Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed meets with 81 oppositional parties in November 2018. Photo credit: Office of the Prime Minister - Ethiopia on Flickr

Ethiopian government expels UN officials amidst the ongoing conflict in Tigray

5 mins read

UN officials accused of breaching professional work ethics while stationed in the country during the Tigray conflict.

“When elephants fight, it is the grass that suffers,” goes to the African proverb explaining how only the weak get hurt in conflicts between the powerful. With perfection, the saying describes the ongoing conflict in Ethiopia between the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF), and forces supporting the country’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed. 

On September 30, Ethiopia kicked out seven United Nations officials with allegations that they failed to adhere to the principle of neutrality. The Ahmed Administration declared them as “persona non grata.” The secretary-general to the United Nations reacted to these claims responding that, “we believe Ethiopia is violating International law by doing so.” 

Allegedly, the UN officials involved themselves in Ethiopia’s internal affairs by passing sensitive information to the media and other misdoings. From this, the government felt a threat to its sovereignty by officials whose intervention into Ethiopia’s affairs was uninvited and without justification.

Amid an official address to the UN security council, Taye Atske Selassie Amde, a representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations, affirmed that “we would like to register our position that the government of Ethiopia is not under any legal obligation to provide justification or obligation for its decisions.” This was after the UN security council held a meeting scrutinizing Ethiopia for sacking officials.

However, even as the discussions continue, famine-like conditions on Ethiopian soil continue to stir havoc. Reports claim that transporting food and essential items to Tigray is an intricate situation.

According to the Tigray Humanitarian Atlas, access areas bordering Eritrea remain inaccessible due to the fluid security situation. Also, some pro-government forces refuse to cooperate with humanitarian agencies by blocking their passage, while the lack of internet connections makes it difficult for humanitarian missions to communicate with foreign partners. On the other hand, there appears to be a back and forth, as the TPLF and the government place attribution on each other concerning food blockage.

UN management faces criticism 

According to the United Nations, 5.2 million Ethiopians require food aid with 400,000 living in famine-like conditions. In comparison, the statistics also set forth that the rate of child malnutrition is worse than Somalia’s.

Withal, these claims were protested by the Ethiopian government. Representative Amde referred to the humanitarian disaster as a conspiracy executed by UN officials and created by TPLF and its members. In his words, “the famine numbers are generated to create an image of extreme casualty that warrants humanitarian intervention.” He continued to mention that the officials assigned to the country assisted in the fabrication of false allegations submitted to the UN security council. 

In like manner, Ethiopian officials claim that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UN OCHA), was made to report that 3.8 million people needed emergency assistance. Additionally, according to the Ethiopian government, the false registered deaths of 152 Ethiopians created the situation of a serious crisis.

Also, UN officials were accused of inviting TPLF armed men and militia to safe houses occupied by Gender-based violence victims. Included, they purportedly exposed the safe houses to international media and invited interviewers.

Digital Identity for the 2030 Agenda meeting for the African Union at the 11th Session of the Assembly of the African Union. H.E. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed at the far right. Photo credit: Office of the Prime Minister – Ethiopia on Flickr.

Before this scandal, the UN faced similar criticism for interfering with internal political affairs. On this, the UN security council, which is the most powerful body of the United Nations, has been accused of using the veto power indiscriminately to defend their national interest.

For instance, the 2005 World Summit called on the permanent members to pledge themselves to refrain from the use of the veto in cases of genocide and large-scale human rights abuses. However, among the five permanent members, only the UK supported this initiative.

In the interim of a debate on the relevance of the UN, Oxford Professor Douglas Johnson critiqued that, “the United Nations was set up for interstate relations rather than internal political issues of the sort that it’s now being asked to do.”

In contrast to the accusations by the Ethiopian government, in June, one village committee compiled a list of 125 people who had starved to death in their isolated community. Plus, the Ethiopian government faces accusations by TPLF of keeping journalists out of Tigray. These allegations are evidenced by international newspapers’ website blackouts in Ethiopia. 

PM Ahmed criticized Western critics’ approach, during a speech for “African solutions to African problems.” Nonetheless, the African Union, based in Addis Ababa, has received the government’s permission to participate in investigating possible human rights abuses.

Genesis of Tigray’s war

Since November 2020, Ethiopia’s Tigray region has endured ethnic regional armed conflict. It is a region well-known for the historic famine in the early 1980s. Unfortunately, it is at it again. 

Since his election into power in 2018, PM Ahmed, who is also a Nobel Peace Prize winner, began to centralize power. A move marked as illegal by Tigray leaders. For almost three decades, Tigray leaders remained the center of power after a military regime was overthrown. Yet, under PM Ahmed, Ethiopia became prosperous sustaining high investment rates. Undeterred by the growth, he accused Tigray’s government of corruption and repression.

His move to stop the TPLF gathered maximum backing from Ethiopians. The citizens expressed themselves across various media platforms in support of PM Ahmed`s administration.

“The Ethiopian government forces are at war against the TPLF terrorist group to liberate the people of Tigray from 40 years of tyranny.” An Ethiopian citizen tweeted.

In September 2020, the TPLF held unofficial elections in Tigray, winning by 98 percent. PM Ahmed sent the army “to save the country and the region” by removing the TPLF. On November 4, the conflict began. 

Subsequently, PM Ahmed ordered a military offensive against regional forces in Tigray. Allegations followed that Tigrean forces attacked the government’s military base to steal weapons.

As a result of these events, spokesperson for the TPLF, Getachew Reda referred to the Ethiopian government as a criminal enterprise, expounding that, “TPLF was the obstacle that stood between Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and PM Ahmed`s regional ambitions.” He stated that Ahmed was fighting for selfish reasons and not by any means the unity of Ethiopia.

Reda guaranteed that the Tigrean forces mentioned: “will not stop fighting until several conditions have been met by PM Ahmed.” This includes the end of the federal government’s blockade of Tigray and the withdrawal of all opposing troops.

After failed efforts to stop rebels, Ethiopia’s prime minister encouraged capable Ethiopian citizens to join the army and stop the fight. Sequential, young people gathered in the capital in support of this.Even though the conflict is ongoing, the Ethiopian government requested the UN to deploy new staff who are willing to adhere to their professional code of conduct. Moving forward, the UN agreed to cooperate with Ethiopia in any situation in which the government feels any member of the UN is not behaving as humanitarian law prescribes. Principally, the accusations against the seven officials question the diplomatic ethics in the UN. The same applies to the principles being applied by the Ethiopian government, and its opposition, the TPLF.

Nyawira Mithayo is a Journalism graduate with an interest in community activism.

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