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Ethiopia: Peace Process

Volume 826: debated on Monday 5 December 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the peace process in Ethiopia; and what representations they plan to make to the government of Ethiopia about the cessation of hostilities agreement that requires the withdrawal of all foreign forces and the concurrent disarmament of Tigrayan forces.

My Lords, it is good to hear the noble Baroness in such good voice. We welcome the peace agreement between the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front to end the conflict in northern Ethiopia. The agreement makes provision for an AU-chaired committee to monitor and verify its implementation. We are ready to provide support towards implementation of the agreement and have communicated this offer to the African Union and the Ethiopian Government. We have also called on the Eritrean Government to support the agreement by withdrawing their troops from Ethiopia.

My Lords, on Friday, the Associated Press reported that Eritrean forces are continuing their killings of civilians in the Tigray region, and according to the Washington Post yesterday, “Ethiopian guards massacred scores of Tigrayan prisoners.” On 17 November, before the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee, US Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Phee committed to further sanctions on Eritrea if it does not throw its troops out, and to neither restoration of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act nor support for international loans for Ethiopia until unrestricted humanitarian aid enters Tigray and civilian detainees are released. Is the Minister able to make similar commitments today for His Majesty’s Government?

My Lords, the noble Lord will know that I cannot give any specifics or details of sanctions; however, sanctions are part and parcel of the tools we have at our disposal. As I said in my original Answer, we wish, want and have asked the Eritreans to withdraw immediately; we will continue to do so repeatedly by working with the AU and the UN. They are an impediment to the peace process and, as we have seen from the noble Lord’s supplementary question, the continued violence being perpetrated is inexcusable. If there is more information to share in future, we will do so at the appropriate time.

My Lords, as the Minister attended the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative conference last week, could he tell us what reports are coming through on the use of rape as a weapon of war in Tigray and whether people will be held to account? Is evidence being gathered, which is necessary if perpetrators are to be held to account?

My Lords, of course I can assure the noble Baroness that we are working with key agencies, including the UN. This was a specific area that I also discussed with SRSG Patten, who heads the UN team. We have previously dispatched experts to collect evidence. On specific actions, part of the conference was about ensuring that we collate and sustain evidence so that we can successfully prosecute as and when those opportunities arise.

My Lords, the Minister knows the region well, as I know that his right honourable friend the Minister for Overseas Development does, and he will therefore appreciate that wishing, wanting and asking for peace in that region is simply not going to be enough. As he has recognised and referred to, an African Union committee is charged with monitoring the process. The African Union is notoriously underresourced; its partner is the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. Will the Minister undertake to refer to that body and ask what practical assistance, by way of material resources, it needs to undertake its very difficult task?

My Lords, equally, I know that the noble Lord has detailed insight of this area and particularly this conflict. As he and I discussed only a couple of weeks ago in a very—as ever—informed debate in your Lordships’ House, there is great hope for Ethiopia. Of course, however, I take on board his practical suggestion and I assure him that, at the highest level, we will look to engage. It is not just about Eritrean forces withdrawing; they need to withdraw now.

My Lords, this conflict has been going on for two years. In that time, thousands have been killed and raped, people have lost their homes and livelihoods, and they are starving. Now the World Health Organization says that it does not have access to all areas in Tigray. What are the UK Government doing about that?

My Lords, we helped to negotiate and regain access to humanitarian corridors to various parts of the region, including parts of Tigray. However, the noble Baroness is correct: not all areas are accessible, even by UN agencies. We have been successful, and the United Kingdom has played a key part in providing humanitarian support, including specific support for those who have been impacted by gender-based violence, for those requiring specific nutrition and health support, and for water and sanitation. We are a key part of that effort, together with the United Nations.

My Lords, may I just probe a little more the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover? At the conference, on which I congratulate the Minister, it was made clear that preventing sexual violence requires people knowing that they cannot act with impunity. That means making sure that we have the means to hold them properly to account. Gathering the evidence is one thing, but what are we doing to support the Ethiopian authorities to ensure that those people are held to account on all sides for the crimes they have committed? Are we giving them practical support?

Yes, we are. However, I do not want to deny for a moment that the challenges are immense. We have just seen a very fragile peace agreement being reached; we need to ensure that it is sustained and strengthened, and that those who committed these crimes are held fully to account. As the noble Lord will know, we made an additional commitment of £12.5 million; part of that money will be allocated to national mechanisms in conflict-related areas, where we can help to build national accountability mechanisms and support the training of judges and prosecutors.

My Lords, further to my noble friend’s comments on the dire humanitarian situation, I say that we believe there to be around 13 million people who now need humanitarian assistance because of the hostilities. Can he update me on any progress that has been made on humanitarian access since the ceasefire?

My Lords, we are providing additional access. As my noble friend will be aware, in the last 18 months alone, we have allocated nearly £90 million to support efforts, including humanitarian efforts. Existing supply routes continue to operate, but we are working with partners such as UNICEF and, in particular, the WFP. Over the last 18 months, it has provided supplementary feeding, for example, to 115,000 malnourished mothers and children in northern Ethiopia, and to 226,000 people in drought-affected communities in southern Ethiopia. When we see the scale of the humanitarian suffering, however, we see that there is so much still to be done.

My Lords, the conflict is one of famine and atrocities on both sides. What confidence does the Minister have that the laying- down of arms will not lead to the settling of scores against the people of Tigray?

My Lords, in any conflict resolution, what is required is reconciliation. We need to focus on that. This is a very vulnerable ceasefire at the moment. We have seen hard negotiations and I pay tribute to, among others, former Kenyan President Kenyatta and former Nigerian President Obasanjo, who were central to ensuring that this agreement was reached. However, sustaining it is going to be equally difficult, and that is why, in reply to the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, I said that it is important that countries like the UK and other international partners support regional efforts to ensure that the peace agreement that has been negotiated can be sustained and strengthened.

My Lords, my noble friend the Minister has referred to the United Nations, the African Union and a number of other international organisations. Can he enlighten the House as to which other international organisations the Government are working with in trying to get to the heart of this problem?

My Lords, we need to focus on practical solutions, which is why, even with the United Nations, we have focused on supporting the African Union’s efforts. There could be a multitude of organisations working on the ground, but we need a focused peace. We are working with various other international agencies: UNICEF, the WFP, the Ethiopia Humanitarian Fund, the ICRC, the World Health Organization, the IOM, UNHCR—the list continues. It is important that we have a co-ordinated effort, which is best done by regional partners—namely, the African Union. Oh! I am working with musical accompaniment as well now.

My Lords, I apologise for that interruption by my phone. I never cease to be encouraged by the ambition of Members of this House to have an impact in parts of the world where, frankly, we have very little political clout. We give very substantial amounts of money, as my noble friend the Minister has just outlined; what measures are we able to take to ensure that that great deal of aid money is in fact spent on the causes that we intend it to be, rather than siphoned off and spent, as I fear too much aid is, by people in whose pockets we would simply not wish to find that money?

My noble friend raises an important point, not just in the context of Ethiopia but everywhere where British taxpayers’ money is spent. It is important that the Government stand accountable for ensuring that money is spent on the intention for which it has been given. That is why I sought to provide specific answers on some of the programmes. I have already given one or two examples; I mentioned the ICRC, for which our funding of £4 million has helped in the treatment of 17,700 wounded people and 116,000 other patients. There are other specific numbers that I can provide to my noble friend. It is important because, undoubtedly, anywhere that humanitarian support is provided, there is a need for local accountability mechanisms and a full audit of how money is spent to ensure that those who are most vulnerable and in need get the money and support that they require.