Peace and security in Africa - Security Council, 8875th Meeting
Permanent Representative Rejects World Body’s Interference in Sovereign Internal Affair, Says Staff Breached Professional Conduct Standards
Ethiopia is violating international law by expelling United Nations staff, Secretary-General António Guterres told the Security Council today, as the country’s representative vehemently rebutted the claim, stressing that the ousted individuals compromised their impartiality and integrity to the detriment of the host State.
“This unprecedented expulsion should be a matter of deep concern for us all as it relates to the core of relations between the United Nations and Member States,” Mr. Guterres said, referring to Ethiopia’s recent decision to expel seven senior United Nations officials, most of them humanitarian staff leading critical aid operations amid the conflict in Tigray.
“For us, the question is very simple,” Mr. Guterres said in a rare public exchange with Ethiopia’s representative. The United Nations believes that Ethiopia is not right to expel these individuals. “We believe Ethiopia is violating international law in doing so.”
Citing an advisory opinion from the Office of Legal Affairs, he said Addis Ababa’s declaration of the officials as “persona non grata” and its demand for their relocation outside its territory is inconsistent with Ethiopia’s obligation under the United Nations Charter and the fundamental principles of international civil service.
The Secretary-General urged the Government to bring any specific issues about the seven individuals to his attention in writing, enabling him to decide whether any actions should be taken. In other words, “there is a proper, formal procedure — and that procedure was not followed,” he stressed. The United Nations will continue to play its mandated role, working with the Government and local and international partners to support millions of people in need of assistance in Tigray, Amhara and Afar, and across the country, in full accordance with the Charter and General Assembly resolution 46/182.
Detailing the severity of humanitarian conditions, Mr. Guterres said up to 7 million people in these regions require food assistance and other emergency support. This figure includes more than 5 million people in Tigray, where an estimated 400,000 are living in famine-like conditions. He called on Ethiopia to allow the United Nations to do its work without hindrance. “Dialogue is the foundation for peace,” he declared, urging all sides to grasp the African Union’s peace initiative. “Peace is the foundation for a stable and prosperous future.”
In response, Ethiopia’s representative expressed “utter surprise” at the convening of today’s meeting, noting that the Security Council should not discuss the decision of a sovereign State exercised within the domain of international law and sovereign prerogative. Citing numerous other instances of Governments expelling United Nations staff for disclosed or undisclosed reasons, he said he could not recall that the Council ever convened to vindicate such a decision.
United Nations staff must have the “highest standards of efficiency, competence and integrity”, he emphasized, adding that integrity — in the context of humanitarian operations — entails adhering to the principles of neutrality, impartiality, humanity and independence.
To be sure, he said, the expelled United Nations staff had “sidelined their oath, the rules of professional conduct, and the principles of humanitarian assistance”. They executed the conspiracy created by the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), generating an image of extreme casualty that warrants “humanitarian intervention”. Moreover, they openly celebrated and made other United Nations staff cheer the so-called victory of the Liberation Front and withdrawal of the national defence forces from Tigray. And while the local branch of the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs reported 2.8 million people in need of emergency health assistance, the main humanitarian affairs office was made to report 3.8 million, in order to elevate the crisis to “Level 3”.
As such, he urged the United Nations to deploy new staff who will adhere to their professional code of conduct, demanding that the Organization review all reports, statements and assessments that were produced on the situation in Ethiopia in the past year. In response to the Secretary-General’s request, he said Ethiopia would submit a written document about the seven expelled individuals.
During their discussion, Council members agreed on the critically urgent necessity to deliver humanitarian aid to those in need, but expressed divergent views on the best way to resolve the issue of United Nations staff expulsion.
The representative of the United States joined several others in a strong condemnation of Ethiopia’s expulsion, describing it as “an affront” to the Council and all Member States. “There is no justification for this action; none at all,” she said, insisting that the United Nations is neutral and impartial. Calling on Ethiopia to reverse course, she urged the Council to consider all tools at its disposal, including a resolution.
The Russian Federation’s delegate, however, warned that “toning up international rhetoric and spiralling the humanitarian file” would only hinder mediation efforts. The issue of Tigray is an internal affair of Ethiopia, which is capable of solving its own problems. Moreover, threats of Council resolutions, sanctions and the toxic atmosphere created by the media are all counterproductive, she said. While the decision to expel officials was regrettable, the issue must not be politicized.
Ireland’s representative said her delegation joined others in calling for today’s meeting from a belief that the expulsion should be addressed publicly by the Council. Ethiopia’s decision undermines its working relationship with the Organization at a time when it needs it most. The Council had agreed that quiet diplomacy should be given a chance; however, reports of inflammatory and dehumanizing language persist, as do those of conflict-related sexual violence and atrocities, denial of aid access and attacks on humanitarian workers, which may amount to war crimes.
Tunisia’s representative, speaking also for Kenya, Niger and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said concerns regarding the expelled individuals should be thoroughly considered based on substantiated evidence and within a frank and genuine dialogue between Ethiopia and the United Nations. Discussing these issues publicly may not be constructive in the current circumstances, nor will it alleviate the suffering of the populations affected by the conflict in northern Ethiopia. Quiet diplomacy is the best option to address this issue, he stressed.
Also speaking today were representatives of Estonia, France, Norway, United Kingdom, China, India, Viet Nam and Mexico.
The meeting began at 3:04 p.m. and ended at 4:37 p.m.