UN political chief Rosemary DiCarlo has said the risk of Ethiopia “descending into widening civil war is only too real”, adding that the political repercussions of “intensifying violence in the wider region would be immense, compounding the many crises besetting the Horn of Africa”.
Addressing the Security Council on Monday, the UN under-secretary-general for political and peacebuilding affairs said, despite much speculation on how the Ethiopian crisis will unfold in the coming weeks, “in a country of over 110 million people, over 90 different ethnic groups and 80 languages, no one can predict what continued fighting and insecurity will bring”.
She said more than seven million people needed humanitarian assistance in northern Ethiopia alone, with an estimated 400,000 people in Tigray living in famine-like conditions.
DiCarlo said, while some emergency supplies have been moved, it has been four months since the last big shipment of medicines and health supplies into Tigray which is home to about six million people.
The UN official said the report of the Joint Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights or OHCHR-Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation into the conflict in Tigray released last week shed light on the horrific suffering civilians have endured.
The report concluded that there are reasonable grounds to believe that all parties to the conflict – including the Ethiopian National Defence Force, Eritrean Defence Force, Amhara Special Forces and allied militia on one side and Tigrayan forces on the other – committed violations of international human rights, humanitarian and refugee law. It also stated that war crimes and crimes against humanity may have been also committed.
DiCarlo said there must be an immediate cessation of hostilities, as called for by the UN secretary-general, African Union Commission chair, Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) executive secretary, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta, and the UN Security Council.
She said, “Ethiopia, a founding member of the United Nations, needs our support. We urge Ethiopians to come together to build a shared, prosperous future before it is too late.”
Reports of fresh attacks
The Ethiopian government’s conflict with the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) began a year ago and has accelerated in recent days, with a nationwide state of emergency declared last week and residents of the capital told to be ready to take up arms to defend residential areas.
Thousands have been killed and more than two million have fled their homes since last November, when Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed launched a military offensive against the TPLF, which had long run Tigray and was a main player in Ethiopia’s national politics.
Tensions began to simmer when Abiy came to power in 2018 and sought to reduce its influence.
Since the beginning of August, the conflict has spread from Tigray to the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara. Together with rebels of the Oromo Liberation Army (OLA), the TPLF has threatened to advance towards the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.
Tens of thousands of people have rallied in Addis Ababa in solidarity with the Abiy-led government.
The pleas for peace come as a new round of deadly attacks and forced conscription began against ethnic Tigrayans in an area of the country now controlled by Amhara regional authorities in collaboration with soldiers from neighbouring Eritrea, people fleeing over the border to Sudan told The Associated Press news agency.
AU envoy calls for collective action
Meanwhile, the African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, said the crisis situation in northern Ethiopia had continued to drastically deteriorate in recent weeks, leading to a serious escalation of the situation.
Obasanjo, who is currently in Ethiopia, said he has been engaging with all stakeholders, including the prime minister and president of Ethiopia, in an effort to de-escalate the situation.
Obasanjo said the time is now for collective action in finding lasting solutions to avoid further escalation which may have a direct effect on the strategic security of the Horn of Africa region as a whole.
He urged the Council to consider strongly urging and encouraging the Federal Government of Ethiopia and the Tigray rebels to engage in political dialogue without any conditions.
On Monday, the US State Department said Washington believes there is a small window to work with the African Union to further efforts to peacefully resolve the conflict.
US Special Envoy Jeffrey Feltman visited Addis Ababa on Monday as part of diplomatic efforts to end the conflict.