dialogue to address the underlying causes of the conflict and ensure Ethiopian voices direct the pathway to peace.

On these issues, I have been in close contact with Prime Minister Abiy [Ahmed] and I have also received a letter from the President of the Tigray region in response to my appeal, which was also addressed to the President of the Security Council, on this matter.

The United Nations is ready to work together with the African Union and other key partners to support such a dialogue.  In the period ahead, the attention and unity of the Security Council will be critical.

Allow me to express one final word of profound regret about the tragic events unfolding in Ethiopia.  Ethiopia is a country full of promise — driven in large measure by the energy and initiative of its youth.  It is heart-breaking to see many young Ethiopians being instrumentalized and mobilized in the war effort.

Their energies are being channelled into a path of division and destruction instead of the path of building a better future for all Ethiopians.  They will be the ultimate casualties in this needless conflict.

In every sense, the future of Ethiopia is at stake.  Let us pledge to do all we can to advance the path of national cohesion and peace.

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