Ethiopia

– in the House of Commons at 4:22 pm on 14th June 2021.

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Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury 4:22 pm, 14th June 2021

(Urgent Question): To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs if he will make a statement on the deteriorating situation in Ethiopia.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I congratulate my hon. Friend on securing this urgent question, and I thank him for his work not only on Ethiopia, but on Zambia and Angola, where he serves as a trade envoy, and for the excellent work he does on the Business Council for Africa.

The Government are deeply concerned about the situation in Ethiopia. Our greatest concern is the rapidly growing human rights and humanitarian crisis in Tigray. We are now more than seven months into the conflict in Tigray, and there is no sight of an end. It has taken a terrible toll on the people of Tigray. More than 350,000 people are assessed to be in famine-like conditions in total—more than anywhere else in the world—and, sadly, this is expected to rise. A region-wide famine in Tigray is now likely if conflict intensifies and impediments to the delivery of humanitarian aid continue. This crisis has been caused by insecurity, an ongoing lack of humanitarian access and the deliberate destruction of agricultural equipment and medical facilities. It is a man-made crisis.

Officials from our embassy in Addis Ababa have visited Tigray five times to assess the situation and guide our humanitarian response. The UK’s special envoy for famine prevention and humanitarian affairs, Nick Dyer, visited Tigray last month. Our ambassador is due to visit this week. During these visits, we have heard many harrowing reports of atrocities committed by all parties to the conflict. This includes extrajudicial killings, and widespread sexual and gender-based violence. It is simply unacceptable, it must stop and the perpetrators must be held to account.

The head of the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Mark Lowcock, has said the humanitarian disaster is in part due to the presence of the Eritrean troops in Tigray. He says they are using hunger as a weapon of war, and we therefore need to see the immediate withdrawal of Eritrean forces from Tigray and Ethiopian soil now. The Government of Ethiopia have said this will happen, but it has not yet happened. I am particularly shocked about reports that Eritreans are dressing up in Ethiopian uniforms and committing atrocities.

The concern of the G7 nations about the situation was set out in yesterday’s communiqué, following the leaders’ summit this weekend. The G7 leaders called for an immediate cessation of hostilities and unimpeded humanitarian access to the area. I am pleased that all G7 nations in the EU, along with a growing number of other nations, including Spain, Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Finland, Sweden, Belgium and Poland, have joined the UK’s call for an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. His Holiness the Pope expressed his concerns and also called for an end to fighting this weekend. It is vital that that happens to allow life-saving aid to reach the hundreds of thousands in need.

The international community response to this crisis needs to be scaled up urgently. That will involve co-ordination to ensure aid gets in.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am glad my right hon. Friend agrees with me on that issue. I am conscious that there will be a number of questions, so I will cease my comments there.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

Thank you, Mr Speaker, for granting this urgent question. I thank everyone who supported me in the application.

The Minister knows that the UK’s ties with Ethiopia are very close and historical. Ethiopia is the second largest recipient of UK aid—it receives about £300 million a year from the UK. As chairman of the all-party group on Ethiopia and Djibouti, I wish to see that relationship and that level of aid continue.

Since the end of the Derg in 1991, Ethiopia has been a peaceful and safe country, holding together very many groups and religions and enjoying impressive economic growth. That is why it is so sad to see the current conflict in Tigray. Is the Minister satisfied with the current level of engagement of the United Nations and the African Union, in terms of negotiations and peacekeeping?

The World Food Programme has said that 350,000 people are suffering from catastrophic levels of hunger, categorised as integrated food security phase classification 5—the highest level. That is the highest number of people classified in that way in a single country in the past decade, and it is projected to increase. The World Food Programme says that it needs an extra $203 million to scale up its response in Tigray, and that,

“unless food and livelihood assistance is scaled up”,

famine is a risk, so what else can we do to help?

