Skip to main content


Volume 823: debated on Monday 4 July 2022


Tabled by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Tigray, Ethiopia.

On behalf of my noble friend, and with his permission, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in his name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, we welcome the cessation of hostilities between the Government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan forces and the subsequent uplift in aid deliveries, but the humanitarian situation remains dire for those impacted by the conflict. We are, of course, in regular touch with Ethiopian and Tigrayan leaders and the AU’s high representative, Olusegun Obasanjo, and are working closely with the G7. The UK’s special envoy to the Horn of Africa and the Red Sea raised this very issue with Ethiopian PM Abiy in May.

The Minister will know the huge scale of suffering through hunger and malnutrition in northern Ethiopia, with the UNOCHA reporting up to 3 million people desperately in need of food aid. Despite the welcome increase in supply, there are continued reports in some parts of Tigray that internally displaced people are still resorting to eating wild plants to survive. What steps are the Government taking to end the continued humanitarian blockade and ensure that aid is received in all parts of Tigray?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that the challenge is immense across Ethiopia. In particular, 9 million people in northern Ethiopia are in need of life-saving aid due to the conflict and nearly 30 million people require life-saving humanitarian aid throughout Ethiopia in 2022. The UK has been working with our UN partners. We were involved with the very first set of convoys that went in to provide humanitarian relief and continue to do so. We have been lobbying the Ethiopian Government to restore access to cash banking and communications, and since November 2020, the UK has provided more than £86 million to support vulnerable crisis-affected communities across Ethiopia, reaching communities in the Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions.

My Lords, around 26,000 women and girls need services following conflict-related sexual violence. This violence has led to babies being born and their mothers ostracised. Can my noble friend provide an update following the deployment of the UK’s Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative team and say when its report will become available?

My Lords, as my noble friend will be aware, CRSV remains a key priority for the UK Government. The Foreign Secretary has made sexual violence in conflict one of her top priorities. In northern Ethiopia, the UK has provided £4 million of support to survivors of sexual violence. My noble friend is correct that we have deployed experts; we are working with UNICEF and the UNHCR to ensure that full support can be provided to survivors. I will be pleased to provide a briefing to my noble friend on the detail of our support and the focus we hope to bring at the PSVI conference in November.

My Lords, has the noble Lord had a chance to look at the link I sent him over the weekend to a French documentary, the first in 18 months to be undertaken by international, independent journalists who had access to Tigray, entitled “Tigray, the Land of Hunger”? It develops the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler; it is about the deliberate starvation of the people of Tigray, which is a war crime. Does the noble Lord agree that, with 6 million people under siege and starving to death—a situation that will be only worsened by the blockades in Ukraine—and Tigray being without electricity, internet, banking services and medical supplies, the situation is dire? When will the FCDO’s JACS report—the joint analysis of conflict and stability—in Ethiopia be completed? Are we preserving the evidence, so that those responsible for atrocity crimes will be brought to justice? Does he agree that there can be no peace without justice?

My Lords, I totally agree with the noble Lord’s final point. We are ensuring through the deployment of experts and in working with key international partners that we do exactly as he suggests and protect the evidence so that we can bring the perpetrators of these crimes to justice. As the situation has been enhanced by our ability to provide humanitarian support, the report is being updated. We were just talking about home working; I regret to say that it is perhaps also not part and parcel of the job of a Foreign Minister. This weekend I spent most of my time in Birmingham, so I have not had time to read the report for the OSCE plenary, but I will look at the link that the noble Lord has sent me.

My Lords, the World Food Programme estimated today that 40% of the population of Tigray are now with extreme lack of food. It is spreading, with rising hunger in the neighbouring regions of Amhara and Afar, as well as in Sudan—where I was three weeks ago—and in South Sudan. With an estimate that Somalia may have a famine, for the first time in very many years, the Horn of Africa will see hunger on an unprecedented level. I reiterate my call for the UK Government to convene a London summit on hunger to co-ordinate the international effort. I applaud what the UK is doing, but it is not enough without the rest of the international community. Without that co-ordination, we may see hundreds of thousands—if not millions—of people die this summer of something that is absolutely preventable.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the need for co-ordination. As I said earlier, that is why we are working with key UN agencies in particular, which are among the first to gain access to some of the regions the noble Lord has highlighted. We are looking specifically at other regions, as I said earlier, including Oromia, Somali and Amhara. However, the point is well made. We are co-ordinating our efforts; on whether it requires an international conference specific to this issue, a broader range of conferences is currently taking place where this key issue of food security and famine relief should be central to the thinking and outcomes.

Does the Minister agree that it is surely one of the tragedies of our time that, just a few years ago, Ethiopia was considered a model and one of the African success stories? Since then, the Nobel prize-winning Prime Minister has alienated minorities, brought in Eritreans on his side and generally helped to cause the humanitarian crisis which is the subject of this Question. Was this matter raised at the recent CHOGM summit in Kigali because of the proximity of Uganda and Kenya? What can we do in terms of co-ordination?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord about the tragedy of what has happened in Ethiopia, and he is right that Prime Minister Abiy was very much at the forefront of bringing peace and security to the country and the surrounding regions. It is deeply tragic that we are seeing the conflicts unravel in the way we are. However, there is a silver lining to this very dark cloud, not just in terms of humanitarian support but the recent announcement on all sides to agree for discussions to take place, and we full support those efforts. On CHOGM, of course we raised the issue of food security and, in particular, that of conflict prevention. In bilateral discussions, the Foreign Secretary and my colleague, the Minister for Africa, raised these issues directly with the Government of Ethiopia.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that our selling arms to neighbouring Eritrea—a country with a dismal human rights record and an active participant in the maiming and killing in Tigray—is not exactly helping towards a peaceful resolution?

My Lords, again, without getting too much into the arms sales issue, as I have said repeatedly from the Dispatch Box, we have a very rigid policy when it comes to arms and defence sales across the world; those same principles are applied irrespective of which country may be requesting that support or assistance from the UK.

My Lords, this conflict is a humanitarian disaster of monumental proportions; 9 million people have been affected by it and about half a million people have died. Turning to the peace process which has been proposed, the TPLF does not trust the African Union to lead the peace process and wants Kenya to lead it instead. Given that on Thursday last week Prime Minister Abiy’s spokesperson spoke very positively about the relationship between Ethiopia and Kenya and between Prime Minister Abiy and President Kenyatta, should we not argue for the Kenyan Government to work alongside the AU and its envoy as a compromise solution? Surely with what is at stake, that is what is necessary: a compromise.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a very valid proposal and I assure him that in our engagement with Kenya the importance of the situation in Ethiopia is part and parcel of our discussions. I think there will be a change of leadership very shortly in Kenya, with President Kenyatta stepping down. But it is equally important that we engage proactively to ensure that whoever then goes on to lead Kenya is fully engaged in finding a solution to this process.

My Lords, the question of arms sales has been raised. Does the Minister accept that consistency by the United Kingdom on the provision of licences for arms sales around the world would be extremely helpful, rather than the current inconsistent way in which such issues are addressed? Does he concur that peace in this troubled region would be enhanced by sustained and unhindered humanitarian access, the restoration of internet and banking services, and bringing to an end youth conscription throughout the region, all of which would be most welcome?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s second suggestion, I have already alluded to the fact that some of the very points the noble Lord has raised are being discussed directly, and one hopes that the outcomes of these discussions—as and when they take place—will see a real focus on the priorities that he has articulated. On arms sales, I have to disagree; as I said, we have a process that we seek to follow in every negotiation and discussion we have. Of course, there are always learnings to improve that process and we adapt those accordingly.