European Parliament debates the situation in Tigray, urges humanitarian access and investigation of crimes

On Thursday 11 February, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the Commissioner for International Partnerships, Jutta Urpilainen met in a plenary session, debating on “The humanitarian situation in Ethiopia”. The Commissioner opened the debate underlying that the European Union (EU) is deeply concerned about the ongoing conflict in the Tigray region. The EU is calling for the end of hostilities, full humanitarian access to be exercised independently from the Ethiopian administration, and investigations over alleged human rights violations. MEPs focused largely on the severe human rights abuses, presence of Eritrean soldiers on the ground in Tigray and the EU approach to the conflict.

EU Commissioner Urpilainen stressed the need for an urgent scale up of assistance, since the health system collapsed in most Tigray areas and Tigray is classified just one step before famine in the food security classification. She concluded her first intervention stating that the Ethiopian-Sudanese border dispute is also of great concern for the EU. Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) taking the floor stressed the gravity of the situation in Tigray, underlying how international aid has been denied unhindered access to the region, despite millions of people  in need. Most MEPs called for the Ethiopian government to guarantee access to humanitarian organizations. In particular, MEP Oetjen asked for open access to be granted to international humanitarian workers, for secure humanitarian corridors to be established and to let organizations make an exact estimation of those in need. 

Parliamentarians also stressed the need to put an end to the reported violations of human rights and international humanitarian law (A. Bielan), some of which could be counted as war crimes (E. Incir). Furthermore, MEPs voiced concerns about both internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees from Ethiopia fleeing to Sudan, highlighting how refugees do not receive proper protection (K. Langensiepen). The dispute at the Ethiopian-Sudanese border is also of concern, and MEPs Langensiepen and Griset underlined that a further destabilization of Ethiopia and its relations with neighbor States could affect the entire Horn of Africa. 

MEP Neuser, reporting data from the Red Cross, described how 80% of Tigray population was in extreme need of humanitarian assistance but is unreachable, amidst the health system has collapse and a shortage of food and essential supplies. Furthermore, he pointed out that at least 20,000 Eritrean refugees were missing, calling for thorough independent investigation. In addition, Neuser asked for the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region, which is an infringement of international law.

MEP Marquardt focused the attention on the over 22,000 people dead due to war crimes, while many of those that are still alive are forced to flee the country. Marquardt stressed how the destruction of two refugee camps [Shimelba and Hitsats] in the Tigray region by the Ethiopian and Eritrean army, which has been confirmed by satellite images, can be considered a crime against humanity. He questioned the role of the Eritrean government in supporting the Ethiopian Federal Army, including possible payments, and asked clarifications on how those responsible for war crimes can be effectively brought to justice.

In conclusion to the debate, the Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen stressed the importance of humanitarian assistance and the support of the EU to ensure access and justice. The Commissioner drafted a road map with the main actions that the EU will take regarding the situation in Ethiopia. The European Commission will postpone the disposment of three extra budget support payments to Ethiopia, for a total amount of 88.5 million euros. Furthermore, a particular attention will be focused on refugees, IDPs and host communities through the implementation of programmes (such as the EU Trust Fund for Africa) and additional funds of EUR 70 million to the ‘Sudan Family Support Programme’, aiming to support the Government of Sudan hosting Ethiopian refugees. Urpilainen remarked how: “the Finnish Foreign Minister, Pekka Haavisto, is leading this week a high-level EU-mandated mission to Sudan and Ethiopia, notably to discuss humanitarian access with Ethiopian authorities and we are looking forward to working with him, and with this House, to take the recommendations forward.” Finally, Urpilainen underlined remarks by MEPs that the EU and the international community, including the United States, should cooperate in ensuring pressure on Ethiopia to resolve the conflict and prevent further human suffering.

Previously, on Monday 8 February, the European Commission released a joint statement by the High-Representative/Vice-President Josep Borrell, Commissioner Jutta Urpilainen and Commissioner Janez Lenarčič on the humanitarian crises in Tigray region, in Ethiopia. Commissioners and the High-Representative expressed concern on the regional and humanitarian consequences of the 100-day conflict. 

The statement raised the attention not only to the lack of connections with rural areas in Central and Western Tigray, but also to the high exposure to famine and diseases, which are affecting the population since the start of clashes, on November 4. Furthermore, as reported by the European Commission: “[t]he EU is also increasingly concerned for the protection of civilians and refugees in Ethiopia, with reports of casualties and serious human rights, international refugee law and international humanitarian law violations.” Regarding this, the EU called for the withdrawal of Eritrean troops from the Tigray region as well as open access to international humanitarian aid, including food, water and medical supplies.