United States Agency for International Development
Office of Press Relations
June 10, 2021
Seven months into the conflict in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, human rights atrocities and the full-blown humanitarian crisis are alarming, currently pushing 400,000 innocent people to the brink of famine and loss of life. This must be addressed immediately. We do well to remember the 1980s famine in Ethiopia, which led to an estimated one million deaths, many as a result of food assistance being blocked.
Of the 6 million in Tigray, 5.2 million people are facing hunger and requiring emergency food assistance. With 90 percent of the population in extreme need of humanitarian aid, the stakes could not be higher.
We have continuously called for an end to the violence and for unfettered humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray, but we are witnessing increasing restrictions.
The restrictions on access are severely impeding the ability of humanitarian workers to assist the most vulnerable, notably in blocked rural areas, where the crisis is worst. Deliberate and repeated hindrances by the military and armed groups, the regular looting of humanitarian assistance, are driving the population towards mass starvation.
Using starvation of civilians as a weapon of war is putting at risk the lives of millions. In Resolution 2417 (2018), the UN Security Council strongly condemned the use of starvation of civilians as a method of warfare and urged action against those responsible. The Security Council requested that the Secretary-General report swiftly to the Council when the risk of conflict-induced famine occurs.
In addition, we are seeing wide-scale human suffering that is entirely preventable. Systematic violence is being inflicted upon civilians, including widespread sexual violence, and extra-judicial and ethnically-motivated killings. The population’s essential livelihood assets and health services are being destroyed.
Such methods of warfare are grave violations of international humanitarian law. The independent investigation of human rights violations is of paramount importance.
All parties to the conflict, as well as the international community, need to act urgently to avert a large-scale famine in Tigray and the potential for this crisis to destabilize the broader Horn of Africa region.
Given this looming humanitarian catastrophe, we reaffirm our solidarity with all those affected by the conflict in Tigray and:
- Urge all parties to the conflict to agree to a ceasefire immediately to facilitate humanitarian assistance to reach all people in need in Tigray regardless of where they are and to stop violence against civilians;
- Recall the obligation of all the parties to the conflict to adhere to international humanitarian law and exercise their responsibility towards the protection of all civilians, including humanitarian workers. This should remain paramount and must be applied at all times, and not be conditional on a ceasefire being in place;
- Call on all the parties to the conflict to allow for immediate, unimpeded and safe humanitarian access to all parts of Tigray to prevent large-scale famine and loss of life;
- Call on the Ethiopian and Eritrean authorities to ensure that Eritrean armed forces withdraw from Ethiopia immediately, in line with its previous commitment.
- Call upon the international community to scale up its life-saving support in the region, including through humanitarian funding, and to do everything in its power to protect the lives, dignity and livelihoods of the civilian population in Tigray.
We wish to see a democratic and peaceful Ethiopia, where all its people can build a shared vision for the country’s future and lay the foundation for sustainable and equitable economic growth and prosperity. We are committed to supporting Ethiopia and building on the partnership between us.
We call on our international partners to work with us for a peaceful, prosperous Ethiopia that is also a source of stability in the wider region.
USAID Administrator Samantha Power
EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy/Vice-President of the European Commission Josep Borrell Fontelles
EU Commissioner for Crisis Management Janez Lenarčič
EU Commissioner for International Partnerships Jutta Urpilainen
Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield
U.S. Representative to the United Nations
New York, New York
June 10, 2021
I guess that’s where we’ll start now is just by saying I feel like we’ve been muted for the past seven months on Tigray. But, again, where I started is to thank you, Nima, and to welcome everyone to the U.S.-EU High-Level Roundtable on the Humanitarian Emergency. And I’m honored to be joined by my colleagues from the U.S. government, the European Union, the United Nations, as well as civil society. I’m also saddened to be here today. I’m saddened by what has brought all of us into this room.
On Monday, Reuters reported first-hand stories of victims in Tigray. One Tigrayan woman – a coffee seller in a Sudanese refugee camp – said an Ethiopian soldier gave her an ultimatum when he caught her fleeing her home: “Either I kill you or I rape you.” This report is just one of many we’ve heard over the past six months since the situation started.
The humanitarian situation in Tigray is a moment of truth for the international community. Thousands of people in Ethiopia have been killed, injured, or horrifically abused or violated during this crisis. Hospitals, farms, and other vital infrastructure has been purposefully destroyed. Millions have been forced to abandon their home, leading to what is a man-made humanitarian emergency – and I use that very explicitly: a man-made humanitarian emergency. This is unacceptable.
