Photo: India's Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi (left) and Sri Lanka President JR Jayawardene (right) signing the Indo-Sri Lanka Agreement of July 29, 1987. - Photo: 2021

EU and the US Concerned About the Humanitarian Emergency in Tigray

By Reinhardt Jacobsen

BRUSSELS (IDN) — Together with the United Nations, the European Commission has urged “all parties to the conflict” in Ethiopia’s Tigray region to agree to “a ceasefire immediately to facilitate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need in Tigray regardless of where they are and to stop violence against civilians”.

Leading representatives of the two organizations had a virtual meeting on June 10 to discuss the situation seven months into the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

The situation is characterized by “human rights atrocities” which along with “the full-blown humanitarian crisis are alarming”, currently pushing 400,000 innocent people to the brink of famine and loss of life.

The meeting was attended by the US ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, who provided the opening remarks, US Special envoy to the Horn, Jeff Feltman, EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič, EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen, USAID administrator Samantha Power, UN Humanitarian Chief Mark Lowcock, Norwegian Refugee Council Secretary-General Jan Egeland, UN Special representative on Sexual Violence in conflict Pramila Patten.

In her opening speech, Thomas-Greenfield said that the Security Council’s failure to act on the unfolding crisis in Tigray is unacceptable. She said that thousands of people have been killed, raped, and tortured, and it is time for the Security Council to have a vision on what is happening and to respond with a sense of responsibility.

Mark Lowcock expressed his frustration that the Council was not doing anything regarding the conflict. Although he briefed the Council three times already, and has sent multiple whitepapers on the impending starvation crisis in Ethiopia, the it has not yet held a meeting on the subject.

Lowcock also spoke about the recently published IPC report, which paints a picture of an extreme situation. He said that “there is famine now”. The famine situation in Tigray is worse than anywhere in the world since the famine in Somalia in 2011.

Those feelings were echoed by Lenarčič, who said that using starvation as a weapon of war was in contravention of humanitarian law. He also said that while the EU will continue to provide humanitarian support, it is not satisfactory and that it has not been enough for many months already.

All the participants emphasised the importance of the G7 and the leading role it can play in shaping international action on Tigray. Action needs to be taken right away, and the worst can still be avoided.

Participants also warned of the destabilising effects the conflict could have on the broader region. In Ethiopia several regions are facing heightened levels of violence and food insecurity. Somalia and South Sudan are also facing crises. They warn that the international community needs to act on all these crises. They also note that the conflict in Ethiopia has the potential to destabilise progress made in other neighbouring countries such as Sudan.

Panelists also said that humanitarian organisations have a critical shortage of funds and resources, and that more money is needed to scale up operations in Tigray.

Panelists also reiterated the need for a famine prevention ceasefire to provide food to hundreds of thousands of people and unfettered humanitarian access to the region.

The EU-UN joint statement underlined that of the 6 million in Tigray, 5.2 million people are facing hunger and requiring emergency food assistance. With 90 per cent of the population in extreme need of humanitarian aid, the stakes could not be higher.

“This must be addressed immediately. We do well to remember the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which led to an estimated one million deaths, many as a result of food assistance being blocked,” said the joint statement.

It continued: The restrictions on access are severely impeding the ability of humanitarian workers to assist the most vulnerable, notably in blocked rural areas, where the crisis is worst. Deliberate and repeated hindrances by the military and armed groups, the regular looting of humanitarian assistance are driving the population towards mass starvation. 

Using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war is putting at risk the lives of millions. In Resolution 2417 (2018), the UN Security Council strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and urged action against those responsible. The Security Council requested that the Secretary-General report swiftly to the Council when the risk of conflict-induced famine occurs.

“In addition,” noted the statement, “we are seeing wide-scale human suffering that is entirely preventable. Systematic violence is being inflicted upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and extra-judicial and ethnically-motivated killings. The population’s essential livelihood assets and health services are being destroyed”.

Such methods of warfare are grave violations of international humanitarian law. The independent investigation of human rights violations is of paramount importance.

The EU and UN urged all parties to the conflict, as well as the international community, “to act urgently to avert a large-scale famine in Tigray and the potential for this crisis to destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region”.

Given this looming humanitarian catastrophe, they reaffirm their solidarity with all those affected by the conflict in Tigray and:

  • Urge all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire immediately to facilitate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need in Tigray regardless of where they are and to stop violence against civilians;
  • Recall the obligation of all the parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and exercise their responsibility towards the protection of all civilians, including humanitarian workers. This should remain paramount and must be applied at all times, and not be conditional on a ceasefire being in place;  
  • Call on all the parties to the conflict to allow for immediate, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray to prevent large-scale famine and loss of life;
  • Call on the Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities to ensure that Eritrean armed forces withdraw from Ethiopia immediately, in line with its previous commitment.
  • Call upon the international community to scale up its life-saving support in the region, including through humanitarian funding, and to do everything in its power to protect the lives, dignity and livelihoods of the civilian population in Tigray.

The EU and UN wish to see a democratic and peaceful Ethiopia, where all its people can build a shared vision for the country’s future and lay the foundation for sustainable and equitable economic growth and prosperity. “We are committed to supporting Ethiopia and building on the partnership between us. We call on our international partners to work with us for a peaceful, prosperous Ethiopia that is also a source of stability in the wider region.”

Knowledgeable sources noted that The Brussels-based Europe External Programme with Africa (EEPA) has been playing an important role behind-the-scene in drawing the attention of the EU to the continuously worsening the situation in Ethiopia’s Tigray region and its adverse impact on the Horn of Africa region. [IDN-InDepthNews – 11 June 2021]

Photo credit: European Union | Mathias Eick

IDN is the flagship agency of the non-profit International Press Syndicate.

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