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SC/14657
6 October 2021
8875th Meeting (PM)

Secretary-General Denounces Ethiopia’s Expulsion of Senior United Nations Officials as Security Council Delegates Differ on Potential Response

Permanent Representative Rejects World Body’s Interference in Sovereign Internal Affair, Says Staff Breached Professional Conduct Standards

Ethiopia is violating international law by expelling United Nations staff, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council today, as the country’s representative vehemently rebutted the claim, stressing that the ousted individuals compromised their impartiality and integrity to the detriment of the host State.

“This unprecedented expulsion should be a matter of deep concern for us all as it relates to the core of relations between the United Nations and Member States,” Mr. Guterres said, referring to Ethiopia’s recent decision to expel seven senior United Nations officials, most of them humanitarian staff leading critical aid operations amid the conflict in Tigray.

“For us, the question is very simple,” Mr. Guterres said in a rare public exchange with Ethiopia’s representative.  The United Nations believes that Ethiopia is not right to expel these individuals.  “We believe Ethiopia is violating international law in doing so.”

Citing an advisory opinion from the Office of Legal Affairs, he said Addis Ababa’s declaration of the officials as “persona non grata” and its demand for their relocation outside its territory is inconsistent with Ethiopia’s obligation under the United Nations Charter and the fundamental principles of international civil service.

The Secretary-General urged the Government to bring any specific issues about the seven individuals to his attention in writing, enabling him to decide whether any actions should be taken.  In other words, “there is a proper, formal procedure — and that procedure was not followed,” he stressed.  The United Nations will continue to play its mandated role, working with the Government and local and international partners to support millions of people in need of assistance in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, and across the country, in full accordance with the Charter and General Assembly resolution 46/182.

Detailing the severity of humanitarian conditions, Mr. Guterres said up to 7 million people in these regions require food assistance and other emergency support.  This figure includes more than 5 million people in Tigray, where an estimated 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions.  He called on Ethiopia to allow the United Nations to do its work without hindrance.  “Dialogue is the foundation for peace,” he declared, urging all sides to grasp the African Union’s peace initiative.  “Peace is the foundation for a stable and prosperous future.”

In response, Ethiopia’s representative expressed “utter surprise” at the convening of today’s meeting, noting that the Security Council should not discuss the decision of a sovereign State exercised within the domain of international law and sovereign prerogative.  Citing numerous other instances of Governments expelling United Nations staff for disclosed or undisclosed reasons, he said he could not recall that the Council ever convening to vindicate such a decision.

United Nations staff must have the “highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity”, he emphasized, adding that integrity — in the context of humanitarian operations — entails adhering to the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.

To be sure, he said, the expelled United Nations staff had “sidelined their oath, the rules of professional conduct, and the principles of humanitarian assistance”.  They executed the conspiracy created by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), generating an image of extreme casualty that warrants “humanitarian intervention”.  Moreover, they openly celebrated and made other United Nations staff cheer the so-called victory of the Liberation Front and withdrawal of the national defence forces from Tigray.  And while the local branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 2.8 million people in need of emergency health assistance, the main humanitarian affairs office was made to report 3.8 million, in order to elevate the crisis to “Level 3”.

As such, he urged the United Nations to deploy new staff who will adhere to their professional code of conduct, demanding that the Organization review all reports, statements and assessments that were produced on the situation in Ethiopia in the past year.  In response to the Secretary-General’s request, he said Ethiopia would submit a written document about the seven expelled individuals.

During their discussion, Council members agreed on the critically urgent necessity to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need, but expressed divergent views on the best way to resolve the issue of United Nations staff expulsion.

The representative of the United States joined several others in a strong condemnation of Ethiopia’s expulsion, describing it as “an affront” to the Council and all Member States.  “There is no justification for this action; none at all,” she said, insisting that the United Nations is neutral and impartial.  Calling on Ethiopia to reverse course, she urged the Council to consider all tools at its disposal, including a resolution.

The Russian Federation’s delegate, however, warned that “toning up international rhetoric and spiralling the humanitarian file” would only hinder mediation efforts.  The issue of Tigray is an internal affair of Ethiopia, which is capable of solving its own problems.  Moreover, threats of Council resolutions, sanctions and the toxic atmosphere created by the media are all counterproductive, she said.  While the decision to expel officials was regrettable, the issue must not be politicized.

