On 4 and 5 October the European Parliament held debates on the EU’s strategic partnership with the Horn of Africa and the joint resolution on “The recent humanitarian and human rights situation in Tigray, Ethiopia, notably that of children” that passed on 6 October. The resolution was followed by a European Council session which ended in a statement on 17 October regarding Ethiopia. The opening speech of the first debate, on the strategic partnership, was built on a contradiction. It was given by Castaldo (non-attached), rapporteur on the EU’s strategic relationship and partnership with the Horn of Africa. The rapporteur called for support for “African solutions to African problems” yet concluded his speech with the following: “Africa has been, is and always will be a reflection of our geopolitics. It is up to us to decide what image we wish to see reflected in that mirror”. Both debates saw parliament members argue and call for the resolution of root causes of ongoing conflicts, while continuously equating the crimes of both parties. However, as Alex de Waal, British researcher on African elite politics and executive director of the World Peace Foundation, recently stated, one of the three issues plaguing a peaceful outcome in Ethiopia is an ethical one. De Waal based himself on the conclusions of a recent report of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE) stating that, while both sides are committing war crimes, only the Federal forces are committing them “as part of a widespread attack directed against the civilian population” thus constituting a crime against humanity. The European Council meeting similarly ended without a strong conclusion, and without implementation of sanctions.
Content of the resolution
Cease fire and humanitarian crisis
Within the resulting resolution passed in the European parliament, the ceasefire and humanitarian crisis are intensely linked. Both parties are accused of impeding humanitarian work (see point K of the resolution among others) and both are called on to bring an end to hostilities with the European Union adopting the Ethiopian federal government demands of negotiations without preconditions, in point 22 of the resolution.
Trust in the African Union and International Community involvement
The resolution reaffirms their trust not only in the African Union (point 4) but also in Mr Obasanjo (point 24), a mediation decision that is increasingly coming under fire and had previously been rejected by the Tigray leadership. A second point is the insistence on the increased involvement of the international community in the peace and negotiation process, while not contradicting AU leadership (see point 22 or 28). It also calls for sanctions (point 25) but falls short of asking for an arms embargo.
Securitization of externalities of the conflict
The strategic value of the region and competition with China and Russia in it is not addressed by the resolution that instead focuses more on securitising the risks around migration, fostered by the overlapping crisis in the Horn region as a whole; such as in point 18.
Continued equation of reciprocate exactions
The text does not explicitly call out the Ethiopian federal government as the main party responsible for human rights abuses committed, but equates the atrocities committed by both sides of the conflict. They approach those points, talking in point K about the targeting of humanitarian personnel or discussing the conclusions reached by the UN ICHREE in point M but falling short of taking over their diagnosis of disproportionate violence from federal forces, as had been suggested by the input of some motions submitted by other MEPs (which were not included in the final text).
Content of the debates
The European Parliamentarians brought up five main points in the debate about Ethiopia.
Calls for an immediate ceasefire were omnipresent. The calls were tied to a need to have access to the region to combat the ongoing humanitarian crisis, with a particular focus on children, both impacted by the fighting and those suffering the consequences. For this to be achieved and for the peace process, the MEPs largely put their trust in the African Union as well as envoy Obasanjo. Some, such as Chair of the Human Rights Committee Maria Arena (S&D), expressed faith in the delayed peace talks in South Africa.
Increased International Community involvement
There were calls to see greater involvement of the international community on the periphery of the process, such as EU support to the Ethiopian people, as suggested by Carlos Zorrinho (S&D), or requesting the United Nations Security Council hold public meetings on Ethiopia as recommended by Michaela Šojdrová (EPP).
All speakers recognized the critical impact the conflict was having on the region’s stability. The constant insecurity was described as a “force multiplier” for the perfect storm of crisis hitting the Horn region but of all impacts to be curtailed, migration took centre stage. Some MEPs such as Kinga Gál, took the debate as an opportunity to advocate a hardline on migration, to be stopped at the external EU borders, seeing this crisis as an opportunity for the EU to bolster its involvement in peace and security. Most speakers suggested addressing root causes of migration, promoting investment cooperation and development, particularly in the education sector, to provide opportunities for African youth.
Strategic value of the region
The MEPs make clear that they view the Horn region as strategic. Its large populations, economic potential and key shipping lanes captured a lot of attention. However, its role as an important stage in world politics was not forgotten. It is understood as a region where Europe is competing with China, around finances, and with Russia, to limit its influence; especially through Wagner mercenaries and its extraction of natural resources used to finance the Ukraine war of aggression.
Crime and Punishment
Finally, the equation of the crimes of both parties in the rectification of damages inflicted upon one another during the conflict were brought up. This is exemplified by Langensiepen Katrin’s (Greens) contribution, in which she spoke of the need to provide rehabilitation avenues for victims of sexual violence, insisting on the equal nature of the crimes commited.
Overall, both the resolution and the debate in the European Parliament, as well as the European Council meeting of 17 October, fail to make any moves towards strong action and leave the main responsibility in the hands of the African Union.
(21) Redwan Hussien on Twitter: “The AU has issued an invitation for peace talks. The GoE has accepted this invitation which is inline with our principled position regarding the peaceful resolution of the conflict and the need to have talks without preconditions.” / Twitter
2021/2206(INI) – 18/07/2022 – Recommendation to the Council, the Commission and the Commission Vice President/High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy on Horn of Africa (europa.eu)