More generally, is the Minister satisfied that aid is reaching people in Tigray? Have the non-governmental organisations had their access restricted? What protection is being provided to aid workers following the reported deaths of nine aid workers?

On aid, does the Minister agree that often the people in most need in the world are those living in war-torn countries? Is it therefore right for any country to be suspending any direct aid to Ethiopia at the moment? In such situations, surely the trick is to get under the radar and deliver aid to the people who need it most.

Has the Minister been able to assess whether hospitals and their equipment are being adequately protected? Has he been able to assess the living conditions of the 1.6 million people who have been displaced throughout the conflict?

We have heard about the involvement of the Eritreans in Ethiopia. That was originally denied by the Ethiopian Government. Does the Minister feel that some of the worst atrocities are being committed from that route?

Finally, what assessment has the Minister made of the likelihood of the conflict spreading to other parts of Ethiopia and the wider region? I know the Foreign Secretary has a focus on east Africa, which demonstrates that we are all concerned about that situation.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my hon. Friend. This is indeed one of our largest aid programmes. He asked whether the UN and the AU could do more. Yes, always, but we are working with our UN partners very carefully. I have spoken extensively to the new political affairs, peace and security commissioner, Bankole Adeoye, about this issue. Sadly, I can confirm the World Food Programme’s analysis of famine-like conditions—IPC5. Clearly, we need to do more. My hon. Friend asked whether we could do more, and I can announce this afternoon that the UK Government will provide a further £16.7 million of aid from our regular programme elsewhere in Ethiopia and divert it towards the conflict in Tigray. He mentioned NGO access. That has improved since the early days of the conflict, but NGOs still do not have full access, and the land in Tigray is controlled by different combatants, which makes it even more difficult. He talked of hospitals. Hospital supplies were virtually at zero at one point, and from what we have seen from our five visits from the embassy and Her Majesty’s Government, only around 74 of the 264 hospitals are operating in any way, shape or form.

My hon. Friend also mentioned the Eritrean troops. They have no place in the Ethiopian conflict, and they have been asked to leave. They should leave, and we will work with all partners to ensure that that happens. Rather chillingly, he also asked whether the conflict could spread. We are concerned, with the election coming up and with the pre-existing instabilities in the Oromo region and the Amhara region on the Sudanese border, not to mention the issue of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance dam, that there are a number of flashpoints, so it is important that we deal with this conflict as it stands at the moment and ensure that it does not spread further into the region and Ethiopia more generally.

Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development)

I thank Mr Robertson for his strong words, and the Minister for his frank response. We have also repeatedly raised this horrendous situation. Indeed, I raised it with the Prime Minister in this House eight months ago, but tragically since then we have seen a worsening and deepening of the crisis. As has been said, Ethiopia has made huge strides forward on poverty, and our aid, trade and friendly partnership has been hugely important. We all want to see a prosperous and democratic Ethiopia, but the war and famine of the 1980s are seared into the memories of the British people and the world, so it is especially heartbreaking to see the current famine and to see civilians being hacked to death, rape, the destruction of food and health capacity, tens of thousands displaced and hundreds of thousands cut off from assistance. We must now speak forcefully and frankly, and most crucially take action in the face of the growing and incontrovertible evidence. We have a clear responsibility to act and to protect and assist Ethiopian civilians.

The UN human rights chief has spoken of potential war crimes and crimes against humanity, and the G7 spoke this weekend of a humanitarian tragedy, with potentially hundreds of thousands living in famine conditions, so has the Prime Minister spoken to Prime Minister Abiy or any of the other key players, not least following the G7 this weekend? If not, when will he do so? What action are we taking at the Security Council and the Human Rights Council with the AU to bring about an end to the conflict, full humanitarian access and a full independent investigation into the allegations of human rights abuses?

