Washington vowed to impose more sanctions on Ethiopian officials against the backdrop of Addis Ababa’s decision to expel 7 employees working for the United Nations, while United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed his “shock” at the decision.
White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki warned during a briefing to reporters Thursday evening that Washington will not hesitate to resort to sanctions against those who obstruct humanitarian efforts in the country.
“The US government condemns in the strongest terms the unprecedented action taken by the Ethiopian government to expel the leaders of all UN organizations involved in humanitarian operations,” Psaki said.
“This is a stain on our collective conscience and this must be stopped,” she added, calling on the Security Council to take urgent action to inform the Ethiopian government that it is unacceptable to impede humanitarian operations.
Psaki said that in the absence of clear and tangible changes, the United States may impose sanctions, noting that the administration of President Joe Biden is preparing to take “drastic measures.”
An executive order issued by the Baide administration earlier allows Washington to impose sanctions on parties to the conflict if they obstruct humanitarian access, commit serious human rights abuses, or prolong the conflict.
“We must see concrete steps in a matter of weeks to start discussions on a ceasefire, allow unimpeded humanitarian access and ensure respect for human rights,” Psaki said.
In the same regard, a United Nations spokeswoman said that the Secretary-General of the International Organization, Antonio Guterres, was “shocked” after information that Ethiopia had declared seven senior United Nations officials persona non grata.
The spokeswoman revealed that they are currently communicating with the Government of Ethiopia with the expectation that the relevant UN officials will be allowed to continue their important work.
On Friday, the United Nations condemned Ethiopia’s announcement of the expulsion of officials and expressed concern about 5.2 million people in Tigray region who need urgent aid as cases of malnutrition increase.
“It is very important that humanitarian operations continue, so far there is no indication that Ethiopia’s decision is halting the operation,” a spokesperson for the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs told a news briefing in Geneva.
A spokesman for the United Nations Human Rights Office, Robert Colville, said that the expulsion of the head of the UN team in Ethiopia is a “dangerous step” and said, “We share a unified position that this situation is unacceptable.”
Human Rights Watch said the expulsions would affect “millions of Tigrayans and Ethiopians in need,” noting what it said was “a new sign of a diminishing humanitarian operating environment.”
The war in Tigray
Ethiopia announced the expulsion of 7 aid officials, two days after the international aid official said that hundreds of thousands of people feared starvation in the Tigray region “because of the government’s denial of aid access.”
The Ethiopian Foreign Ministry said on Twitter that the expulsion of these high-ranking officials of the UN agencies came for their “interference in the internal affairs of the country” and demanded that they leave its lands within 72 hours.
She indicated that prominent officials from the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the United Nations Office for Humanitarian Affairs in Ethiopia are among the persons covered by the expulsion decision.
Since the outbreak of the conflict in November, thousands of people have been killed and more than two million people have fled, and fighting has spread from Tigray to the (Amhara and Afar) regions, displacing hundreds of thousands of people.
On November 4, 2020, clashes erupted in the region between the Ethiopian army and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, before Addis Ababa announced the end of a “law enforcement” operation by taking control of the region.
On March 23, the Ethiopian Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed, acknowledged that atrocities had taken place against civilians during the conflict in Tigray, including rapes committed by soldiers, stressing that those involved would be held accountable.