UN seeks 'immediate release' of detained Ethiopian staffers

Law enforcement officials say detentions are part of legitimate crackdown

UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric on Tuesday called for the “immediate release” of 16 Ethiopians employed by the world body who were detained in a series of raids in Addis Ababa.

“The current numbers are that 16 national staff have been detained, while six have been released,” Mr Dujarric said in New York.

“We are of course actively working with the government of Ethiopia to secure their immediate release.”

The UN has 2,398 national and 1,077 international staff working in Ethiopia, Mr Dujarric said.

More than a dozen UN staff members were detained in the raids, aimed at ethnic Tigrayans and conducted under a state of emergency, the world body and humanitarian sources told AFP.

“Some of them were taken from their homes,” one source said.

A UN spokeswoman in Geneva said requests for their release had been submitted to the Foreign Ministry.

The government of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed announced a six-month nationwide emergency last week amid rising fears that fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front and Oromo Liberation Army rebel groups could advance on the capital.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International have denounced the emergency measures, which allow for anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups” to be searched and detained without a warrant.

Lawyers say arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans – common during the war – have soared in the past week, affecting thousands.

Law enforcement officials say such detentions are part of a legitimate crackdown on the rebel groups.

Tension between Mr Abiy’s government and the UN have been high throughout the war, in which thousands have been killed, UN estimates show.

Hundreds of thousands have been pushed into famine-like conditions.

Last month, Ethiopia’s Foreign Ministry announced it was expelling seven senior UN officials for “meddling” in the country’s affairs.

Mr Abiy sent troops into Tigray in November last year to topple the TPLF, but by late June it had regrouped and retaken most of the region.

Since then, Tigray has been under what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade.

UN security officers “have visited the detained colleagues”, a UN spokeswoman in Geneva told AFP on Tuesday.

“Notes verbales have also been sent to the minister of foreign affairs to request the immediate release of the detained personnel,” she said.

A representative for the UN in Ethiopia said the world body was “in the process of verifying and following up on the reports of arrests related to its staff members”.

“The safety and security of UN staff remain at the highest priority for the UN in Ethiopia,” the representative said.

Agencies contributed to this report

Updated: November 10th 2021, 6:40 AM