Ireland’s representative said her delegation joined others in calling for today’s meeting from a belief that the expulsion should be addressed publicly by the Council.  Ethiopia’s decision undermines its working relationship with the Organization at a time when it needs it most.  The Council had agreed that quiet diplomacy should be given a chance; however, reports of inflammatory and dehumanizing language persist, as do those of conflict-related sexual violence and atrocities, denial of aid access and attacks on humanitarian workers, which may amount to war crimes.

Tunisia’s representative, speaking also for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said concerns regarding the expelled individuals should be thoroughly considered based on substantiated evidence and within a frank and genuine dialogue between Ethiopia and the United Nations.  Discussing these issues publicly may not be constructive in the current circumstances, nor will it alleviate the suffering of the populations affected by the conflict in northern Ethiopia.  Quiet diplomacy is the best option to address this issue, he stressed.

Also speaking today were representatives of Estonia, France, Norway, United Kingdom, China, India, Viet Nam and Mexico.

The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:37 p.m.

Briefing

ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, Secretary-General of the United Nations, recalled that in August, he warned the Council that a humanitarian catastrophe was unfolding in Ethiopia.  Since then, the crisis has worsened.  Up to 7 million people in Tigray, Amhara and Afar are now in need of food assistance and other emergency support.  This includes more than 5 million people in Tigray, where an estimated 400,000 people are living in famine-like conditions.  Humanitarian aid is still not reaching the area at anywhere close to the levels needed.  The only option for road transport into Tigray is along the Afar corridor, where movements are being severely restricted by official and unofficial checkpoints, insecurity and other obstacles.  Citing acute malnutrition rates similar to those at the 2001 onset of famine in Somalia, he drew attention to worrying reports of abuse perpetrated by all sides, including sexual and gender-based violence against women and children.

Describing Ethiopia’s 30 September announcement that it will expel seven senior United Nations officials — most of them humanitarian staff — as “disturbing”, he said “this unprecedented expulsion should be a matter of deep concern for us all as it relates to the core of relations between the United Nations and Member States”.  As expressed in the note verbale from the Office of Legal Affairs to the Permanent Mission of Ethiopia and recently shared with the Council, “a declaration by a State that an official of the United Nations is persona non grata, accompanied by a request or demand that the Secretary-General consequently relocate that official out of its territory, is not consistent with [its] Charter obligations and is inconsistent with the fundamental principles of the international civil service enshrined in the Charter”.

The procedure on such matters is clear, he stressed.  If the Government has any specific issues concerning any individuals, the relevant information should be brought to the attention of the United Nations to enable the Secretary-General to decide whether any appropriate actions should be taken.  In other words, there is a proper, formal procedure — and that procedure was not followed.  The United Nations will continue to play its mandated role and work with the Government of Ethiopia — and with local and international partners — to support millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, and across the country, in full accordance with the United Nations Charter and General Assembly resolution 46/182.

Mr. Guterres went on to call on Ethiopia’s authorities to allow the United Nations to do this without hindrance, and to facilitate its work with the urgency that this situation demands.  This means ensuring that visas for incoming personnel from United Nations entities and from partners are issued quickly.  It also means that personnel inside the country are treated with dignity and respect as they carry out their vital work.

Turning to recent political events, he said that just two days ago, a new Government of Ethiopia led by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was inaugurated.  The mandate conferred by the election carries a responsibility to unite all Ethiopians, focus on the future and return Ethiopia to its place as a strong, unified, stable leader among nations.  The newly inaugurated Government must use this mandate and work with renewed determination to be “a Government for all”, he stressed.

Urging all sides to grasp the peace initiative from the African Union and its High Representative for the Horn of Africa, Olusegun Obasanjo, he said:  “Without peace, the challenges facing Ethiopia will intensify and further destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region and beyond.”  Affirming the obligation to avoid such a dire outcome at all costs, he declared:  “Dialogue is the foundation for peace.  Peace is the foundation for a stable and prosperous future.”

Statements

GERALDINE BYRNE NASON (Ireland) stressed that her delegation joined others in calling for today’s meeting from a belief that the recent expulsion of United Nations officials from Ethiopia should be addressed publicly by the Council.  “It cannot be excused or ignored,” she said.  The blockade of Tigray is costing lives and as the conflict spills into Amhara and Afar, a fully operational, unimpeded and proportionate humanitarian response is needed.  Ethiopia’s decision to expel United Nations staff undermines its working relationship with the Organization at a time when it needs it most, she noted, describing unfounded allegations and the consistent targeting of humanitarian workers as “unacceptable”.  The Council had agreed that quiet diplomacy should be given a chance; however, reports of inflammatory and dehumanizing language persist, as do those of conflict-related sexual violence and atrocities, denial of aid access and attacks on humanitarian workers, which may amount to war crimes.  “Those who commit such violations must be held accountable,” she said, urging all parties to immediately ensure full, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access.  She called for a cessation of hostilities, with Eritrean forces withdrawing from Ethiopia, as well as a political solution to the Tigray crisis, and an Ethiopia-led inclusive national dialogue.