There is clear evidence of a serious food crisis, as the UK envoy and the UN have said, with huge numbers of people at risk of famine and food emergency, so this is the wrong time for us to be slashing humanitarian aid, as the House has made repeatedly clear. The Minister mentioned £16.7 million being diverted. However, the UN humanitarian chief pointed out last week that the UK had provided $108 million to Ethiopia last year, but that this year we have reported only $6 million. Can the Minister clarify that, and tell us when we will be urgently increasing our total assistance? I share his concerns about Eritrean troops. Have any actually left, or are they still there? It has been claimed that they have left, but I have yet to see any evidence of that. Will he also consider targeted sanctions and measures against any individual, from whatever side, who is found to have committed human rights abuses, war crimes or other atrocities?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his long-standing interest in this issue, through oral questions in the House and through parliamentary questions as well. We share the desire for a return to a democratic and prosperous Ethiopia. That was at the centre of the east African strategy, and we will work more closely with the United Nations in particular, and with UN organisations and local organisations, to ensure that all perpetrators are brought to account. The primary relationship with Prime Minister Abiy is with the Foreign Secretary, who met him on an east African trip and who I know retains that dialogue. I do not know specifically when the Prime Minister last spoke to Prime Minister Abiy, but I will certainly let the hon. Gentleman know.

On the aid level, I thank the hon. Gentleman for welcoming the small redirection of aid moneys. I do not recognise the numbers that he talked about, but I am more than happy to have a dialogue with him around that. Obviously, multilateral spending in addition to bilateral spending makes the situation slightly more complicated, particularly as we are diverting more money into the region. I think those are the main issues that he raised. If I have missed any, I will pick them up during other answers.

Photo of Thomas Tugendhat Thomas Tugendhat Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee, Chair, Foreign Affairs Committee

I welcome the urgent question from my hon. Friend Mr Robertson, which could not be more important given the tragic scenes we are seeing in Tigray at the moment. May I ask my hon. Friend the Minister what work he has been doing with our American friends—notably, of course, Senator Coons, who is the representative of President Biden in the region—and what co-ordination he is doing with UN agencies, including the Nobel prize-winning World Food Programme? Is extra support going to those organisations, and are they able to raise money through the open, charitable arms of the United Kingdom? So many people in this country are looking to help, and I am sure they would give very generously.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for his work on this issue and on the Foreign Affairs Committee. We are very engaged with our American partners. I attended a meeting last week with Samantha Power and international organisations, discussing this issue. When I was last in Ethiopia, I met the incoming ambassador, and there has been a regional envoy travelling in the area, whom I also met last week. I have had several meetings with David Beasley of the World Food Programme, which we try to work with as closely as possible, although at key points of this conflict, access to the area, rather than actually delivering the aid, was the main problem.

Ultimately, there is no solution without political dialogue. Although the issues that my hon. Friend raises are important, several other actions need to take place as a precursor before we get that food to the people who are starving. It is particularly concerning that people are destroying hoes and farming equipment so that people cannot plant. It is a narrow point; if they do not plant in the next few weeks or months, there will be no crop at the end of the cycle.

Photo of Chris Law Chris Law Shadow SNP Spokesperson (International Development)

May I first put on the record my heartfelt sympathy and condolences to the families of those murdered by terrorists last week in Afghanistan while in their line of work with the HALO Trust? The attacks were atrocious and cowardly, and the perpetrators must be held to account. These men and women bravely put their lives on the line every day by clearing landmines all over the world.

Most of the 5.5 million people living in Tigray are desperately hungry, and more than 300,000 people are suffering from famine. Starvation causes someone’s body literally to consume itself; their organs shrink, their hair falls out, they convulse and they hallucinate before death. Children are even more at risk; it is reported that 300,000 children are expected to die. Even if aid deliveries were stepped up immediately, the situation will only worsen by September, so how are the UK Government using their relationship with Ethiopia to allow aid organisations access and to alleviate this impending catastrophic crisis?

