July 14, 2024

Withdraw forces from Ethiopia’s Tigray region, Blinken and Guterres tell President Afwerki of Eritrea

United States Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken spoke on Thursday with UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, and both leaders discussed a wide range of issues, including the devastating crisis in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

They called for “an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access” and for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia where a humanitarian blockade is said to be affecting nearly six million people.

“Expressing his grave concern about the intensification of fighting in northern Ethiopia and the risk of mass atrocities, Secretary Blinken underscored the need for an immediate cessation of hostilities, unhindered humanitarian access, good faith engagement in the AU-led talks next week, and for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from northern Ethiopia,” the State Department said in a brief statement.

More broadly, Secretary Blinken and Secretary-General Guterres also emphasized the importance of safeguarding UN principles of sovereignty and territorial integrity, especially in light of Russia’s illegal attempted annexation of Ukraine’s territory.  They also discussed the need for continued UN action to address the urgent security and humanitarian crises in Ukraine and in Haiti. 

The State Department added that Secretary Blinken reiterated the commitment of the United States to strengthening and modernizing the UN system to ensure the organization is equipped to address the world’s most pressing collective challenges, including global health, climate, and food security.

On Wednesday, the Director General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus warned that time was running out to prevent genocide in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

“There is a very narrow window now to prevent genocide in Tigray,” Dr. Ghebreyesus, who is from Tigray, said at a news conference in Geneva, Switzerland.

He said, “I’m running out of diplomatic language for the deliberate targeting of civilians in Tigray, Ethiopia. Earlier this week, the UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said that, I quote, “The situation in Ethiopia is spiralling out of control. The social fabric is being ripped apart and civilians are paying a horrific price. Hostilities in Tigray must end now – including the immediate withdrawal and disengagement of Eritrean armed forces from Ethiopia.” End of quote.

“The United Nations Human Rights Office has received reports of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects due to airstrikes and artillery strikes. Indiscriminate attacks or attacks that deliberately target civilians or civilian objects amount to war crimes.

“There is no other situation globally in which 6 million people have been kept under siege for almost two years. Banking, fuel, food, electricity and health care are being used as weapons of war. Media is also not allowed and destruction of civilians is done in darkness.

“Even people who have money are starving because they can’t access it. Children are dying every day from malnutrition. There are no services for tuberculosis, HIV, diabetes, hypertension and more – those diseases, which are treatable elsewhere, are now a death sentence in Tigray. Yes, I’m from Tigray, and yes, this affects me personally. I don’t pretend it doesn’t. Most of my relatives are in the most affected areas, more than 90% of them.

“But my job is to draw the world’s attention to crises that threaten the health of people wherever they are. This is a health crisis for 6 million people, and the world is not paying enough attention. I urge the international community and the media to give this crisis the attention it deserves. There is a very narrow window now to prevent genocide in Tigray.”

In the past few days, the United States, the United Nations, the African Union, the World Health Organization and several other organizations and actors have been warning against the worsening humanitarian situation in Ethiopia, including the devastating impact of Ethiopian federal government airstrikes on Tigray.

On Monday, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres warned that “the situation in Ethiopia is spiraling out of control” and “violence and destruction have reached alarming levels,” while the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned on Tuesday that the latest alarming airstrikes on the Tigray region risk seriously exacerbating the already devastating impact of hostilities on civilians.

Guterres, speaking at the United Nations in New York City, called for an urgent resumption of talks between the government of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali and the Tigray’s People Liberation Front (TPLF).

“The United Nations is ready to support the African Union in every possible way to end this nightmare for the Ethiopian people,” Guterres said.

AU-led talks between both parties were due to take place in South Africa earlier this month but were postponed because of technical and logistical issues.

In his own statement on Sunday, AU Commissioner Moussa Faki Mahamat expressed grave concern over fighting and called for an “immediate, unconditional cease-fire and the resumption of humanitarian services.”

Mahamat called on all parties to “to recommit to dialogue as per their agreement to direct talks to be convened in South Africa by a high-level team led by the AU High Representative for the Horn of Africa and supported by the international community.”

According to Ravina Shamdasani, Spokesperson, Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk warned that the latest airstrikes on the Tigray region “risk seriously exacerbating the already devastating impact of hostilities on civilians.”

“Since 31 of August, we have received numerous reports of civilian casualties and destruction of civilian objects due to airstrikes and artillery strikes in Tigray,” Shamdasani said at a news briefing.

Tigrayan protesters on Friday confronted an Ethiopian official at the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank Annual Meetings in Washington over what they described as ‘genocide’ in Ethiopia’s Tigray region.

The protesters surrounded the unnamed Ethiopian official and told him to go back home, accusing him of representing a government perpetrating ‘genocide’ in Tigray.

