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Posted Wed 25 Aug 2021

Ethiopia (Tigray): Briefing and Consultations

Tomorrow (26 August), the Security Council will convene in person for an open briefing and closed consultations on the situation in the Tigray region of Ethiopia under the “Peace and Security in Africa” agenda item. Secretary-General AntĂłnio Guterres will brief the Council during the open session, while Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator Martin Griffiths is expected to brief during the closed consultations. The meeting was requested by Estonia, France, Ireland, Norway, the UK, and the US. A representative of Ethiopia is expected to participate in the open briefing under rule 37 of the Council’s provisional rules of procedure.

The security situation in Tigray is a likely focus of tomorrow’s meeting. Although the Ethiopian government declared a unilateral ceasefire on 28 June after the Tigray Defense Forces (TDF)—a rebel military force that includes members of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), the region’s former ruling party—retook the Tigrayan regional capital Mekelle, violence on the ground has persisted. On 10 August, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed called on all eligible civilians to join the army to fight against the forces led by the TPLF. Two days later, the Oromo Liberation Army—an armed group which seeks self-determination for the Oromo people, Ethiopia’s largest ethnic group, and is designated as a terrorist organisation by the Ethiopian government—and the TPLF announced the formation of an alliance to fight the Ethiopian government.

On 23 August, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the US is concerned that large numbers of Eritrean Defence Forces have re-entered Ethiopia, after having withdrawn in June. In addition, according to international media reports, an internal memorandum by EU diplomats noted that Eritrean troops have deployed to the western part of Tigray and have taken up defensive positions with tanks and artillery. At tomorrow’s meeting, some Council members may call on Eritrean forces to withdraw from Ethiopia.

International interlocutors, including Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok—the current president of the Inter-governmental Authority for Development (IGAD)—have recently offered to serve as mediators between the sides to the Ethiopian conflict. However, it appears that thus far these offers have not been accepted by Ethiopia. Tomorrow, members may also be interested in hearing from Guterres about prospects for finding a mediator who will be acceptable to the conflict parties.

The dire humanitarian situation in Tigray and neighbouring regions is another likely topic of discussion at tomorrow’s meeting. According to a 19 August OCHA situation report, while “access in large areas inside Tigray is now feasible and secure”, other areas remain inaccessible. Furthermore, the report notes that insecurity along the only accessible road into the Tigray region, as well as “extended delays with clearances of humanitarian supplies”, have resulted in the provision of only a fraction of the necessary humanitarian aid. The conflict’s spill-over into Tigray’s neighbouring regions has caused increased displacement both internally and externally.

During a 19 August press stakeout, Guterres described the humanitarian situation in Ethiopia as “hellish”, with many in need and widespread destruction of infrastructure. He also expressed grave concern about the “unspeakable violence” perpetrated against women. At tomorrow’s briefing, he may reiterate some of the messages he conveyed during the press stakeout, including his call for an immediate ceasefire, the granting of unrestricted humanitarian access, and the re-establishment of public services in all affected areas. During the stakeout, Guterres further stressed that all parties need to recognise that “there is no military solution” to the conflict and called for the establishment of conditions allowing for “an Ethiopian-led political dialogue” to address the crisis. At tomorrow’s open briefing, Council members may be interested to hear from Guterres whether there has been progress on these points.

During tomorrow’s closed consultations, Griffiths is likely to provide an update on the humanitarian situation in the conflict-affected areas of Ethiopia and address the challenging conditions under which aid workers are operating. He is expected to provide details of his six-day visit to Ethiopia, which took place between 29 July and 3 August. During the visit, which was Griffiths’ first official visit since he assumed the role of Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs in mid-July, he held a series of meetings with various Ethiopian officials, including Abiy Ahmed. Griffiths also travelled to Tigray, met with the TPLF leadership and observed the relief efforts on the ground.

On 19 August, Samantha Power, the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development (USAID), blamed the Ethiopian federal government for the insufficient delivery of aid into Tigray, noting that there is a food shortage “not because food is unavailable, but because the Ethiopian government is obstructing humanitarian aid and personnel, including land convoys and air access”. Council members may be interested to hear about what commitments Griffiths obtained during his visit and about his engagement with the various actors on improving humanitarian access since his return.

While tomorrow’s meeting will be the eighth time the Security Council has discussed the situation in Tigray since the crisis erupted in November 2020, tomorrow’s briefing will be only the second open Council session on this issue. The first five meetings were held under “any other business”. These meetings were followed by an informal interactive dialogue on 14 June and an open briefing on 2 July.

While Council dynamics on Tigray appear not to have substantially changed since the 2 July open briefing, a combination of factors may have caused a subtle shift. The lack of progress towards a negotiated ceasefire in Ethiopia, the continuing insufficient humanitarian access and the risk of a further widening of the conflict seem to have contributed to rendering the process of agreeing on having a meeting comparatively smoother than in the past. The fact that the meeting was proposed under the “Peace and Security in Africa” agenda item – which is the result of a compromise achieved between the “A3 plus one” (Kenya, Niger, Tunisia, and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines) and the proponents of the 2 July briefing – also likely made reaching agreement on tomorrow’s meeting less fraught.

During tomorrow’s meeting, many Council members are likely to echo the Secretary-General’s remarks during his 19 August press stakeout, emphasising the need for a ceasefire and unrestricted humanitarian access and calling for a political dialogue between the parties. The “A3 plus one” may also stress regional cooperation and the importance of finding “African solutions to African challenges”. During July’s open meeting, Kenya, delivering a statement on behalf of the “A3 plus one”, noted that this should involve “Ethiopian solutions starting in the order of ceasefire, humanitarian delivery, dialogue, reconciliation and responsibility”.

The European members of the Council and the US may stress the importance of investigations into violations of international humanitarian and human rights law and emphasise the need for accountability for crimes committed during the ongoing conflict. On 23 August, the US Department of Treasury imposed sanctions on the Chief of Staff of the Eritrean Defense Forces, General Filipos Woldeyohannes, for leading forces accused of committing “serious human rights abuse” in Tigray. Some members might also refer to the 11 August Amnesty International report on rape and other sexual violence in the conflict in Tigray.

China and Russia are likely to emphasise Ethiopian sovereignty and maintain that the crisis in Tigray should be understood as an internal issue. At July’s meeting, Russia expressed regret about the format of the meeting and cautioned other Council members “against using [the open meeting format] to further destabilize an already complex situation in Tigray and weaken the political position of federal authorities”.

At the time of writing, a Security Council product on Tigray is not expected. Thus far, the Council’s only product on Tigray is a press statement which was issued on 22 April.Tags: EthiopiaInsights on AfricaTigra

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