Tuesday, 11 May 2021
Ceisteanna (Atógáil) - Questions (Resumed) - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
47. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the actions he plans to take on the international stage to put a halt to the support being offered to the Ethiopian Government and Eritrean forces engaged in a systematic campaign of violence in Tigray by the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia, particularly given Ireland’s long partnership with Ethiopia and role on the United Nations Security Council. [24129/21]
What actions does the Minister plan to take on the international stage to put a halt to the humanitarian crisis that has been unfolding in the Tigray region of Ethiopia over the past number of months? It has involved a number of international actors. What actions does the Minister intend to take on the international stage?
I thank the Deputy for asking this question. What has been happening in Tigray is quite shocking. I remain deeply concerned by the ongoing conflict, which has seen many people killed, injured and displaced, and which is feeding into instability across the Horn of Africa.
Since joining the UN Security Council, Ireland has worked consistently to ensure a focus on the conflict in Ethiopia, initiating discussions at the Council in February and March, and leading negotiations that led to the adoption of a press statement on the situation in Tigray on 22 April, the first time the Council has spoken publicly on the crisis. We will work to ensure the Council maintains its focus on this pressing issue.
An immediate ceasefire is the most important step all parties can take. In this regard, it is imperative that Eritrean forces leave Tigray immediately. The humanitarian situation in Tigray continues to be extremely difficult, in particular the situation of internally displaced persons. My Department, through the Irish Aid programme, has so far provided over €3.2 million to support the vital humanitarian response on the ground.
There are multiple credible and harrowing reports of ongoing human rights violations, including, in particular, sexual violence being used as a tool of war in Tigray. I strongly support the work of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, working with the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, to investigate reported atrocities. I continue to engage with a range of key interlocutors in the region and the African Union. There is significant Gulf engagement in the Horn of Africa and I have discussed the situation in Tigray with the foreign minister of the United Arab Emirates.
The EU is also engaging with the Gulf states on the situation. Finland’s foreign minister has visited the region twice on behalf of the EU, including visits to Saudi Arabia and the UAE which examined the ways in which Gulf countries can play a constructive role in addressing the Tigray crisis. Ireland will continue to avail of all opportunities to raise our concerns on the Tigray crisis in our bilateral contacts with Gulf interlocutors and at UN and EU levels.
As the Minister is aware, this is one of the world's gravest humanitarian and human rights crises. He mentioned that sexual violence is being used as a weapon of war, which is absolutely appalling. I welcome the statement by the UN Security Council and the work that went into drafting it but, unfortunately, it did not go far enough because it did not mention the international actors involved in the situation. We see the situation with Eritrea. For the first time on 23 April, there was acknowledgement that Eritrea had troops within the Tigray region. A commitment was made to start withdrawing those troops but that has not happened. I have had a briefing from the former Ethiopian minister for foreign affairs, Berhane Gebre-Christos. He has said that the Eritrean area is being used by Saudi Arabia and the UAE to fly drones into the Tigray area, which has been integral to, and instrumental in, the destruction that has added to the humanitarian crisis and the number of deaths in the area. More action needs to be taken to put pressure on the international actors in this horrific conflict.
In order to get a unanimous statement at the UN Security Council, compromises sometimes have to be made. We had choices to make. We could write a statement that Ireland would have written on its own and to which very few would have been listening, or we could write a statement through negotiation with the other 14 member states, in particular the five permanent member states and the three African members of the Security Council. We did the latter. The statement was strong, particularly on sexual violence, the need for an independent investigation and the need for humanitarian access to all of the Tigray region, which has been hugely problematic. We could not get a clear wording on the need for Eritrean troops to leave into the statement but I, separately, have been publicly vocal on that matter, as has the European Union. We are continuing to work with our colleagues in the European Union to keep the Ethiopian Government in the spotlight in order to ensure it does everything that is appropriate on this issue. Most importantly, we must continue to advocate at all levels for a ceasefire across the board and for a full, independent investigation so we can hold to account the people who have committed crimes against humanity. There is certainly growing evidence, particularly in the case of sexual violence, that crimes have been committed against humanity.
I thank the Minister for the response. Ireland has a key role to play to bring about a ceasefire and a lasting settlement to the conflict in the region, given the considerable humanitarian assistance Ireland has provided to Ethiopia, particularly the Tigray region, over many decades. We have a key role to play in that regard. There is worrying information on the crisis. I have spoken to experienced commentators who say they are convinced that the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, has no intention whatsoever of entering into dialogue with people in Tigray. There are also concerns that the West is afraid to push the Prime Minister too far because there is no one there, effectively, to replace him. There are suggestions that the West is essentially prepared to sacrifice the Tigray region to try to keep the Prime Minister in place. It is worrying. We need to do more and to be more vocal on the Security Council.
I agree with some of what the Deputy has said but strongly disagree with other elements of it. Ireland's relationship with Ethiopia goes back many years. Our development assistance programme and partnerships with Ethiopia are stronger than with any other African country and have been for many years. In fact, we had workers in the Tigray region when the violence started. It is a country we know well and with which we have had a long and strong relationship. That is one of the reasons Ireland is credible in its criticism and its insistence on shining a spotlight on what is happening in the Tigray region. We will continue to do that.
I do not think it is in anybody's interests to see a collapse of the Ethiopian Government. It is a very large country that is broken into many different, quite powerful regions and, therefore, maintaining a government within Ethiopia is important. However, we must ensure that we hold people to account in the context of what has happened in the Tigray region.
Ireland has been very outspoken in that regard.