Famine may already be happening in certain areas, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands. It’s unconscionable. Especially in the very place that woke the modern world up to the scourge of hunger. The Ethiopian famine in the mid-1980s led to hundreds of thousands of people starving to death. We all remember the pictures that we saw of emaciated starving people on CNN. Today, an estimated 90 percent of people in Tigray are now in desperate need of assistance. Hundreds of thousands more may be in famine conditions by September. A second failed harvesting season, which will very likely happen, would kill countless people. We are witnessing a humanitarian nightmare. This is not the kind of disaster that can be reversed.
We cannot make the same mistake twice. We cannot let Ethiopia starve. We have to act now. And yet, despite the best efforts of many members of the Security Council – and sadly due to the impediments placed in front of us by some Council members – the Council still has not yet held a single – a single – public meeting or taken necessary action to address the human rights and humanitarian crisis that we are witnessing. What are we afraid of? What are we trying to hide? The Security Council’s failure is unacceptable. We have addressed other emergent crises with public meetings. But not with this one. So, I ask those who refuse to address this issue publicly: Do African lives not matter? It’s time for the Security Council to have a public meeting on this issue. It’s time for the Council to take meaningful action to address the crisis. And it’s time for the Ethiopian government to respond responsibly to requests for humanitarian access, to end the fighting, and hold those accountable for the violations that have occurred. It’s time for the broader international communities to step up, too, and prevent another famine.
Sadly, however, the current humanitarian response is woefully underfunded, with shocking gaps in all sectors. So, the United States – as the largest bilateral donor for the humanitarian response in Ethiopia – is calling on other donors to rapidly and collectively support the UN scale up. We need everyone’s support for an urgent, multi-sector response to meet basic needs, including food and nutrition, health care, shelter, protection, and clean water.
As President Biden said in his statement last week – and will tell the G7 counterparts tomorrow – families of every background and ethnicity, every heritage deserves to live in peace and security.
And political wounds cannot be healed through force of arms. After all, the backdrop of this devastating situation in Tigray is the unfolding historic transition in Ethiopia. If this political transition is to succeed – if it will indeed deliver a more prosperous future for Ethiopia’s 110 million citizens – then the country’s leaders must draw on the democratic aspirations of all Ethiopians. They must allow Ethiopians to come together, though inclusive dialogue, to build a shared vision for the country’s future. And in the meantime, the international community must do our part to prevent suffering and to promote peace.
The United States is committed to helping the Ethiopian people. And I look forward to hearing from today’s distinguished speakers, in the hopes that this event serves as a springboard for action, and bring an end to the carnage that we’re all witnessing day-to-day in Ethiopia.
United States Agency for International Development
News and Information
June 10, 2021
ADMINISTRATOR POWER: Thank you, Nima, so much, not only for your introduction but for lending your precious time and your voice to draw attention to the tremendous suffering in Tigray. I also want to thank my friend Linda, Ambassador Thomas-Greenfield, for her remarks and all she has been doing to move heaven and earth in New York so we can force action in Ethiopia. And Linda, I will say having had your job once, I’ve lived through great frustration on the Security Council when we were blocked and can’t secure, for example, a tough resolution on an issue of grave concern. I don’t know that I’ve ever lived through what you’re living through, which is people not even being willing to come together to put an issue of this gravity on the agenda, an issue of such severity. Not even to have a formal meeting on something of this enormity, it’s shocking, truly, and will go down in history, really, as a very shameful period.
Really grateful to my Commissioner co-hosts, Janez and Jutta. I had a chance to meet with both of them yesterday and I am grateful for the leadership they have consistently shown to raise the alarm since the conflict began in November.
It’s so easy when discussing humanitarian emergencies, even one of, again, the scale and scope of the catastrophe we face in Tigray, to get lost in the scale of the suffering. So, I want to start by sharing with you the story of a Tigrayan woman I’ll call Atsede. Atsede is 35 years old, a mother of four children who is now pregnant with her fifth, who lived in Tigray. On November 9th of last year, her neighbor came to her to warn her that armed groups allied with the Ethiopian government were close by. But by the time the soldiers arrived the next day, it was too late; she tried to flee, separated from her family, but soldiers captured her and put her on a bus. She was taken to a nearby village where, a week later, more soldiers arrived, and more chaos followed. Soldiers began calling out names of the captured Tigrayans, separating the men and women and sending them off to yet another village. But Atsede’s name was not called. Instead, after the buses departed, she was left behind with several other women, tied up to a pole, and this young woman, separated from her family, was raped by five soldiers before passing out from the trauma.
