Remarks by Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield at a UN Security Council Briefing on Ethiopia and the Situation in Tigray

Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
July 2, 2021


Thank you, Mr. President. And let me start by thanking our esteemed colleague from Estonia for chairing us last month in such an extraordinarily successful way. I’d also like to thank all the briefers for your comprehensive briefing on the ongoing crisis in Tigray. The United States deeply appreciates the work you and your teams have done and that you continue to do. I also want to thank my colleagues on the Council for participating in today’s open briefing.

In recent months, the Council has been briefed and discussed the situation in Tigray privately a half dozen times. We’ve heard from NGOs and UN agencies about vast displacements, countless human rights abuses, hundreds of thousands of people facing famine, the bombing of civilians, the killing and intimidation of humanitarian workers, the systematic rape of women and girls and unspeakable acts of sexual violence, the purposeful obstruction of humanitarian aid, the deliberate destruction of UN communications equipment. Tragically, these stories remain pervasive.

As OCHA told us recently, “tragedies of historic proportions” are taking place in Tigray, and that’s why we called for this meeting today. It’s important for the people of the region to hear our voices and to know they haven’t been forgotten and for the parties to the conflict to know that we are watching. We know that millions of civilians in the region are desperately suffering, and we called for today’s briefing because the conflict needs to end. We need to marshal more funding and scale up the UN response, we need to ensure respect for international humanitarian law and humanitarian access, and we need public accountability for the atrocities that have been committed.

This week, the government unilaterally announced a ceasefire, stating it was doing so for humanitarian purposes. The government must now demonstrate that it truly intends to use the ceasefire to address the humanitarian catastrophe in Tigray. In fact, Ethiopian forces looted the offices of humanitarian aid organizations and destroyed communications equipment as they retreated from Mekelle. And this is beyond acceptable. All equipment looted must be returned.

We have also since learned that one or two – one or more – bridges were destroyed along critical access routes to Tigray. Access by road and by air, which along with electricity, telecoms, banking activity, and fuel supplies are essential to enable aid delivery – these are being denied, and we heard that today from OCHA. Humanitarian workers are reporting that it is more difficult to reach desperate people in Tigray now than it was just a week ago. Such acts, if verified, are not an indication of a humanitarian ceasefire, but of a siege. The Ethiopian government can and should prove this analysis wrong by providing unhindered movement of humanitarian supplies, commodities, and personnel into and throughout Tigray. If they do not, we believe hundreds of thousands of people could starve to death.

Once again: We need access. We need aid. And we need to end the conflict. Instead of further escalation, we need all parties to negotiate a true ceasefire – and then to honor that ceasefire. To be clear, this includes the Tigrayan forces – the TDF – which must also demonstrate that they will abide by international humanitarian law and work peacefully and within legal frameworks toward a peaceful solution. And there is more we need to know about the actions of other forces in the region. For the time being, with the government’s ceasefire declaration in place, we have a precious opportunity. Now is the time to secure peace. Right now.

The members of this Council can help translate this ceasefire declaration – first into a sustainable peace, and then into dialogue, reconciliation, and healing. If the parties to the conflict fail to seize this moment, the consequences for the people of Ethiopia will be devastating. More fighting. More famine. More abuses. More suffering by ordinary Ethiopians. And a far more destabilized Horn of Africa. Further fighting poses a risk to the integrity of the Ethiopian state, and to the stability of the entire region.

A meaningful ceasefire deal would affirm the redeployment of forces and the complete withdrawal of Eritrean troops and Amhara regional forces. It would facilitate unhindered humanitarian access. It would affirm neither the internal nor external borders of Ethiopia will be changed by force and in contravention of the constitution. And it should lay the groundwork for discussions toward political solutions to the crisis.

We must also recognize the wider political context in which this crisis has unfolded – both last month’s national election and the extraordinary transition that began several years ago, but which remains very much unfinished. The United States commends those Ethiopians who exercised their right to vote last month. Elections alone, however, cannot revoke the escalating polarization that has plagued the country. The next step is to move toward genuine political reform. Ethiopians must come together to confront the country’s growing divisions and preserve the future of their rich and dynamic society. And if this dialogue is to succeed – either in the short term or in breaking long-term cycles of violence – all Ethiopians must be able to call it their own.

Equally important will be credible and independent mechanisms for justice and accountability for the atrocities that have been committed. And to that end, we welcome the ongoing investigation by the OHCHR and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. And we strongly support the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Commission of Inquiry as it fully and independently investigates violations, abuses, and atrocities taking place in Ethiopia.

This includes last week’s senseless killing of three Doctors Without Borders workers, which we condemn in the strongest terms. In recent days, I’ve been deeply disturbed to hear from NGOs on the ground about other ways their personnel are being deliberately targeted for harassment and violence. This must stop. And accountability of the perpetrators must be done.

The United States stands ready to assist Ethiopia in solidifying and implementing a ceasefire, providing life-saving humanitarian aid, and resolving this devastating conflict. We’re also standing ready to support the wider, necessary dialogue across Ethiopia, and toward democratic renewal, national unity, and peace. The Security Council should step up to these tasks as well.

We must use this opportunity to protect and save the lives of the people in Tigray as they continue to face famine, displacement, and violence. And we must do everything in our power to bring all Ethiopians together for the future security, stability, prosperity of their country.

Thank you very much.