A week after Ethiopia’s government has ordered the expulsion of seven senior UN officials for “meddling” in its internal affairs, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres claimed on Thursday that the organization does not have a political agenda in Ethiopia and only seeks to provide humanitarian assistance to the people.
According to Guterres, the UN cannot allow people to die because of hunger or military action in the face of the immense crisis and needs to provide access to humanitarian assistance throughout the country, while doing all that it can to put an end to the conflict.
Addressing the Security Council he briefed on the growing needs in the north stemming from the war-ravaged Tigray region, Guterres stressed that all efforts should now be focused on saving lives and avoiding a massive human tragedy
Emphasizing that the “unprecedented expulsion” of the UN staff is deeply concerning since it relates to the core of relations between the UN and Member States, the UN chief demanded proof of the accusations against them raised by Ethiopia.
Addressing the Council himself, Ethiopia’s UN Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie Amde stated that Ethiopia is not legally obliged to provide justifications or explanations for its decisions, stressing that the expelled UN staff sidelined their oath, the rules of professional conduct, and the principles of humanitarian assistance.
He further noted that the expulsion was not Ethiopia’s primary course of action pointing that both the Deputy PM and the Foreign Minister wrote to the UN in July on the issue and warned the UN staff to halt their misconduct, but that the transgressions continued unabated.
On September 30, 2021 the government of Ethiopian declared seven UN workers persona non grata for alleged interfering in the country’s internal affairs and asked them leave the country in 72 hours.
The expulsion was ordered after the humanitarian workers have sounded the alarm about the limited access to the embattled Tigray region of some six million people, with the UN aid chief Martin Griffiths pointing that the nearly three-month-long de-facto blockade has restricted aid deliveries to 10% of what is needed.
Among the expelled UN officials were the UN Children’s Fund’s (UNICEF) representative, the head of the monitoring team of the UNHCR and officials of the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs office.
Hoping to somehow change the mind of the Ethiopian government, Guterres had pursued a quiet, patient diplomacy without saying too much or condemning too much, at least publicly, but to no avail.
The US, on the other side, has strongly condemned Ethiopia’s decision as counterproductive to international efforts to keep civilians safe and deliver lifesaving humanitarian aid, with the Secretary of State Antony Blinken calling for its immediate reversal.
Separately, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki US underscored that the US will impose sanctions related to Ethiopia’s absent significant progress.