UN chief admonishes Ethiopia for expelling staffers during famine

With 7 million people starving, Ethiopia needs all available UN aid officials on the ground

The United Nations headquarters in New York. AFP
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United Nations Secretary General Antonio Guterres has criticised Ethiopia for expelling humanitarian aid workers and urged the government to let aid reach the hundreds of thousands of people across its war-ravaged north who are at risk of starving to death.

Mr Guterres lashed out at Ethiopia’s “unprecedented expulsion" of seven high-ranking UN officials from the African country and for blocking convoys of food, fuel and medicine trucks headed north to the 7 million in need.

Addis Ababa last week accused the seven UN staffers of “meddling” in Ethiopian affairs and gave them 72 hours to leave the nation.

The UN says they are now all outside the country for safety reasons and that Ethiopia’s move was unlawful.

Addressing the UN Security Council on Wednesday, Mr Guterres called on Ethiopia to treat his employees with “dignity and respect” so they could “support millions of people in need of humanitarian assistance”.

“I now call on Ethiopian authorities to allow us to do this without hindrance and to facilitate and enable our work with the urgency that this situation demands,” said Mr Guterres.

“This means ensuring that visas for incoming personnel — from UN entities and from our partners — are issued quickly so that we can augment our capacity.”

He spoke at the second emergency Security Council meeting in less than a week. Ethiopian officials were also set to take part in the open-door talks, which were requested by the United States and European members.

At the council's previous meeting on Friday, members could not agree on a statement proposed by Ireland due to opposition from China and Russia, who say Ethiopia's civil war is an internal matter.

The expulsions sent shockwaves through the aid community as it is a rarity for a government to kick out senior UN officials.

Mr Gutrerres said Ethiopia’s declaration of the UN officials as “personae non grata” was a violation of the UN charter.

“There is a proper, formal procedure — and that procedure was not followed,” he said.

Ethiopia’s government has since November been fighting rebels in the northern Tigray region, who have since pushed into neighbouring Amhara and Afar. Tens of thousands have been killed and hundreds of thousands face famine-like conditions.

Updated: October 06, 2021, 7:57 PM