EU Special Envoy and Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs, Pekka Haavisto, stated that the humanitarian situation in Tigray is “out of control” and that the conflict is far from ending. Tensions remain palpable as clashes between the Ethiopian Federal Army (ENDF), Eritrean troops and local militias continue to be reported. Mr. Haavisto visited the region, in particular Ethiopia and Sudan, from 7 to 10 February, on a mission as Special Envoy on behalf of the EU High Representative Josep Borrell. Haavisto stated that he did not receive any clear information from the Ethiopian government on the involvement (or withdrawal) of the Eritrean troops in Tigray, stressing that the Ethiopian leadership avoided providing a clear picture of the situation of the conflict. Haavisto also stated that, at the moment, a dialogue process would be very difficult due to lack of trust between Tigray and the federal government, highlighting how new tensions could arise in case of elections. Furthermore, Haavisto stated that humanitarian aid is urgently needed in Tigray, calling for immediate and open access to international humanitarian agencies and NGOs. In relation to Sudan, he reported it is currently unable to support refugees’ needs, and that urgent relief to Sudan should be provided in order to avoid a new refugee crisis.
Comments on the military and refugee situation
On Tuesday 23 February, Mr. Haavisto commented on the findings of his mission in a Webinar, stating that the situation in Tigray is getting “militarily and human rights-wise, humanitarian-wise very out of control,” adding that the end of the conflict is not near. Tigray is currently in control of four factions, specified by Mr. Haavisto to be the Federal Ethiopian National Defence Forces, the Eritreans primarily in the North, Amhara militias, and Tigrayan forces. The Special Envoy underlined that Ethiopian leadership failed to deliver a clear picture of the situation in the Tigray region, including on the “widely documented involvement of forces from neighbouring Eritrea”. He stressed that the issue of the presence of Eritrean troops in Ethiopia is very sensitive, hence he did not receive a clear answer on the whereabouts or extent of Eritrean forces. According to him, Ethiopia is not grasping the gravity of the situation. Furthermore, Mr. Haavisto stressed the need for urgent and full international humanitarian access in the Tigray, which is currently denied, stating that humanitarian aid should have open access to areas controlled by the Ethiopian government and also to those controlled by the opposition. Finally, Mr. Haavisto visited Um Rakuba refugee camp in Sudan hosting asylum seekers who escaped from the conflict in Tigray region. He highlighted that Sudan is having difficulties coping with the influx of migrants and that if this situation is not immediately addressed, there will be a possible new refugee crisis.
“Breaking news from the Horn of Africa”
On Tuesday 23 February, Mr. Pekka Haavisto participated in the webinar “Breaking news from the Horn of Africa” held by the Finnish Development NGOs (Fingo) with the aim of answering some questions from experts on the current situation in the Horn of Africa. Most of the questions he received related to the elections to be held in Ethiopia in June 2021, commenting that although the government of Addis Ababa is planning to schedule elections, there are regions such as Tigray that are not ready for this effort. He commented that the future of Tigray is uncertain, as there is little possibility for dialogue amidst a lack of trust between the Tigrayans and the government. Mr. Haavisto did not release any further details about his stance on elections, but reported that a new round of tensions between the federal government and regional parties could arise. Mr. Haavisto gave “no comments” about the Oromo current situation, considering that another sensitive area, where it could be difficult to hold elections in June 2021.
In addition, he reported on the need to find a solution between Sudan and Ethiopia about the border dispute. He called for the contribution of the African Union (AU) in order to settle the outstanding issue, which led to the deaths of farmers and soldiers in previous months. According to Mr. Haavisto, negotiations over the GERD dam impasse should be addressed by the AU too. He expressed a genuine hope that a new round of negotiations will lead to an agreement between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, although next meetings are not still being planned.
High Representative Josep Borrell on Pekka Haavisto’s findings
During a press release about the discussions held during the EU Foreign Affairs Council on Monday 22 February, the EU High Representative Josep Borrell underlined some points that the EU Special Envoy, Mr. Pekka Haavisto, raised to the Council. High Representative Borrell briefly depicted the current situation in Tigray, stating that after 4 months of conflict, “80% of the Tigray population of 6 million people remain unreachable.” Speaking on behalf of the Council, he urged for a full and immediate humanitarian access to Tigray, for investigations over human rights violations, for the ending of violence and discrimination, and for respect of international law. He concluded underlining that the Council insists on the immediate ending of the conflict.