The following answers were given by a spokesperson for the European Union to questions I supplied.
1. I have noted how active the Biden administration is concerning the crisis in Tigray. They have threatened sanctions and have send missions to Addis. By comparison, I have heard next to nothing from the EU.
Answer: Since the beginning of the crisis last November, we have repeatedly raised our voice about the events in Tigray. In fact, the EU was the first to start raising the alarm on the escalating conflict at the time. What is more, ever since we are conducting a consistent and principled diplomatic and humanitarian outreach to Ethiopian authorities.
On top of this, the EU has postponed budget support disbursements already last December.
Just recently, our newly appointed EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the Horn of Africa, Annette Weber has come back from her second visit to the region where she conveyed our well proclaimed messages to the highest political level while also encouraging a political solution between warring parties. This is only the latest of a number of missions that took place on behalf of the EU since the outbreak of the conflict.
In late 2020, High Representative Borrell and Commissioner Lenarčič travelled to Ethiopia and the border area in Eastern Sudan. Earlier this year, the Finnish Minister of Foreign Affairs Pekka Haavisto, mandated by High Representative Josep Borrell, visited the region twice to discuss the ongoing crisis in Ethiopia and its regional impacts. The engagement with the High-Level Envoys appointed by the Chair of the African Union should further continue and open the door for a dialogue that is the only way forward to avoid further destabilisation.
The EU position has always been clear, as you can also read in the Council Conclusions from July 2021, accessible here. Despite our and some other international actors’ efforts almost a year into the conflict, the situations does not improve. On the contrary, the tragic humanitarian crisis unfolding in Tigray is reaching dramatic levels and is increasingly posing considerable implications to the wider Horn of Africa. We welcome every additional political effort by the international community and are working closely with our international partners in order to convey to relevant actors our unchanged key objectives, which are:
- Immediate and unhindered humanitarian access and respect for international humanitarian law;
- Cessation of hostilities, by all parties;
- Investigations and prosecutions of all the alleged responsible for the massacres and atrocities;
- Immediate and verified withdrawal of Eritrean troops. This would pave the way for a reconciliation and national dialogue. Thus, and while continuing to remind our objectives, the EU will, in close coordination with others, to keep the space for dialogue open and try to forge a consensus and basis for talks between the two principal warring parties.
2. What sanctions are you contemplating, to support the pressure now being exerted by the US?
Answer: The High Representative Josep Borrell has on numerous occasions indicated that the EU stands ready to activate all its foreign policy tools. Given the continuing deterioration of the situation, this statement remains all the more valid. Policy wise, the newly adopted Communication on EU’s humanitarian action, foresees strengthening of processes that put the promotion of and application of IHL consistently at the heart of our external action.
All those accountable for International Humanitarian Law violations, human rights abuses and other atrocities must be held accountable. We look forward to the publication of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission in that respect on November 1st. Sanctions and/or restrictive measures are to be adopted by our Member States at unanimity.
Discussions are ongoing on that front with one single objective: improving the situation on the ground which is affecting millions of innocent people and which is destabilizing the region.
In the current circumstances, the EU has postponed Budget Support payments. The EU is willing to continue its partnership with Ethiopia and to review its decision on Budget support as soon as conditions are met. In the coming weeks, the EU and its Member States, in close coordination with like-minded partners and Bretton-Woods institutions, should develop a step-by-step plan on the way ahead regarding future cooperation with the option of focusing EU financial assistance to strengthen support to the population.
3. How confident are you that the African Union mediator, President Obasanjo, can make a breakthrough in talks with both sides?
Answer: The EU has always encouraged the African Union to take a more prominent role in this crisis and therefore welcomes this appointment. We stand ready to work together and intensify engagements with all relevant political actors and stakeholders in the region.
4. Does Annette Weber have any visits planned to Asmara or Addis?
Answer: Annette Weber has travelled twice to Ethiopia, Sudan and has also been to South Sudan. There is no visit planned to Asmara at this stage. But the EUSR will continue to engage with all partners over the next weeks and months.
5. As you are aware, the situation is extremely critical; the WFP is unable to get its trucks into Tigray while the international media have been prevented from travelling to the region. What are you doing to address these?
Answer: Almost a year of conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray, the situation is alarming. Humanitarian needs are increasing, not only in Tigray but also in the neighbouring regions of Afar and Amhara, as the conflict is spreading. We are indeed well aware that very few trucks carrying humanitarian aid have entered the Tigray region since August 2021. Humanitarian agencies estimate that 100 trucks are needed per day to be able to address the immensity of needs in Tigray. Shortage of supplies, lack of fuel and cash continue preventing humanitarian agencies from scaling up their operations. 5.2 million people – around 90% of the region’s population – are in need of humanitarian assistance.
In this view, the EU as the leading humanitarian donor worldwide continues to stand in solidarity with the people in need through its humanitarian funding. As already mentioned, the EU persistently and consistently advocates for full, unimpeded humanitarian access in line with International Humanitarian Law from the outset of the conflict. Furthermore, we are conducting and supporting all possible efforts to ensure full, safe and unhampered access of humanitarian supplies and staff, by road, above all, and by air into Tigray.
Humanitarian access namely has to be continuous and predictable if it is to have any concrete and tangible impact on the ground. It is the only way in which the lives of people can be saved and assistance brought to those who need it most in accordance with the humanitarian principles.
We seize this opportunity to reiterate, in the strongest possible terms, that civilians must be protected, whoever and wherever they are. International Humanitarian Law is not an option but an obligation. International Humanitarian Law protects the lives and dignity of innocent civilians. It must be respected at all times by all parties to the conflict, including by ensuring the safety of humanitarian aid workers.