ANDRE LIPAND (Estonia) strongly condemned Ethiopia’s decision to expel seven United Nations officials who were doing essential work to help the Ethiopian people cope with the humanitarian disaster.  “It is essential that the United Nations humanitarian operations are allowed immediately to resume in full capacity in Ethiopia,” he stressed, adding that the expulsion further endangers the work of aid workers in northern Ethiopia, who are already facing violence and harassment.  “It is alarming that only 11 per cent of aid needed has been able to enter the region,” he stressed, urging Ethiopia to ensure sustained access for aid convoys to Tigray, to restore public services in the region and to allow entry of fuel and medical supplies.  Further, he called on the Tigray forces to cease their offensive in Amhara and Afar and to facilitate humanitarian aid to hundreds of thousands of displaced people.  He went on to underline the importance of concluding the joint investigation into allegations of violations, in particular against human rights workers.

NICOLAS DE RIVIÈRE (France) said his country and the European Union will continue to support civilians severely affected by the conflict, as demonstrated by their financial contributions to the humanitarian response in northern Ethiopia, as well as the humanitarian airlift set up by the European Union, France and Italy.  Expressing support for the Secretary-General’s call for a cessation of hostilities, humanitarian access and dialogue, he said reconciliation will be impossible without fighting impunity.  As such, France awaits the report of the joint investigation conducted by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission, due to be published on 1 November.

MONA JUUL (Norway), expressing “shock” at Ethiopia’s expulsion of seven United Nations officials, and profound dismay over its failure to reverse this untenable decision, clarified that the United Nations is not a party to the conflict.  Norway firmly believes in the impartiality and professionalism of United Nations personnel.  To end the catastrophic humanitarian situation in Tigray, Ethiopia’s Government, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and other armed actors must ensure rapid, safe, and unimpeded aid access to the region.  Expressing strong support for the appointment of Nigeria’s former President as the African Union High Representative for the Horn of Africa, she urged the Council to provide, at a bare minimum, unequivocal support for his endeavours, and unified support for the United Nations.  She then called for an immediate ceasefire, political dialogue, unimpeded humanitarian access and an immediate reversal of the expulsion.

BARBARA WOODWARD (United Kingdom) said the strength of international concern about Ethiopia’s decision to expel seven United Nations officials is apparent in that more than 40 countries joined a joint statement delivered by the United Kingdom at the Human Rights Council in Geneva on 4 October.  Her country’s Special Envoy for Famine Prevention and Humanitarian Affairs visited Tigray and Amhara last week and saw first-hand the United Nations efforts to respond to the emergency.  The removal of United Nations personnel will have a direct impact on the ability of the international community to deliver humanitarian assistance.  “Time is of the essence”, she stressed, underscoring the need to move thousands of truckloads of food and medicine, and millions of litres of fuel, into Tigray to avert death on a catastrophic scale before year end.  “It is past time to stop fighting and start talking,” she said, welcoming the African Union’s decision to appoint Mr. Obasanjo as an envoy and expressing full support for him, the African Union and the United Nations.

LINDA THOMAS-GREENFIELD (United States) expressed concern about the “reckless” expulsion of seven United Nations officials, which she characterized as “an affront” to the Council and all Member States.  “There is no justification for this action; none at all,” she stressed.  The United Nations is neutral and impartial and is delivering lifesaving food, water and sanitation supplies to people in need, she said, adding that the officials must be allowed to return.  Observing that such actions, which follow a pattern calculated to intimidate and silence, instead push the starving to the brink.  “It is not too late to stop this descent,” she emphasized, calling on Ethiopia to reverse course and on all parties to facilitate the passage of aid.  Emphasizing the need for a political solution, with the participation of the African Union, she called for an end to the fighting and for movement towards a ceasefire.  The Council’s credibility is at stake, she explained, urging the body to consider all tools at its disposal, including a resolution, to promote accountability and to ensure that civilians are safe, and aid is delivered.

