Thursday, 18 November 2021
Ceisteanna - Questions - Ceisteanna ar Sonraíodh Uain Dóibh - Priority Questions
5. To ask the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade the efforts that are being made at EU level and the United Nations Security Council to bring an end to the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia particularly given the risk of famine; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [56752/21]
What efforts are being taken at EU and Security Council levels to bring an end to the conflict in Ethiopia, especially in the Tigray region? What measures are being taken to ensure that humanitarian access is being delivered, unimpeded, to the estimated 400,000 people in the region who are facing crisis and famine conditions?
I am gravely concerned by the worsening situation in Tigray and other parts of Ethiopia, including the recent escalation in military operations and declarations of a state of emergency, which are magnifying the ongoing humanitarian crisis. These developments are deeply worrying for the people of Ethiopia and raise questions regarding the stability of the Horn of Africa region as a whole.
Through our bilateral engagements, as well as in the EU and at the UN Security Council, Ireland continues to advocate for urgent and unimpeded humanitarian access, a negotiated ceasefire and political dialogue aimed at resolving the conflict. Accountability for violations of international law committed by all parties, including as described in the recent Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission joint report, is essential.
There has been a shocking rise in hate speech, arbitrary arrests and detentions, including of UN staff, and other acts likely to fuel further tension. Human rights, democracy and fundamental freedoms are universal and inalienable values that states must uphold. No individual should be deprived of their liberty without legal authority or without necessary procedural protections. Reason for detention must be provided promptly to those affected, in addition to access to legal counsel and the right to have the lawfulness of the detention reviewed by a court. If not, those detained should be released.
It is clear there can be no military solution to this crisis. I strongly support the efforts of African Union envoy, former Nigerian President Obasanjo, and key regional actors, to mediate a way forward. Ireland has been to the fore of efforts to address the conflict at the Security Council. On 5 November, we secured agreement on the first council statement in six months on the situation, which called for a cessation of hostilities and ceasefire negotiations, alongside respect of international humanitarian law, safe and unhindered humanitarian access, the re-establishment of public services and the scaling up of humanitarian assistance.
I continue to push for a strong and constructive EU response to the crisis. At the Foreign Affairs Council meeting in October, and again earlier this week, I emphasised the need to ensure humanitarian access, to halt the fighting and to incentivise dialogue, including through possible use of restrictive measures, if required. As the government blockade-----
I share the serious concerns about what is facing people in Ethiopia, especially Tigray. A litany of abuse is being inflicted on the people there, not just by Ethiopian forces but foreign forces, namely, Eritrean. It has resulted in the displacement of millions of Ethiopians and famine conditions directly impacting more than 400,000 people. We have seen the mass arrests of Tigrayan people, including the arrest this week of 16 UN employees. These detainees are being left without food or bedding and have been subjected to mistreatment by Ethiopian forces.
The Minister will be aware that the US recently imposed sanctions on the Eritrean military for its involvement in the region. What measures is the EU currently considering to impose similar sanctions, or other measures, on foreign forces directly implicated in this conflict?
I have said that I support the US decision to impose target sanctions on individuals. I raised this issue at the Foreign Affairs Council meeting when we discussed Ethiopia on Monday. The EU does not have a collective position on that yet, but is examining its options. The EU has significant influence in Ethiopia. It spends an enormous amount there, with the Ethiopian Government, and is looking at using its influence in every way it can to, first, bring about a ceasefire, a political negotiation and, perhaps most important, humanitarian access for people who need it. Famine-like conditions are now being reported in Tigray for more than 6.5 million people in northern Ethiopia who are in need of humanitarian assistance. We have provided approximately €4.5 million in humanitarian aid for refugees in Tigray and the Amhara region and for neighbouring Sudan.
Ireland will continue to advocate in this space. In fact, I was due to travel to Addis Ababa the week after next. I am not sure whether that travel will be facilitated now, but Ireland is very much in the middle of this discussion at UN and EU level.
Given our strong involvement in the Tigray region and Ethiopia over many decades, we have a key role in trying to bring about a lasting and peaceful solution in the region. What relationship does Ireland currently have with the Ethiopian authorities? In March, there was an issue regarding the Ethiopian ambassador to Ireland being recalled. It was reported in September that Ethiopia was going to close its embassy in Ireland. Has that happened? What relationship is there currently with the Ethiopian Government and its representatives in Ireland? It is quite concerning, if those reports have translated into reality on the ground. When the Ethiopian ambassador to Ireland was withdrawn in March, my view was that it was a direct result of our positive engagement, it has to be said, at Security Council level in trying to get a statement, which I appreciate was very difficult even at that stage. If the Ethiopian authorities have escalated matters to a stage where they are threatening to close, or have closed, their embassy in Ireland, that is deeply concerning.
As we have been very vocal on this issue, that has created some tension, although I had a long and constructive, if direct, meeting with Ethiopia's Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs in New York in September. Ireland has made it its business on the Security Council to raise concern and to shine a spotlight on this issue. We are very concerned about the future of Ethiopia. It is possible that Ethiopia, a country of 115 million people, could fracture causing enormous instability in the Horn of Africa, not least to its closest neighbours. We want stability. We do not want a fracturing of politics, regions and peoples in Ethiopia.
We want the country to stay together. We believe there is no military solution to the current conflict, so we want dialogue. We also demand humanitarian access for people who desperately need it from the international community. That has been blocked by what is effectively a blockade for many months. This is not about taking sides but about calling out breaches of international law and international humanitarian law, and doing what we were elected to the UN Security Council to do for conflicts such as this.