Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing on Ethiopia

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
October 6, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. And thank you Secretary-General Guterres for your briefing to us this afternoon.

First and foremost, I want to offer solidarity and support to the United Nations during this trying time as they work to save lives. The United States called for this urgent meeting today given the events that have transpired over the last week. The Ethiopian government’s reckless expulsion of seven key UN officials, including the head of UNICEF, the head of the UN OCHA, and a senior official from the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, are an affront to this Council, to the United Nations and to all Member States, and our shared humanitarian principles.

There is no justification for the Government of Ethiopia’s action. None at all. Nor did the Government of Ethiopia follow the proper process for calling attention to its concerns – as we’ve heard from the Secretary-General today. What could be the justification for expelling the UN focal point responsible for ensuring food and humanitarian assistance reach those who need it? What could be the justification for expelling the UN focal point for the well-being of children in Ethiopia? There is none. And as the Secretary-General made clear, UN personnel cannot be declared persona non grata.

The UN is impartial. The UN is neutral. And in Ethiopia, it is delivering lifesaving aid – including food, medicine, water, sanitation supplies – to all people in desperate need. And it is conducting important human rights investigations, in conjunction with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. UN personnel barred from Ethiopia must be allowed to return immediately. Their work is urgent and some of these dedicated public servants are trying to stop a famine before it’s too late.

The unprecedented expulsion of these UN officials follows a pattern of escalating obstruction. In July, an Emergency Directors Group from headquarters was detained while trying to conduct an assessment mission in Tigray. Three NGOs were suspended shortly thereafter. These actions are calculated to intimidate and silence. But they do not accomplish that goal. Instead, they push starving people to the brink. Conditions in Ethiopia today rival Somalia in 2011 during the onset of the famine. We remember that famine with horror. Over 250,000 people died despite warnings. And it didn’t have to happen. Starvation should never happen. And the famine does not have to happen.

The Government of Ethiopia can choose to reverse course on the expulsion of UN personnel, and all parties to the conflict can immediately facilitate the full and unimpeded access of humanitarian aid. And if these calls for humanitarian access continue to go unheard, then the Security Council must act. We can ensure the UN is allowed to deliver impartial aid. We should immediately consider all tools at our disposal to facilitate this, including a Security Council resolution, to save lives and promote international peace and security.

Our concerns about the situation in Ethiopia go beyond this immediate humanitarian crisis. Three years ago, we were talking about Ethiopia as one of the fastest growing countries in Africa, full of promise and on the cusp of a major economic and political transformation. Less than one year ago, this current situation was going to be a two-week law enforcement action. Now, we’re hearing countless horrific accounts of rape being used as a weapon of war; of violence against civilians; of hunger being used as a tool of war; of famine looming; of UN staff being expelled; Ethiopians killing Ethiopians – thousands by the day. And the conflict is spilling over into the Amhara and Afar regions, creating even more instability and humanitarian need. As the Secretary-General said in his letter to us this week, this conflict is “spiraling out of control.” This is a path Ethiopia’s leaders are choosing – to join the club of the most isolated countries in the international community, to let down their own people.

The United States has repeatedly called for the Ethiopian government and the TPLF, as well as associated regional militias, to end the fighting now, allow humanitarian access, and move toward a negotiated ceasefire immediately and without preconditions. The Council should fully support these efforts too. There is still hope. It is not too late to stop this descent.

The United States believes there must be a political solution to this conflict. We are investing heavily in diplomatic efforts, in partnership with the African Union and the region, to address this crisis and the end the carnage. We also believe there will be no lasting peace in Ethiopia, and the country’s broader project of democratic and economic renewal will not be realized, until there is a wider dialogue – one that includes all Ethiopians – on the future of their state.

So, today’s meeting represents an important step toward addressing the immediate and wider crises in Ethiopia. But it cannot be the last. Make no mistake: The Security Council’s credibility is at stake today here. We must take all appropriate actions to keep civilians safe, to promote accountability for human rights violations and abuses, and deliver humanitarian relief to Ethiopians in dire need. We must all call on the Government of Ethiopia to reverse this expulsion immediately. Time is of the essence; lives are on the line. If ever there was a moment to step up and do our duty, it is now.

Thank you.