NIAS Africa Monitor

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NIAS Africa Monitor
Too late and too little is Ethiopia's international problem

  Anu Maria Joseph

On 10 June, the United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas challenged the UN Security Council. Referring to the Tigray conflict, she asked "do African lives not matter as those experiencing conflicts in other countries?" 

The eight months conflict in Ethiopia has killed thousands. Many are injured and abused. Schools, hospitals, farms and infrastructures are destroyed. Millions are displaced. A man-made famine is threatening the lives of thousands. Meanwhile, Ethiopia is collapsing as a coherent entity under the parity forces.

Red Cross, Amnesty International, Catholic Relief Services and other NGOs are active in food aid operations in Tigray. But the UN-backed Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) estimated that 350,000 people in Tigray are in a phase 5 (catastrophe) situation. Aid workers say government restrictions and insecurity have been preventing sufficient relief aid from getting through. The humanitarian tragedy in Ethiopia could be stopped only through a political solution.

Regional efforts were insufficient and ineffective to deliver a solution. The African Union Commission took little initiative under the unknown pressure to be nice to its host country. Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed refused to cooperate with the regional forces justifying the Tigray conflict as an internal law enforcement operation. The government has been denying the atrocities to avoid external intervention. Under the circumstances, the international community should have adequately responded. 

Five factors demand an international intervention
First, sexual violence and hunger being used as a weapon of war under a state-led ethnic cleansing point to a heavy breach of international humanitarian law. 

Second, the unrest in Ethiopia has become a challenge to the Horn of Africa. The humanitarian issue has now turned into a peace and security issue. Ethiopia is turning out to be a threat to East Africa by undermining regional efforts. It no longer plays the role of stabilizer in East Africa. The withdrawal of Ethiopian peacekeeping forces, increasing Tigrayan refugees in the neighbouring countries and spreading insurgency has now started impacting the whole region.

Third, the presence of the Eritreans and other external troops made the conflict international within the UN's remit. 

Fourth, the regional organizations, including African Union and Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) failed in resolving the issue. 

Fifth, Communication accesses are denied, and humanitarian aids are blocked. Aid workers are attacked, looted and killed. Further, the conflict ended up in a severe famine affecting four million people.

International responses so far
In April, the United Nations Security Council, for the first time, showed its concerns over the conflict. The Council's press statement on the day addressed the food security issue and called for unfettered humanitarian access to all the people in need. It urged for the continuation of international relief efforts consistent with UN guiding principles of humanitarian emergency assistance. The members of the Council expressed their deep concerns on allegations of human rights violations and called for investigations to bring them to justice. The Council welcomed the joint investigation of the UN Human Rights Commission and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission on the issue. It showed strong support to the regional efforts of the African Union and IGAD.

In July, the UN Human Rights Council approved a new resolution calling for an immediate end to all violations in Tigray. It also called for a mutual ceasefire and withdrawal of the Eritrean troops in a verifiable manner.  

The US, in January, called for the withdrawal of the Eritrean troops and raised its concerns over the humanitarian conditions in the region. In February, it condemned the reports of atrocities and urged the African Union to help in resolving the issue. In May, it made restrictions on visa and economic-security assistance expecting the Ethiopian government to refrain from further atrocities. In May, President Joe Biden called for a ceasefire and to end the large-scale human rights violations. He also showed his concerns over the possibility of famine. 

The EU, in January European Union's foreign affairs ministry, warned that the situation in Tigray is beyond internal law and order operations. It also said it would withhold the USD 106 million budget support for Ethiopia until humanitarian access to Tigray was allowed. In July, the EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrel asked its members to consider imposing sanctions on Ethiopia. He said, "The EU expects the ceasefire declared by the government to be implemented on the ground."

International responses so far: Too little and Too late
United Nations agencies have been giving severe warnings on human rights violations and the impending famine. Considering the depth of the situation and the defective efforts of regional organizations, the UN Security Council should have responded earlier. The Council disregarded the issue leaving it to the regional bodies. The five months of ignorance of the Council should be described as irresponsible and unfair. However, the late concerns ended with statements. Statements expressing concerns and support could not end the conflict.

Big actors like the United States and European Union have not played any role to end the conflict. Instead, they imposed restrictions; it is a bad strategy, that has not worked well. International responses so far have failed to address the roots of the conflict instead tried to control the actions.

The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia will continue till it reaches a political solution. A peaceful political dialogue between the Tigray rebels and the Ethiopian government could only end the hostility. International backup is crucial to hold the mutual negotiation. The international community should have taken the leadership to bring back peace and security in Ethiopia.  

Anu Maria Joseph is a Post Graduate scholar in the Department of Political Science at Madras Christian College, Chennai. She is an intern at the School of Conflict and Security Studies, NIAS, Banglore. Her research interests include ethnic and tribal conflicts in Africa and Afro- European relations in colonial, post-colonial and contemporary periods. Currently, she is working on the changing behaviour of Afro-European relations.

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