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Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield: Why U.S. called for urgent UN meeting on Ethiopia

UN is impartial and neutral, and the people expelled were conducting human rights investigations and delivering lifesaving aid

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Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield told reporters on Wednesday that the US called for the UN meeting on Ethiopia because the decision by the Ethiopian government to expel UN workers is “an affront.”

“We called for today’s urgent meeting because of the Ethiopian Government’s reckless expulsion of seven key UN officials, including the head of UNICEF, the head of the UN OCHA, and a senior official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. These expulsions are an affront. They are an affront to the Council, they are an affront to the UN, and they are an affront to United Nations Member States and our shared humanitarian principles. As I said in the meeting, there is simply no justification for these actions,” said Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield in remarks  at a UN Security Council Stakeout Following a Briefing on Ethiopia.

Abiy Ahmed
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali

She said the United Nations is impartial and neutral, and the people expelled were conducting important human rights investigations and delivering lifesaving aid.

“UN personnel must be allowed to return immediately to conduct their urgent work – including trying to stop a potentially devastating and unnecessary famine,” she said before taking questions from reporters.

READ – Full Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Stakeout Following a Briefing on Ethiopia 

Linda Thomas-Greenfield (left)
Linda Thomas-Greenfield (left)

AMBASSADOR LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you all. I just have a brief statement and I’ll take a couple of questions. And let me begin by offering my strongest – in fact, the strongest solidarity possible from the United States to the United Nations and its staff worldwide. 

We called for today’s urgent meeting because of the Ethiopian Government’s reckless expulsion of seven key UN officials, including the head of UNICEF, the head of the UN OCHA, and a senior official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. These expulsions are an affront. They are an affront to the Council, they are an affront to the UN, and they are an affront to United Nations Member States and our shared humanitarian principles. As I said in the meeting, there is simply no justification for these actions.  

The UN is impartial and neutral. These groups are conducting important human rights investigations. And they are delivering lifesaving aid. UN personnel must be allowed to return immediately to conduct their urgent work – including trying to stop a potentially devastating and unnecessary famine. 

These are self-inflicted wounds. And they reflect how, more broadly, this is a conflict where Ethiopians are killing Ethiopians. Where Ethiopians are raping Ethiopians. It is Ethiopia’s leaders who are letting down the Ethiopian people.  

Three years ago, we were talking about Ethiopia as one of the fastest-growing countries in Africa, a country full of promise and on the cusp of a major democratic and economic transformation. We were excited because Ethiopia looked like it might become the bedrock of Africa’s optimistic future. One year ago, or a little less, we were told that the current situation would be a two-week law enforcement action. Now we’re talking about terrible violence. We’re talking about mass famine. Rape being used as a weapon of war.  

And I want to make something clear: it is not too late to stop this descent. It is not too late to prevent the famine, to get Ethiopia back on track, to save lives. There is still hope. We need a ceasefire that brings all parties to the table to find a peaceful way forward, so that Ethiopians can return to the future we know it can have and that its children deserve. The government needs to allow for the resumption of services to northern Ethiopia. 

There will be no lasting peace in Ethiopia, and the country’s broader project of democratic and economic renewal will not be realized, until there is a wider dialogue – one that includes all Ethiopians – on the future of that state. It is time for Ethiopian leaders to do the right things for the people of Ethiopia.  

Thank you. I will take a couple of questions.  

MODERATOR: Michelle. 

QUESTION: Thank you. Thanks, Ambassador. Michelle Nichols from Reuters.  

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Hi, Michelle. 

QUESTION: Given what we just heard in the Council from some of your colleagues, it doesn’t look like any Council action is imminent. So, what’s the U.S. planning to do? Are you going to impose sanctions soon on Ethiopia?  

And if I could just on Afghanistan, we heard earlier from the Afghanistan director of WFP warning about the collapse of the Afghan economy if there’s no sort of injection of cash. What is the U.S. doing to try and kickstart the Afghan economy? 

Thanks. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Well, first on the question of Ethiopia, I think the fact of the Council meeting today and speaking directly to the Ethiopians was an action. And believe me, it was not an action that was easy to take, but we were able to bring the Council together in unity to speak about the situation in Ethiopia and have the Secretary-General speak about the situation in Ethiopia, and we called upon the government to reverse its decision and we called on the government to move forward on a ceasefire and look for a way forward.  

In terms of the United States, we do have tools at our disposal. You may have noted in my statement I suggested it could be that we do a resolution, but also we – as you know, we – the President signed an executive order a couple of weeks ago that gives us the possibility of putting sanctions against individuals for gross violations of human rights and blocking of humanitarian assistance, and that is available for our use when we need it. 

On the situation in Ethiopia*, it is not the U.S. Government’s responsibility, but we have to work together as the international community to find a way to support Afghanistan moving forward. But I also will add that it is also the responsibility of the Taliban to provide an enabling environment that allows for the world to provide them with that assistance. We continue to provide humanitarian assistance to Afghanistan, and we have worked to find ways around the sanctions regime to ensure that humanitarian assistance continues to flow into the country, and we will look forward to working with others in the international community to see what we can do to support the people of Afghanistan moving forward.  

MODERATOR: James. 

QUESTION: James Bays, Al Jazeera. Can I ask you about the new allegations that were made there by the Ethiopian ambassador to justify the expulsions? He said that UN officials had inflated and falsified data, even made-up deaths. What is your response to those allegations? 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: You heard what the Secretary-General said in response to those allegations. It’s our first time hearing them. The Secretary-General asked for evidence. He asked for evidence that the Ethiopian Government had brought any of these allegations to the attention of the United Nations, and none of us have seen that. And as a UN Security Council member and a UN Member State, we, too, want to see those allegations and to see where they’re coming from. And the fact that you noted they are new allegations – they weren’t even lodged prior to the seven individuals being kicked out – raises some concerns in my mind about those. 

MODERATOR: Thank you. That’s all we have time for today. 

AMBASSADOR THOMAS-GREENFIELD: Thank you. 

QUESTION: Thank you, Ambassador. 

Simon Ateba

Simon Ateba is Chief White House Correspondent for Today News Africa. Simon covers President Joe Biden, Vice President Kamala Harris, the U.S. government, the United Nations, the International Monetary Fund, the World Bank and other financial and international institutions in Washington D.C. and New York City.

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