TAREK LADEB (Tunisia), also speaking for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, strongly urged Ethiopia and the United Nations to undertake every effort to resolve differences and return to ensuring that aid is delivered to Ethiopians in desperate need.  The rights of the Ethiopian people to receive aid in this dire emergency are of the highest moral and legal character.  Noting that any concerns pertaining to the expelled individuals must be considered based on substantiated evidence and within a frank and genuine dialogue between both parties, he said “discussing these issues publicly may not be constructive in the current circumstances, nor will it alleviate the suffering of the populations affected by the conflict in northern Ethiopia”.  The hostilities in Amhara and Afar make clear that there is no military solution to the crisis, he said, calling on all parties to cease hostilities and to work towards a comprehensive ceasefire that will pave the way to inclusive dialogue and national reconciliation.  Observing that the African Union has a role to play in helping Ethiopia recover its status as an anchor of regional peace, he supported the engagement of Mr. Obasanjo, representative of the African Union for the Horn of Africa, to promote dialogue and security in the region, particularly in Ethiopia.

ZHANG JUN (China), stressing that humanitarian needs in Tigray continue to grow, called on the international community to expand relief efforts and provide sustained resources.  He acknowledged Ethiopia’s efforts to respond to the humanitarian situation, including by simplifying administrative procedures in multiple locations to allow humanitarian agencies to bring equipment into conflict areas.  He nonetheless expressed regret over the expulsion of seven United Nations officials, stressing that the situation can only be resolved through dialogue.  The priority now is to engage in quiet diplomacy.  He expressed support for the new Government in all its efforts to achieve unity among the Ethiopian people.  Calling for a strengthened relationship between the African Union and the United Nations, he pointed out that unilateral sanctions against Ethiopia and Eritrea are a breach of international law and must be lifted as soon as possible.

T.S. TIRUMURTI (India) said conditions in Ethiopia’s north have been impacted by the conflict that began in November 2020, and the area will continue to need humanitarian supplies in the coming months.  While unaware of the circumstances which led to the expulsion of United Nations officials, India believes that the principles of humanity, neutrality, impartiality and independence must guide any humanitarian action, he said, and that workers must be sensitive to events on the ground when the host State is facing a complex politico-military situation.  Reports that aid has been diverted by armed groups and others, and that several assistance vehicles have not returned from the region must be investigated and corrective measures taken.  It is imperative that the United Nations continues to work closely with Ethiopia.  “They cannot work at cross-purposes,” he said.  Welcoming the formation of a new Government and announcement of an inclusive national dialogue, he urged all sides to support Ethiopia’s call for opening communication channels as a way to build trust.  “Work must begin on the restoration of normalcy in the lives of the people in the affected regions,” he affirmed.  He thus called on Ethiopia to find an amicable political solution, in line with the Constitution.

TRA PHUONG NGUYEN (Viet Nam) pointed out that the crisis in Tigray stems from complicated political, historical and ethnic reasons and requires parties to engage in efforts towards starting an Ethiopian-led political dialogue.  It is high time for a compromise to be made towards a comprehensive solution, sustained stability and development.  The international community, including the Security Council, should support all efforts towards this end, in full respect of the independence, sovereignty, unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia.  The conflict in Tigray has had an impact on the region that require parties to exercise self-restraint, she said, stressing the importance of constantly upholding the principles of non-interference in States’ internal affairs and peaceful dispute settlement.

JUAN GÓMEZ ROBLEDO VERDUZCO (Mexico) said that in a month, it will be one year since the start of the conflict that has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displaced persons and more than 5.1 million people requiring food assistance.  The work of United Nations agencies could mean the difference between life and death for many, he stressed.  When a State gives consent to humanitarian assistance, the parties involved must facilitate unrestricted access, he recalled, adding that the safety of civilians is at stake.  He cited the International Court of Justice ruling in the Nicaragua case (1986) that the provision of strictly humanitarian aid cannot be regarded as unlawful intervention or contrary to international law, stressing that any accusation against the United Nations or its staff must be substantiated by firm evidence and followed up by consultations with the Organization, with the presumption of innocence respected.  Underscoring the need for humanitarian access to Tigray, he said the provision of humanitarian aid must not be politicized and called on all parties to guarantee the unrestricted flow of food, medicines and other goods needed to protect civilians.

