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Wednesday, 31 March 2021 00:00

Is the international community failing Ethiopia again?

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As a founding member state of the United Nations and a member of the League of
    Nations, Ethiopia has always been an ardent supporter of multilateralism. It is a
    staunch devotee to the principles enshrined in the United Nations Charter including
    the principle of collective security. Ethiopia is hugely proud of its historic and
    weighty contributions to the UN, especially its peacekeeping operations. It also
    joined the Alliance for Multilateralism with a firm belief that only cooperation can
    help us solve shared challenges.
    Notwithstanding this, Ethiopia has also experienced the consequences of the failure
    of multilateralism to act in the interest of collective security. In late 1935, the
    forces of Fascist Italy invaded Ethiopia – while the pleas of the late Emperor Haile
    Selassie to the League of Nations went largely ignored.
    The Emperor appealed to the international community not to abandon Ethiopia
    while the invading fascist forces were using mustard gas on its people. In his
    impassioned speech to world leaders at the League of Nations in 1936, he
    described how “women, children, cattle, rivers and pastures were drenched with
    this deadly rain”.
    But while Fascist Italy’s devastating invasion was in clear violation of international
    law, Ethiopia’s appeal remained unanswered.
    And now, some 86 years later, history appears to be repeating itself, albeit with a
    different set of circumstances. This points to the same lack of multilateralism and
    absence of awareness of the security challenges Ethiopia and the region face.
    The vital reforms implemented by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and his team were
    very much lauded by the international community. They brought real changes on
    the ground for which the Ethiopian prime minister received the Nobel Peace Prize.
    These reforms rescued Ethiopia and its people from the grip of the repressive
    Tigray Peoples’ Liberation Front (TPLF), which had dominated the Ethiopian
    government since the 1990s.
    However, we are now witnessing a U-turn by the international community. Misled
    by orchestrated TPLF misinformation and propaganda, the international
    community tends to put the blame on Prime Minister Abiy’s administration for
    going after this grave threat to Ethiopian and regional security.
    Last November’s brutal attack by TPLF Forces against the Ethiopian National
    Defense Force (ENDF) Northern Command in the Tigray region was quite simply
    a declaration of war. Such an attack against a sovereign country’s national defence
    forces, the ultimate guarantors of a constitution and of any nation, is not something
    a government can ignore easily. Our constitution stipulates “the armed forces shall
    protect the sovereignty of the country” so the government had to take action as part
    of fulfilling its basic constitutional duty, which was regrettably not welcomed by
    some in the international community.
    According to a report by Foreign Policy magazine, in a confidential memo to the
    UN secretary-general, Achim Steiner, Head of the UNDP, wrote that the TPLF’s
    attack would have been “an act of war everywhere in the world, and one that
    typically triggers military response in defense of any nation”. This happened in
    Ethiopia and no one appeared to care about this high crime.
    Days after the Ethiopian government started the law enforcement operation in the
    Tigray region, a TPLF-orchestrated massacre took place in Mai Kadra, which
    claimed the lives of more than 600 Amhara  civilians. Yet, the international
    community largely ignored it and few dared to condemn it. There was silence also
    when Sudanese troops violated Ethiopia’s sovereignty and territorial integrity in
    November 2020. It appears it has become easy these days to table one-sided
    motions at international organizations, mainly at the UN Security Council (UNSC),
    before exhausting all available local mechanisms and platforms for resolving such
    issues. The recent open debate at the UNSC on Ethiopia’s internal affairs typifies
    the lesser attention given to the principle of subsidiarity and exhaustion of local
    remedies as customary international law and established trend in the modus
    operandi of the Security Council.
    Not only this, but the UNSC also discussed the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam
    – a hydroelectric dam that aims to change the lives of tens of millions of poverty-
    stricken Ethiopians who lack basic access to food and millions more living under
    Safety Net programs (including 1.8 million Tigrayans  long before the current
    However, thanks to the Ethiopian government’s robust diplomatic efforts and the
    support of some principled partners, the African Union (AU) has stepped in to
    facilitate trilateral negotiations on the dam.
    The international community’s support for the humanitarian situation in Tigray far
    from matches its incessant condemnation. It even fails to acknowledge the
    government’s stepped-up humanitarian response that has reached more than 4.2
    million people to date despite limited resources.
    David Beasley, head of the World Food  Programme  (WFP), has called for scaled-
    up humanitarian support to Tigray, amounting to $107m. However, the
    international community and the UN have not made adequate support. In fact, as
    the UNDP memo points out, their confrontational approach “is likely to be
    counter-productive and will yield no results”.
    Access to the Tigray region has been adequately provided to both international
    humanitarian agencies and the media. Yet some in the international community are
    still calling on the government for unfettered humanitarian access.
    The Ethiopian government has strongly expressed its full commitment to undertake
    an in-depth investigation to get to the bottom of the allegations and bring those
    responsible for any crime to justice. It has also called for a constructive
    engagement from the international community to support its investigation. The
    government welcomes the recent understanding between the National Human
    Rights Commission and the UN Human Rights chief to conduct joint
    investigations. But it appears some actors are still adopting double standards in
    their public opinions on the situation in Ethiopia.
    By contrast, the AU has been quite responsive. The AU Commission heeded Prime
    Minister Abiy’s call to undertake an investigation jointly with the Ethiopian
    Human Rights Commission. This instance shows that our future undeniably lies in
    the “African solutions to African problems” maxim.
    Although the international community is failing it by the day, Ethiopia will neither
    lose trust nor revert in its commitment to global values. As former Ethiopian
    Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew once said: “Despite its painful experience
    during its membership in the League of Nations, Ethiopia has never lost confidence
    in multilateralism.”
    Therefore, if multilateralism is alive, the international community should provide
    significant support to Ethiopia, whose commitment to this principle has not
    wavered. International actors that consider democracy, peace and security, and
    development as crucial tools of the global order, should in principle be ready for
    constructive engagement and providing much-needed assistance to Ethiopia – a
    country of more than 110 million people in one of the most geopolitically sensitive
    regions of the world.
    Yet, we would be remiss not to commend the most principled positions of some of
    our trusted partners during this critical time.
     (Samia Zekaria Gutu is Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal
    Democratic Republic of Ethiopia to the State of Qatar)

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