This catastrophe is unfolding as we speak, and we know the devastation it will cause if we do nothing, yet the UK Government are ignoring both UK law and their own manifesto pledge by cutting aid—including that to Africa by 66%. Will the Government reverse those life-threatening cuts and, at the very least, immediately mobilise sufficient emergency funds to get life-saving aid to the Tigray region?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the hon. Gentleman for his comments. I would like to be associated with his comments on the HALO Trust, which does excellent work in Africa and elsewhere around the world.

Sadly, the numbers are even worse than those the hon Gentleman cites. Nearly 23 million people across Ethiopia will require assistance in 2021. The vast majority of those, and the vast majority of the increase on the normal assistance, are in Tigray, with 6.2 million of the population requiring assistance.

The hon. Gentleman asks about aid getting through. The process for humanitarian assistance getting through was very convoluted. It has improved, but it is still not sufficient to get the materials through, even if we did have them to distribute. However, that is something we are working on very closely; the famine prevention and humanitarian affairs envoy talked about it, and the ambassador will talk about it when he visits Tigray this week. One of the first people to visit Tigray was our development director, looking at these very issues of gaining access.

Crucial to all this is ensuring that the Eritreans get out of Tigray, to create a situation of stability. I very much hope that the turning point of the elections will be a pivot, where the Ethiopian Government will look again at some of these issues.

Photo of Andrew Mitchell Andrew Mitchell Conservative, Sutton Coldfield

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Robertson on securing this urgent question, and I echo the comments of the Foreign Affairs Committee Chair that many responsible people throughout our country are worrying about a return to 1984 famine conditions. I urge my hon. Friend, who is a decent and humane Minister, to take two key things away from the House. The first is that 2 million people have been driven from their homes—many across the border into Sudan—and 350,000 people, according to the UN, are now in IPC phase 5, which means they are quite literally starving to death. Secondly, in 2020, the UK recorded $108 million in humanitarian money for Ethiopia; so far this year, with the cuts resulting from our broken promise on the 0.7%, the UN tracking system says that Britain has provided only $6 million—that is the figure scored against ODA so far. Will my hon. Friend bear in mind those two facts in his discussions with his Treasury colleagues?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his long-standing interest. Like him, I do not want to go back to 1984, although there are chilling similarities. He talks of the number of individuals who have gone across the border to Sudan. We have provided £5 million to refugees coming over. We also recognise the number of 350,000.

I think my right hon. Friend explained the source of another hon. Member’s figure of $6 million. I will have to check it, because that is a gross distortion. This is one of our biggest aid programmes. We are the second or third largest aid donor, so that must be a snapshot of a single programme or a very small period of time, because our programmes are many multiples of that.

Photo of Jeremy Corbyn Jeremy Corbyn Independent, Islington North

Tragedy has hit many people in the region, and sadly much of the world’s media seems to be ignoring it. Children are ultimately the most horrendous victims of this kind of war, and sexual violence has been perpetrated against many women in Tigray. Two million people, as others have pointed out, are now homeless or have been driven from their homes, and 350,000 people face imminent hunger. There has to be a political solution to this situation, and there has to be a humanitarian response to it.

Is the Minister confident that the Ethiopian Government will allow unfettered access to United Nations human rights inspectors to look at the human rights situation? Is he confident that we will make sure that no further arms are supplied to Ethiopia and, indeed, that there is an arms embargo on the whole region to try to force the pace on bringing about peace for the future? Have he or the Government had any contact with the African Union on this issue, and what role is the African Union playing in trying to bring about a political settlement and a political solution so that another conflict does not break out and the many refugees who have gone to Sudan and other places are able to return home in safety?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the right hon. Gentleman for that question. He is absolutely right that this requires a political solution; without a political solution, all the other actions that take place will not work. That is not to say that we should not do other things, but we need to look at the backbone of the long-term political situation. This conflict has been going on too long—over eight months. During that period, we have called for “unfettered”—in the right hon. Gentleman’s words—humanitarian access. I would not describe the access we have now as unfettered; I would describe it as better than when we started early on in the conflict. We are working very closely with the UN in this regard.

