August 1, 2021

threatened with famine, Tigray struggles to make its way to the UN Security Council

We will still have to wait. Despite the numerous warnings of an imminent risk of famine in the Ethiopian region of Tigray, the fifteen members of the UN Security Council have so far failed to agree on a common reaction.

Seven months after the start of the military operation launched by Addis Ababa in this province accused of rebellion, the humanitarian situation is nevertheless catastrophic. The UN estimates that 91% of the population of Tigray will need food aid. And according to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), it is the most serious situation since the famine that claimed 250,000 lives in Somalia ten years ago. “This is the worst food insecurity situation I have seen in years”, confirms Mark Lowcock, boss of OCHA.

Read also The UN warns again of a risk of famine in Tigray in Ethiopia

In recent months, the UN official has sent four warning notes to the Security Council, as is done “Whenever we think that a conflict could lead to a situation of food insecurity or famine”, he explains. The first three alerts had prompted the fifteen members to meet – behind closed doors – but the last, sent two weeks ago, had no effect.

Sexual violence

Ireland and Niger, responsible for the subject of “conflicts and malnutrition” within the Security Council, have proposed an open meeting, but they face major obstacles, including to make a simple joint declaration, in particular to from Russia. “The ties between Moscow and Addis Ababa have tightened a lot in recent months, Explain Ashish Pradhan, de l’International Crisis Group (ICG). The two ruling parties, for example, signed an agreement to work together more closely. “

“Russian diplomats began to spread the idea that Mark Lowcock was overstepping his duties, that what he was saying had nothing to do with humanitarian affairs,” says an observer. Last week, to justify their blocking, they even suggested that the boss of OCHA, who will step down on June 18, “Wanted to make a last blow of splendor before his departure”.

Read also Ethiopia: “The Tigrayans are brought to their knees and dispossessed of the means to get up”

Supporters of a strong condemnation of the situation in Tigray had hoped that the last meeting of the Security Council on the matter, which took place behind closed doors on April 15, would tip the scales. Mark Lowcock denounced the famine and sexual violence used as weapons of war. “Almost a quarter of the reports received by the agencies [de l’ONU] report gang rapes, had described the UN official. In some cases, the women were raped repeatedly over several days. Girls as young as 8 are being targeted. ”

A few minutes later, the American ambassador to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, had in turn made a passionate plea. Noting that the Security Council was able to come to an agreement on Burma and not on Tigray, she called the assistance to witness, asking if “African lives did not matter so much”.

Containing the crisis

The stories of violence have apparently pushed some countries, a priori reluctant to any interference from the Security Council, to change their position. This is the case of the group of countries nicknamed “A3 + 1” (Niger, South Africa, Tunisia and Saint Vincent and the Grenadines), which would be more inclined to accept a strong joint declaration. But the Russian position has not changed.

However, it is imperative that the fifteen members take up the issue again, insists Mark Lowcock: “Council must publicly call for an end to hostilities and to facilitate the work of humanitarian agencies. This is important, because its demands are listened to by leaders around the world. We must prevent a humanitarian tragedy. ” The head of humanitarian action of the United Nations seeks to raise 850 million dollars (about 700 million euros) to contain the crisis.

11,000 km from New York, the specter of famine brings Ethiopia back to the tragedy the country experienced during the 1980s: more than 1 million people were dead. “I never forgot some of the things I saw at that time, confie Mark Lowcock. We must prevent another tragedy, because it is a humanitarian crisis which will have consequences for Tigray, but also for the whole country and the whole region, for a long time. ”

Security Council discussions on Tigray could resume ” in the course of the week “, according to a diplomatic source. If the Russian diplomats lift their block.