This letter is addressed to UN Secretary-general António Guterres and the Permanent Representatives of UN Security Council member states
We, the undersigned organizations, write to urge you to demand publicly that the parties to the conflict in northern Ethiopia end ongoing violence and dismantle the blockade preventing relief assistance from reaching millions of people on the brink of starvation. We ask you to use your to respective platforms to focus on the crisis in Tigray at the United Nations Security Council, at the African Union, and at the upcoming session of the UN General Assembly, and to actively engage the parties to the conflict to prevent growing famine and suffering on a scale not seen in Ethiopia since the great famine of 1983-1985.
Since fighting erupted in November 2020, civilians have been trapped between the parties to the conflict, largely cut off from assistance and communications, and displaced to other parts of Tigray, other regions of Ethiopia, and into neighboring countries. The fighting has been marked by widespread human rights abuses including sexual violence, starvation as a weapon of war, and ill-treatment of the displaced. Investigations initiated into these violations of international human rights, humanitarian, and refugee law must be independent and credible and those responsible held to account. The UN Security Council, UN General Assembly, and African Union must put this growing threat to international peace and security at the top of agendas.
Our concerns about the worsening crisis in northern Ethiopia include:
As the conflict expands and affects civilians in other areas of the country, ethnic demonization and hateful rhetoric reminiscent of crises in Rwanda, Burundi, and Darfur threaten to tear at the country’s fragile social fabric. For more than nine months the world has watched in horror as parties to the conflict commit unspeakable crimes, with millions of civilians facing grave human rights violations, forced displacement and loss of livelihoods, arbitrary arrest and detention, and widespread destruction of civilian infrastructure. This compelled the U.S. Government to launch an investigation into whether war crimes, crimes against humanity, and even genocide have occurred. As you know, this investigation is taking place in parallel with the ongoing joint UN Human Rights – Ethiopian Human Rights Commission investigation.
The blockade put in place by the government of Ethiopia on June 28 has caused the number suffering from extreme hunger to increase dramatically. Ethiopian troops withdrew from the region and banking facilities were closed, preventing access to money to purchase food. Communications were cut, denying people trapped inside Tigray the chance to report on their well-being to family members outside the region. And trade was denied, collapsing local markets for fuel or electricity. Primary and secondary road routes were blocked, forcing the aid operation on to a tertiary route via Afar. Between July 1 and August 31, fewer than 400 trucks of relief supplies were permitted entry to Tigray along a circuitous rural road, despite the UN declaring more than 6,100 trucks (or, 6 percent) were required to stem the tide of famine.
On August 9, the Famine Early Warning Systems Network (FEWSNET), published its food security outlook for Tigray revealing that 5.2 million men, women, and children now face extreme food insecurity. That number includes people who are now experiencing starvation which results in severe malnutrition, starvation, disease, and high death rates. Violence that has spread into neighboring Afar and Amhara region has displaced some 400,000 people and potentially threatens lives and livelihoods of millions more.
Famine has already set in for hundreds of thousands in Tigray. But this does not need to be the fate of millions more at risk. The parties to this conflict can cease hostilities and save the lives of their own people. The blockade can be lifted for relief workers to reach those in need before a repeat of the tragedy of 1983-85 famine, which took the lives of as many as 2 million Ethiopians. The UN Security Council and African Union can put the crisis on their formal program of work and demand action to prevent further needless suffering and loss of life.
We call upon members of the UN Security Council and the UN Secretary-General to take concrete action to address the crisis in Tigray and to put its resolution at the top of the agenda during the UN General Assembly. In particular, here are four actions you can take to help the people of northern Ethiopia:
UN leadership matters. We call on you to press for global action to curb this threat to international peace and security and prevent foreseeable mass suffering and the worst of outcomes for Ethiopia and its people.