The official rushed to the entrance of the IMF building and crossed the police line, as the protesters hurled insults at him, chanting and brandishing placards.

It was the second time in two days that Tigrayans had protested at the headquarters of the IMF and the World Bank Group in Washington D.C., United States, to demand the expulsion of Ethiopian and Eritrean delegations from the 2022 Annual Meetings which began on Monday, and send a clear message to authorities here that financial assistance to, or loan requests from both nations should not be granted as the money may be used to fund what they described as ‘genocide’ in Tigray.

The protesters, carrying placards, accused the international community and financial institutions such as the World Bank and the IMF of paying lip service to the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis unfolding in Tigray, a region in northern Ethiopia, where a devastating blockade imposed by the governments of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed Ali of Ethiopia, and President Isaias Afwerki of Eritrea, has sealed off close to six million people for about 22 months, according to the United Nations, the World Health Organization, and other humanitarian agencies that have been monitoring the situation in the Horn of Africa.

The second day of protests in Washington came as Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken released a statement, saying that the United States was ‘deeply concerned’ over reports of increasing violence, loss of life, indiscriminate targeting of civilians, and destruction in the conflict in northern Ethiopia, particularly around Shire in the Tigray region. 

‘We call on the Ethiopian National Defense Forces and Eritrean Defense Forces to immediately halt their joint military offensive and for Eritrea to withdraw its forces from northern Ethiopia.  We further call on the Tigrayan Defense Forces to cease provocative actions.  The fighting since the August 24 operation by the Tigrayan Defense Forces near Kobo in the Amhara Region contributed to the return to hostilities, which greatly increases the risk of atrocities and further human rights abuses,” Blinken said.

He added, “It is incumbent on all armed actors to respect and protect civilians, and we call on them to allow unhindered humanitarian access to all Ethiopians in need. We reiterate that the government of Ethiopia and Tigray regional authorities should immediately cease all hostilities and participate seriously in the forthcoming African Union-led peace talks.  The United States is fully engaged with the African Union, the governments of Kenya and South Africa, and other international and regional partners to organize and mediate peace talks as soon as possible.”

US aid chief Samantha Power said on Sunday that she is “alarmed by the escalating risk for widespread atrocities and violence against civilians in Northern Ethiopia, as well as recent attacks by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF) and Eritrean Defense Forces (EDF) in the city of Shire.”

“The Tigray Defense Front’s (TDF) provocative actions in the Amhara region are only deepening the acute threat to civilians,” Power, who is the Administrator of the US Agency for International Development added.

In her statement, she wrote, “For nearly two years, civilians have overwhelmingly borne the costs of this conflict. The collapse of a truce has led to renewed fighting and the shuttering of humanitarian corridors that represent the only lifeline to nine million people in dire need of food – as many as one million people are teetering on the edge of famine. The severely malnourished will start dying at alarming rates without humanitarian assistance – especially children under five. 

“The conflict has also driven nearly 2.5 million people – the vast majority of them women and children – from their homes, as airstrikes fall upon schools, hospitals, and civilian infrastructure. Many of those fleeing to internally displaced peoples camps for safety are finding that those camps too have fallen under attack. On October 5, an indiscriminate airstrike on a school and displacement site killed more than 50 people, including children, and an aid worker has died as a result of indirect fire that landed near a food distribution site in Shire. 

“Humanitarian aid workers are providing vital assistance in the region and must be safe to continue their work. I offer my condolences to the International Rescue Committee following the death of one of their staff and condemn the attacks on both humanitarian aid workers and civilians.

“The staggering human cost of this conflict should shock the world’s conscience. We must continue to bring pressure to bear on all parties to agree to an immediate ceasefire and for the opening of humanitarian corridors, withdrawal of EDF forces from Ethiopian territory, and for African Union-led talks to start as soon as possible with the aim of permanently stopping the bloodshed and reaching a comprehensive political settlement.”

In a tweet on Saturday, the head of the World Health Organization, Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, warned that civilians were being killed by Ethiopian and Eritrean bombs in Tigray, adding that the wounded that could have been saved are also dying due to lack of treatment.

He wrote, “Eritrean and Ethiopian forces carpet bombing #Tigray cities almost daily. Civilians are being killed and the wounded that could have been saved are dying due to lack of treatment and urgently needed care. The siege must end and humanitarian aid allowed in.”

Dr. Ghebreyesus, a Tigrayan who once occupied high profile positions in Ethiopia, has been vocal against the war in Tigray and called on the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments to the lift the humanitarian blockade that has sealed off nearly six million people in Tigray.

Diplomatic efforts by the United States Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa Michael hammer and the African Union Special Envoy for the Horn of Africa, former Nigerian President Olusegun Obasanjo, have not been successful.

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