Atsede’s story is heartbreaking, but it is not unique. Since the conflict erupted last fall between forces of the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front and those allied with the Ethiopian government, reports of the systemic attempt to use rape and gender-based violence as weapons of war have been almost too grim and too rife to bear. The scale of those crimes, and the reports of the soldier’s conduct and testimony, suggests that the Ethiopian military, together with their allies in the Eritrean military and forces from the Amharan region, have launched a campaign to shatter families and destroy the reproductive and mental health of their victims. And many survivors have nowhere to turn for help. Although Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has frequently cut off power and mobile phone access to the region, we know that the forces allied to the Ethiopian government have damaged and looted health facilities, leaving only an estimated 16 percent of them still working today. Soldiers have also razed factories to disrupt the local economy, and even damaged some of the oldest mosques and churches in all of Africa. There are widespread reports of massacres. And sadly, things may soon get worse.
As we’ve heard, a famine is looming in Ethiopia, the first in over 30 years, threatening the lives of hundreds of thousands. In fact, it may have already begun. An estimated 5.2 million people in Tigray are in desperate need of food assistance, in a state of just 6 million people. And hundreds of thousands of them are facing catastrophic food insecurity. Make no mistake; again, as has been said, this famine is man-made. In addition to destroying critical cultural and economic infrastructure, the armies of Ethiopia and Eritrea have laid waste to Tigray’s food supply. In order to feed their families, farmers need to plow their fields and sow seeds ahead of the annual June rains, which are beginning now.
But the Government of Ethiopia’s military allies have burned and looted seeds and farm equipment and slaughtered oxen to ensure the fields lay fallow. So determined are they to eliminate livelihoods, that some have reportedly crushed baby chicks under their boots. These same forces have threatened, intimidated, detained, and even killed aid workers attempting to feed the hungry. I spent much of yesterday speaking with the leaders of humanitarian organizations working in Tigray, some of whom we’ll hear from in the panel that follows. Many of these individuals are veterans of decades of devastating food crises and conflicts. And yet, nearly all of them told me the same thing: that the nature of this conflict, the combination of gender-based violence, widespread conflict, and the threat of starvation and famine has led to the worst humanitarian conditions they have ever witnessed.
It is time, it is well past time, for action. In 2019, Prime Minister Abiy was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end Ethiopia’s longstanding war with Eritrea. But unless he ends the violence, ensures the withdrawal of Eritrean forces, and allows humanitarian workers unfettered access to people in need, revisiting famine upon Ethiopia will be his legacy. The United States recently announced visa restrictions and limits to economic and security aid to the Government of Ethiopia, a serious step against a long-standing partner. And yesterday, we announced $181 million in new humanitarian aid, bringing the total that we’ve supplied since the start of the Tigray crisis to nearly half-a-billion dollars. But none of this is enough; more resources are needed, and condemnation requires a chorus. That’s why today’s event is so important: so that we can all speak with one voice about our commitment to the people in Tigray, so we can demand together that Prime Minister Abiy bring an end to the suffering in the region. As Linda mentioned, the member states of the U.N. Security Council, particularly its African members, must move to support putting this crisis on the Council’s agenda to pressing Abiy to agree to a ceasefire, to rein in Ethiopia’s Eritrean and Amharan allies, to remove the physical and bureaucratic roadblocks that currently leave one million people beyond the reach of humanitarian aid. In addition to complete access, aid workers also need long-term visas and telecommunications equipment, and they need to carry out their life-saving work free of harassment and violence. And ultimately, all parties involved must agree to a negotiated peace that finally ends this catastrophe. My colleague, Jeff Feltman, our special envoy, will speak to this at the close of today’s proceedings.
Atsede, the young woman I spoke to you about, has luckily reached safe harbor. She’s currently in a facility in Tigray run by Save the Children, where she can receive the medical attention and psychological care that she needs. But she, like many of Tigray’s residents, is adrift, unsure of where her husband is and whether all her children are accounted for. She’s also about to deliver a child on her own. As she put it, “I assume my husband and two other children are in Sudan, but they may also be dead,” she said. “I don’t know. I don’t know.” All of us here today, we will never get to say, “We don’t know.” We know what is happening in Tigray, despite the complex nature of the conflict and the attempts at obfuscation by the Ethiopian government. And with that knowledge comes a duty to do all we can to end it, for the sake of long-term peace and stability in the region, for the people of Tigray who have seen such suffering, for the sake of women like Atsede. Thank you, so much.