ANNA M. EVSTIGNEEVA (Russian Federation) said the conclusion of the electoral process on 4 October signals Ethiopia’s readiness for dialogue.  The Russian Federation considers the Tigray dossier an internal affair of Ethiopia, which is capable of solving its own problems, she said, adding that “toning up international rhetoric and spiralling the humanitarian file” will only hinder mediation efforts.  Moreover, threats of Council resolutions, sanctions and the toxic atmosphere created by the media are all counterproductive.  While the decision to expel officials last week was regrettable, the issue must not be politicized, she said, adding that mutually respectful dialogue can help amicably solve the dispute.  Nonetheless, she echoed concerns about the growing humanitarian needs in the north, where food insecurity pre-existed the crisis, adding that the dire situation in Tigray and neighbouring regions is provoking new flows of internally displaced persons and refugees.  Turning to the situation around the stranded World Food Programme (WFP) trucks in Tigray, she said aid must not be blocked or used for other purposes.  However, all humanitarian assistance must adhere to General Assembly resolution 46/182, international law and national legislation, she said.

TAYE ATSKESELASSIE AMDE (Ethiopia) expressed his “utter surprise” at the convening of today’s meeting, noting that it is incomprehensible for the Council to discuss the decision of a sovereign State exercised within the domain of international law and sovereign prerogative.  Citing numerous instances of Governments expelling United Nations staff for disclosed or undisclosed reasons, he said he could not recall that the Council ever met to vindicate such a decision.  Stressing that the Council should have had the insight to leave the matter to Ethiopia and the United Nations, he said the Government is not under legal obligation to provide justifications or explanations for its decision.  Underlining the basic norms of the United Nations and its humanitarian operations, he drew attention to General Assembly resolution 46/182, which provides that “the sovereignty, territorial integrity and national unity of States must be fully respected, in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations.”

He said United Nations staff must have the “highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity”.  In the context of humanitarian operations, integrity entails adhering to the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.  Explaining that United Nations staff shall neither seek nor accept instructions from any Government nor from any source external to the Organization, and that neither shall they communicate to any Government, entity, person or any other source any information known to them by reason of their official position, he warned that the United Nations staff expelled from Ethiopia “sidelined their oath, the rules of professional conduct and the principles of humanitarian assistance”.  These individuals executed the conspiracy created by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, generating an image of extreme casualty that warrants “humanitarian intervention”.

Outlining reasons for Ethiopia’s decision, he said that while the country branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 2.8 million people in need of emergency health assistance, the main humanitarian affairs office was made to report 3.8 million people, in order to elevate the crisis to “Level 3”.  Two weeks ago, it reported that 12 individuals died of hunger in a camp for internally displaced persons, while the international organization running that camp stated the allegations are “simply false”.  Further, the expelled individuals recorded a United Nations staff meeting and gave a copy to the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, which the group used to back its false allegations.  The individuals openly celebrated and made other United Nations staff cheer the so-called victory of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and withdrawal of the national defence force from Tigray.  Right before their expulsion, they facilitated the deportation of ethnically segregated groups of Ethiopian migrants from Saudi Arabia and their resettlement in third countries so they could be trained and later join the Tigray People’s Liberation Front.

Expulsion was not Ethiopia’s primary course of action.  On 8 July, the Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister had written a letter to the United Nations Secretariat explaining in great detail the misconduct by the United Nations staff that required corrective measures.

He urged the United Nations to deploy new staff who will adhere to their professional code of conduct and to review all reports, statements and assessments produced on the situation over the past year.  These reports and the data and information they contain must be verified.  This audit is necessary to advance the exemplary cooperation between Ethiopia’s Government and the United Nations, he added.

Secretary-General GUTERRES, taking the floor again, said he has cherished an effective operational relationship with Ethiopia and its Prime Minister to the degree that the global media criticized him for being biased in favour of the country.  He asked Ethiopia’s representative to submit to him a copy of any document written by the Government about the seven individuals in question so that he can investigate the claims.  Recalling that he had asked the Prime Minister twice to submit concerns about the impartiality of United Nations staff in writing, he said he has not received any information to date.  “For us, the question is very simple”, he said.  The United Nations believes that Ethiopia is not right to expel its seven members.  “We believe Ethiopia is violating international law in doing so.”  He affirmed that the United Nations wishes to cooperate with Ethiopia because it has only one agenda:  to support the people of Ethiopia — Tigrayans, Amharas, Afars, and Somalis — who have suffered greatly.  The United Nations has no other interest but to stop their suffering.

The representative of Ethiopia replied that he understands “where the Secretary-General’s heart is”, as he has approached this issue with candour.  The Government will make the requested documents available to the Secretary-General’s Office.

For information media. Not an official record.