U.S. Ambassador to UN says humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia’s Tigray region is “unacceptable” and “unconscionable”

The United States Ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, on Thursday, described as “unacceptable” and “unconscionable” the humanitarian catastrophe in Ethiopia’s Tigray region since a conflict exploded there in November last year.

“The humanitarian situation in Tigray is a moment of truth for the international community. Thousands of people in Ethiopia have been killed, injured, or horrifically abused or violated during this crisis. Hospitals, farms, and other vital infrastructure has been purposefully destroyed. Millions have been forced to abandon their home, leading to what is a man-made humanitarian emergency – and I use that very explicitly: a man-made humanitarian emergency. This is unacceptable,” Thomas-Greenfield said in remarks she delivered at a U.S.-EU-hosted high-level roundtable on the humanitarian emergency in Tigray.

Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, right, and Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, in Addis Ababa on Saturday.Credit...Tiksa Negeri/Reuters 
Eritrea’s president, Isaias Afwerki, right, and Ethiopia’s prime minister, Abiy Ahmed, in Addis Ababa on Saturday.Credit…Tiksa Negeri/Reuters

She warned that famine may already be happening in certain areas, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands.

“It’s unconscionable. Especially in the very place that woke the modern world up to the scourge of hunger,” Thomas-Greenfield said, recalling that “the Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s led to hundreds of thousands of people starving to death.”

Read her full remarks below

“I guess that’s where we’ll start now is just by saying I feel like we’ve been muted for the past seven months on Tigray. But, again, where I started is to thank you, Nima, and to welcome everyone to the U.S.-EU High-Level Roundtable on the Humanitarian Emergency. And I’m honored to be joined by my colleagues from the U.S. government, the European Union, the United Nations, as well as civil society.  I’m also saddened to be here today. I’m saddened by what has brought all of us into this room.  

“On Monday, Reuters reported first-hand stories of victims in Tigray. One Tigrayan woman – a coffee seller in a Sudanese refugee camp – said an Ethiopian soldier gave her an ultimatum when he caught her fleeing her home: “Either I kill you or I rape you.” This report is just one of many we’ve heard over the past six months since the situation started.  

“The humanitarian situation in Tigray is a moment of truth for the international community. Thousands of people in Ethiopia have been killed, injured, or horrifically abused or violated during this crisis. Hospitals, farms, and other vital infrastructure has been purposefully destroyed. Millions have been forced to abandon their home, leading to what is a man-made humanitarian emergency – and I use that very explicitly: a man-made humanitarian emergency. This is unacceptable.  

Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia's Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene) 
Eritrean President Isaias Afwerkii is welcomed by Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed upon his arrival at Addis Ababa International Airport, Ethiopia, Saturday, July 14, 2018. (AP Photo Mulugeta Ayene)

“Famine may already be happening in certain areas, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands. It’s unconscionable. Especially in the very place that woke the modern world up to the scourge of hunger. The Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s led to hundreds of thousands of people starving to death. We all remember the pictures that we saw of emaciated starving people on CNN. Today, an estimated 90 percent of people in Tigray are now in desperate need of assistance. Hundreds of thousands more may be in famine conditions by September. A second failed harvesting season, which will very likely happen, would kill countless people. We are witnessing a humanitarian nightmare. This is not the kind of disaster that can be reversed.  

“We cannot make the same mistake twice. We cannot let Ethiopia starve. We have to act now. And yet, despite the best efforts of many members of the Security Council – and sadly due to the impediments placed in front of us by some Council members – the Council still has not yet held a single – a single – public meeting or taken necessary action to address the human rights and humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing. What are we afraid of? What are we trying to hide? The Security Council’s failure is unacceptable. We have addressed other emergent crises with public meetings. But not with this one. So, I ask those who refuse to address this issue publicly: Do African lives not matter? It’s time for the Security Council to have a public meeting on this issue. It’s time for the Council to take meaningful action to address the crisis. And it’s time for the Ethiopian government to respond responsibly to requests for humanitarian access, to end the fighting, and hold those accountable for the violations that have occurred. It’s time for the broader international communities to step up, too, and prevent another famine.   

“Sadly, however, the current humanitarian response is woefully underfunded, with shocking gaps in all sectors. So, the United States – as the largest bilateral donor for the humanitarian response in Ethiopia – is calling on other donors to rapidly and collectively support the UN scale up. We need everyone’s support for an urgent, multi-sector response to meet basic needs, including food and nutrition, health care, shelter, protection, and clean water.   

“As President Biden said in his statement last week – and will tell the G7 counterparts tomorrow – families of every background and ethnicity, every heritage deserves to live in peace and security.   

“And political wounds cannot be healed through force of arms. After all, the backdrop of this devastating situation in Tigray is the unfolding historic transition in Ethiopia. If this political transition is to succeed – if it will indeed deliver a more prosperous future for Ethiopia’s 110 million citizens – then the country’s leaders must draw on the democratic aspirations of all Ethiopians. They must allow Ethiopians to come together, though inclusive dialogue, to build a shared vision for the country’s future. And in the meantime, the international community must do our part to prevent suffering and to promote peace.   

“The United States is committed to helping the Ethiopian people. And I look forward to hearing from today’s distinguished speakers, in the hopes that this event serves as a springboard for action, and bring an end to the carnage that we’re all witnessing day-to-day in Ethiopia.”  

Chief White House Correspondent for

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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