Remarks at a UN Security Council Briefing on Ethiopia and the Situation in Tigray

Ambassador Richard Mills
U.S. Deputy Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
August 26, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. And let me begin by thanking those that have offered condolences to the victims of the evil and cruel terrorist act this morning at the Kabul airport. It is much appreciated. And thank you, Secretary-General Guterres, for your insightful – and as my Irish colleague said, however, disturbing – briefing, today.

In our last session on Ethiopia and the situation in Tigray on July 2, the United States, Ireland, and the United Kingdom called for public discussion in the Security Council focused on protection of civilians. We called then for a negotiated ceasefire and unfettered humanitarian access, and we called, more broadly, for a national political dialogue that would be inclusive of all Ethiopians. Since then, no progress has been made on any of these fronts. None.

As we have heard from the Secretary-General, the military confrontation has escalated. The Ethiopian government has not responded positively to proposals for negotiations. Instead, it has publicly called for the mobilization of militia. The TPLF, meanwhile, has expanded its own military campaign into the Afar and Amhara regions. Ongoing TPLF military operations in these regions are displacing hundreds of thousands of civilians. And this, too, must stop immediately. Eritrean Defense Forces have re-entered Tigray. And reports indicate that military alliances among armed groups in other regions risk sparking a wider war in Ethiopia. And instead of striving to create space for negotiations and for dialogue, leaders on all sides have used inflammatory rhetoric that is increasing polarization along ethnic lines.

This is all gravely concerning to all of us. These developments are eroding the unity, the sovereignty, and the territorial integrity of the Ethiopian state. The United States is particularly concerned by reports of ongoing violence in the Tigray region and other parts of northern Ethiopia, including attacks against women and children. The Ethiopian government and the TPLF, as well as associated regional militias, must end the fighting now, allow humanitarian access, and move toward a negotiated ceasefire immediately and without preconditions. Eritrean Defense Forces meanwhile must refrain from further increasing or regionalizing the conflict.

Today, I would like to focus on these three concerns: the dire humanitarian situation, the need for immediate negotiations toward a sustainable ceasefire, and the withdrawal of Eritrean forces.

First, contrary to its public commitments, the Ethiopian government and regional authorities continue to cut off Tigray, with limited entry of humanitarian goods or personnel. This withholding of humanitarian aid, particularly food, is leading to unnecessary death and untold human suffering. Last week, after repeated warnings, aid agencies ran out of food stocks in their warehouses in Tigray. This comes after all of us were told over the last three months about famine conditions in Tigray. Millions are at high risk of food insecurity in northern Ethiopia, and of those, hundreds of thousands are estimated to be at risk of starvation in Tigray.

The heroes that are trying to fend off this starvation – the humanitarian workers – are, as we heard, being targeted and killed simply for providing aid to those who are in need. Despite a small increase in convoys and flights entering Tigray, we estimate that just seven percent of the needed humanitarian supplies were able to reach Tigray over the past month. And that statistic is based on the World Food Program’s projection of what is needed and the Ethiopian government’s own reporting on how many trucks have gotten through.

Let’s be clear: this shortage is not because food is unavailable. It is because the Ethiopian government is still limiting humanitarian aid and personnel, including land convoys and air access. We are troubled by disturbing reports that the Ethiopian government is intentionally withholding humanitarian assistance to starving Ethiopians, and these impediments to the movement of humanitarian supplies must be removed immediately, and trucks must be allowed to enter and deliver lifesaving assistance to Tigray. If these impediments continue, large numbers of people will starve to death and many more will die from disease.

This Council was very clear when we passed Resolution 2417 in 2018: the denial of humanitarian access and depriving civilians of objects indispensable to their survival is a violation of international humanitarian law and can constitute a war crime. Mr. President, Council Members: This is happening on our watch.

The impediment to the movement of humanitarian supplies is not the only humanitarian crisis in the country. We are also alarmed by reports of reprehensible attacks against Eritrean refugees. One humanitarian worker was killed by TPLF forces in Amhara region last week, and humanitarians have observed the looting of NGO offices and warehouses by the TPLF, with the supplies being taken into Tigray. This is utterly unacceptable. These humanitarians are there to save lives. They must be protected. The trajectory of this conflict of the last ten months demands continued Security Council action.

Second, Mr. President, the United States remains deeply concerned about the role of Eritrea in fueling the ongoing crisis. The presence of the Eritrean Defense Forces in Ethiopia remains a significant barrier to ceasefire negotiations and to political resolution of the conflict. The evidence is overwhelming that Eritrean Defense Forces engaged in a pattern of serious human rights abuse in Tigray. So earlier this week, the United States designated the EDF Chief of Staff Major General pursuant to Executive Order 13818, which builds upon and implements the Global Magnitsky Human Rights Accountability Act. To avoid additional measures from the United States, the EDF must immediately and permanently withdraw from northern Ethiopia.

And this leads to my final point: with all this suffering and this instability, it is clear that the fighting and abuses by all parties to the conflict must cease. Negotiations for a ceasefire and political discussion on a way forward must commence immediately. Given this magnitude of unspeakable suffering, the Security Council has come together, and I think we are making clear to all parties to this conflict: There is no military solution. I want to reiterate the Secretary-General’s call today, for all parties to the conflict to halt offensives, come to the table without preconditions, and negotiate a lasting ceasefire. Without the Ethiopian government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s commitment to both unimpeded access and a negotiated ceasefire, the fighting will continue, more civilians will die.

So, the United States welcomes your personal engagement, Mr. Secretary-General, and your leadership to initiate dialogue toward resolution to this conflict. To this end, we encourage you to work closely with the African Union, and with regional and international partners, with the full backing of this Council.

Let me conclude by saying, the United States is committed to supporting the people of Ethiopia and of the wider region as they work to resolve these challenges, as they work to overcome current divisions. The ties between the United States and Ethiopia are deep and historic. There is a reason Ethiopia is the largest recipient of U.S. humanitarian and development assistance in the world. We stand with the Ethiopian people. They deserve to live in peace with each other and to lead healthier, more resilient, and prosperous lives.

Thank you, Mr. President.