The right hon. Gentleman mentions the issues around arms embargoes, which I will consider carefully. As he will appreciate, though, arms come in over many borders—porous borders—and the situation is quite complex, with regional influence well beyond just the African continent. The African Union should be, will be and is part of the solution, and we will work with it. I have spoken a number of times to my opposite number, Commissioner Bankole, and I even spoke a few weeks ago with the President of Ethiopia and briefly with the head of the African Union, Moussa Faki, about the African Union. The African Union will be part of the solution. In the 54 states of Africa, there is a diminishing conflict, but there are significant problems, and the African Union is well placed to solve them, rather than their being solved from London or New York.

Photo of Harriett Baldwin Harriett Baldwin Conservative, West Worcestershire

I congratulate my hon. Friend Mr Robertson on securing this urgent question, and thank Mr Speaker for granting it, shining a spotlight on this absolutely appalling humanitarian situation. It is particularly tragic, given how much progress Ethiopia had been making on development. The Minister said that quite clearly it is a man-made crisis. In that light, would he consider writing to the Nobel peace prize awarding committee to ask it to revoke the peace prize it awarded to Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for her service as my predecessor in this role. She will appreciate that the awarding of a Nobel peace prize is not for the United Kingdom to determine. At the moment, our relationship with Prime Minister Abiy is one of trying to have a strong dialogue. The Foreign Secretary has a very good, honest relationship with Prime Minister Abiy. At the moment, we are better having a continued and quiet dialogue and diplomacy, rather than leaping to some of the solutions that my hon. Friend is pointing to—legitimate solutions elsewhere that might be right at a different time, but I do not think they would be constructive at this juncture.

Photo of Layla Moran Layla Moran Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs)

“Never again”—that is what the international community said after the famine in Ethiopia in the 1980s. In fact, I lived there between the ages of five and eight, and I will never forget the looks in the eyes of starving children my own age: scared, desperate or, worst of all, hollow. So it is utterly horrifying to hear that history is repeating itself. In the face of this Government’s decision to abandon the 0.7% target on aid, it would be an act of extreme callousness to cut what we give to the people of Ethiopia at this time. The Minister said that he does not recognise the £6 million figure, so can he clarify how much less this country will be spending on aid to Ethiopia as a result of the aid cuts, compared with last year? He also said that the money promised today is a diversion from elsewhere, so what programmes are being cancelled or delayed as a result?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I would not want the House to get the wrong idea. Internationally we said, “Never again,” but actually things are improving across the African continent. There are still problems, but things are moving in the right direction and have been since 1984. In Ethiopia specifically, prior to this conflict, the Ethiopian Government were much more able to find their own solutions, alongside us, but aid remains part of the process. The hon. Lady pushes me to provide statistics that I do not have available, but they will be reported to the House in the normal course of business.

Photo of Fiona Bruce Fiona Bruce Conservative, Congleton

Does the Minister share my concerns about credible reports of child soldiers being deployed in the conflict? The UK is supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in investigating human rights violations in the conflict. Does that include looking into the involvement of child soldiers, and what more can the UK do to help prevent this abuse of vulnerable young lives in the region?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Sadly, a high level of sexual violence is being directed at children—children are being forced to commit sexual acts—and I think it is likely that people under the age of 18 are being conscripted. I will be interested to hear from non-governmental organisations with more evidence, and that should be brought before the African Union, the UN and local authorities to ensure that perpetrators are held to account, because clearly it is unacceptable.

