By J Nastranis

UNITED NATIONS (IDN) - While the UN Security Council unanimously moved on August 5 to expand sanctions against the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea) in response to the launches of ballistic missiles of possible intercontinental range, the Council discussed two days earlier the spirit and purpose of resorting to the restrictive instrument of sanctions.

The Security Council is one of the six principal organs of the United Nations, charged with the maintenance of international peace and security as well as approving any changes to the UN Charter. Its powers include the establishment of peacekeeping operations, the establishment of international sanctions, and the authorization of military action.

- Photo: 2021

UN Implicitly Warns Member States Against Expelling Officials for Political Reasons

By Thalif Deen

NEW YORK (IDN) — Ethiopia’s decision last week to expel seven UN officials, including senior humanitarian officials from the politically troubled African nation, generated an implicit warning to all 193 member states: do not kick out any UN officials for political reasons or declare them “persona non grata”.

UN Spokesperson Farhan Haq told reporters October 1: “The UN is sending a note verbale to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia to clarify that it is the long‑standing legal position of the Organization not to accept the application of the doctrine of persona non grata with respect to United Nations officials”.

This doctrine, he pointed out, applies to diplomatic agents accredited by one state to another state.

The application of this doctrine to United Nations officials is contrary to obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and the privileges and immunities to be accorded to the United Nations and its officials, he noted.

Meanwhile, Secretary‑General António Guterres has sent a letter to the UN Security Council on the situation in Ethiopia and the recent developments regarding United Nations staff.

Guterres also received a call from the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Abiy Ahmed, where the Secretary-General reiterated the position of the United Nations, which was formally conveyed to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia.

In 2019, Ahmed was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize “for his efforts to achieve peace and international cooperation, and in particular for his decisive initiative to resolve the border conflict with neighbouring Eritrea”.

The Ethiopian government apparently objected to humanitarian assistance to rebelling factions both in Ethiopia and the province of Tigray which is threatening to break away from Addis Ababa.

More than 5.2 million people across Tigray—more than 90 per cent of the region’s population—require life-saving assistance, including nearly 400,000 people already facing famine-like conditions, according to a UN report.

Reacting to the expulsion, Guterres said: “I was shocked by the information that the Government of Ethiopia has declared seven UN officials, including senior UN humanitarian officials, as persona non grata.”

He said all UN humanitarian operations are guided by the core principles of humanity, impartiality, neutrality, and independence.

In Ethiopia, the UN is delivering lifesaving aid—including food, medicine, water, and sanitation supplies—to people in desperate need.

“I have full confidence in the UN staff who are in Ethiopia doing this work,” he declared.

The UN is committed to helping Ethiopian people who rely on humanitarian assistance. We are now engaging with the Government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN staff will be allowed to continue their important work.”

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Addis Ababa has said the officials are being expelled for “meddling in internal affairs” of Ethiopia.

The UN has rejected these charges arguing that its intervention was prompted by “famine‑like conditions” where the situation is really “dire” stressing the importance “for the people of Ethiopia, for the people affected by the conflict, of ensuring that life‑saving humanitarian assistance reaches them”.

Meanwhile, in early August, UN Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator, Martin Griffiths, concluded a six-day visit to Ethiopia.

While in Ethiopia, the humanitarian chief held constructive meetings with the Federal Government, the Amhara regional president, the African Union, and the humanitarian and diplomatic community.

According to a UN report, Griffiths spent two days in the Tigray region, where he saw first-hand the dire humanitarian situation, meeting with civilians whose lives had been upended by the conflict.

“I met with people in Tigray who lost everything they had after they had to flee their villages or towns, leaving behind their houses and farms. In Hawzen, I visited a family whose house was burned and crops were looted. It was heart-breaking to see the scale of devastation and families who, to this day, do not have a place to live or food to put on their table,” said the humanitarian chief.

Griffiths also met with civilians who had suffered horrific violence and saw first-hand the systematic destruction of civilian infrastructure, including schools, hospitals and water systems.

In Mekelle and Freweyni, the humanitarian chief engaged with women who had endured unimaginable violence, including some who said they had been raped for weeks.

These women need access to comprehensive and holistic services, and yet “this is happening at a moment where most health centres are not functional, like the hospital I visited in Hawzen, where almost nothing but the walls were left untouched; all equipment and medicines have to be replaced,” Griffiths said.

The disruption of essential services, including access to communication, fuel and the banking system is compounding the dire situation, he said.

Humanitarian needs are also increasing in neighbouring Amhara and Afar, as the conflict spills over into these regions. In the face of increasing conflict and increasing difficulty getting aid into northern Ethiopia, the Under-Secretary-General said that “we need to change the circumstances that have led to the slow movement of aid—we need the conflict to stop.”

Asked for an update, UN Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq said October 4: “What I can confirm is that none of the seven UN staff named by the Ethiopian Government is in the country at present. They have been moved from the country to ensure their safety.”

“I’d like to add that our position on the declaration of persona non grata status has not changed. It is the long‑standing legal position of the Organization not to accept the application of this doctrine of persona non grata with respect to United Nations officials. And as we’ve said, this is a doctrine that applies to diplomatic agents accredited by one State to another State.,” he noted.

Asked why the UN has backed down and taken the officials out of the country when it was so sure of its legal position, Haq said: “We want to be sure of their safety. As you know, it… where our staff are deployed, we depend upon the national authorities to ensure their safety. If there’s something that calls into question that, we’d have to respond accordingly”. [IDN-InDepthNews – 04 October 2021]

Photo: The UNICEF Nutrition Specialist and Emergency Response Team screen for malnutrition in Adikeh in Wajirat in Southern Tigray in Ethiopia. © UNICEF/Christine Nesbitt

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