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Ethiopia: Human Rights

Volume 692: debated on Tuesday 20 April 2021

What recent assessment he has made of the (a) humanitarian and (b) human rights situation in Tigray, Ethiopia. (914435)

The UK has been at the forefront of the international effort to de-escalate the very grave humanitarian situation in Tigray. There can be no military solution; conflict can only be resolved through a political settlement. I saw that at first hand when I was in Ethiopia in January.

Credible media and NGO reports have found human rights abuses, crimes against humanity, massacres and atrocities by all parties to the conflict in Tigray. The UN states that the top public health official for the appointed interim administration in Tigray has reported the use of sexual slavery and grotesque acts of sexual gender-based violence by Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers, with more than 10,500 cases of rape being committed. When did the Foreign Secretary last speak to the Ethiopian Government to raise the humanitarian, security and human rights situations, and has the Prime Minister spoken to his Ethiopian counterpart?

I share the hon. Lady’s concerns about this, and I can reassure her that not only do we regularly raise this, but that is why I visited Ethiopia in January. I went up to Gondar to see for myself the humanitarian access. We have seen since then some improvements in humanitarian access. The Ethiopian Government have introduced a new system that requires notification rather than permission. That is a step forward, but we need further progress. In relation to those credible claims of human rights abuses that we and many have received, I note that Prime Minister Abiy has said that the perpetrators should face justice, and we certainly hold him to that assurance and support the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in the planned investigations that they are working on.

I am sure that my right hon. Friend shares my concern and, frankly, horror at the ongoing reports of rape and sexual violence being used as weapons in the ongoing Tigray conflict, and joins the US Government in calling for a joint investigation by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission into such reports. Does he agree that, with the UK hosting the G7 this summer, this is the perfect opportunity to put preventing sexual violence in conflict on the agenda and to lead a global response to such heinous crimes?

I totally share my hon. Friend’s passion and outrage at the human rights violations we have seen—indeed, not just there, but in many other parts of the world—and I can reassure her in relation to the G7 presidency priorities that, along with tackling covid and climate change, pressing for human rights, freedom of speech and accountability for human rights violations are high up on the agenda.

I think there will be considerable unanimity, frankly, and concern across the House about the situation in Tigray. It is also a test for the UK Government’s integrated diplomacy and aid policies, in that the UK is not without arms in this discussion as a significant donor to the region. I am glad that the Foreign Secretary has been in the region, but is there scope for discussions, and what discussions has he had, with the European Union and the African Union, which are also trying to create a durable peace on this, and what part has the UK played in those efforts, because I think those would be the most productive?

The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right. Normally, in this kind of situation we would expect the African Union or other regional partners to be engaged in trying to find a diplomatic dialogue and a way forward. I spoke to President Kenyatta about this and I spoke to Prime Minister Hamdok in Sudan about this, and I have also spoken to the UN and the AU about this. It is absolutely clear, for the reasons he has described, that we need a widespread caucus of like-minded countries pushing for a political solution to this because, on top of humanitarian access and accountability for human rights abuses, we need to have political dialogue. One of the most important aspects of that will be to make sure that, as soon as possible, there are elections across Ethiopia, as Prime Minister Abiy is committed to, but also in the Tigray region.