Photo of Tan Dhesi Tan Dhesi Shadow Minister (Transport)

The humanitarian crisis unfolding in Ethiopia is saddening, and we in the UK must urgently step up to help civilians via aid as well as demanding an immediate end to the violence in Tigray. What assessment have the Government made of reports of aid being cut off, health facilities being vandalised and aid workers being harassed by troops on all sides of the conflict? What about the horrific allegations of sexual torture and rape? What action is being taken against them?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

Sadly, all those things are happening, it is true. To put some numbers on the sexual violence, it is over 1,000, and we fear that probably at least 26,000 people are likely to require support in the coming months. That is based on UN estimates. It is very difficult to give more precise figures on the types of atrocities and the perpetrators, given that we do not have full access. As I say, there is very strong evidence that Eritrean soldiers are dressing up in Ethiopian uniforms, and there are counter-accusations of similar behaviour from other combatants.

Photo of Scott Benton Scott Benton Conservative, Blackpool South

The vast majority of my constituents support the Government’s decision to reduce international aid, but they rightly expect us to provide funding and support to relieve the situation in Ethiopia. Does the Minister agree that moving away from the 0.7% target in no way stops us providing vital support in circumstances such as these?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my hon. Friend for his support. Of course we are still contributing £10 billion of aid. That is an enormous sum of money in absolute terms. It is also enormous relative to the actual size of our economy—it is much larger than other members of the G7 and our international partners, such as the Americans, for example. Not only that, but it is not a permanent change; we are going to get back to 0.7% when the economic conditions allow. I know that there are other hon. Members in the House who want that to happen very quickly, but we will keep that situation under review and try to get it back. It certainly does not stop us helping more in situations such as that in Ethiopia.

Photo of Carol Monaghan Carol Monaghan Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Armed Forces and Veterans), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Education)

Gang rape and brutal sexual violence against women and little girls are being used as weapons of war in Tigray. This fear of sexual violence means that women and girls are in hiding, too terrified to travel to food distribution centres. Children are literally starving because of fear of rape. What work are the Government doing internationally to remove the stigma of rape in conflict? What steps are being taken to bring perpetrators of sexual violence in conflict to justice?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This is an incredibly important issue, which was given a higher profile when Lord Hague was Foreign Secretary. It was raised up the international agenda. In fact, I was alongside him in a number of UN meetings when I was Minister for Africa under David Cameron, raising these issues. It does appear that sexual violence is being used more, not less. Some of that might be our awareness and our willingness to talk about it, rather than brushing it under the carpet, but it is really important that we flag that it is one of the worst areas of behaviour. We need to get away from it. I note that the House is discussing the issue in more detail—perhaps I will be able to provide more detail—on Thursday this week.

Photo of Tobias Ellwood Tobias Ellwood Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee, Chair, Defence Sub-Committee

This urgent question underlines exactly why we should not be reducing our aid budget from 0.7% to 0.5%, but this war in Tigray is a test for the west. The conflict has resulted in widespread starvation, as the Minister points out, but a state of famine has not yet been declared. The recent G7 summit called for an immediate ceasefire, but how likely is it that either Ethiopia or Eritrea will heed those words? What is clear is that if the international community stands back and does nothing, the war, the scale of the famine and the number of civilian deaths will continue to increase.

As the UN Security Council penholder for peacekeeping and the protection of civilians in armed conflict, will the UK be calling for an emergency session of the UN Security Council, and will we be offering to send independent observers, so that we can better understand the situation, given the conflicting reports and statements made by the Ethiopian Government on the one hand and NGOs on the other?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My right hon. Friend makes very strong points, and I am reminded that if the famine-like conditions were more concentrated—were in a more defined area—they would indeed be defined as famine; this is so widespread that it is defined as famine-like conditions. We are already working with our colleagues and international observers to understand. Unfortunately, if we only do what we are doing now the situation will get worse; we must do something different. At the heart of that is finding a political solution and, hopefully, moving away from the election will be a pivot point. I am not demeaning any of the other calls for action, but without a political solution things will get worse.

Photo of Jim Shannon Jim Shannon Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Human Rights), Shadow DUP Spokesperson (Health)

I thank the Minister for his clear commitment to the job in hand. Like all the other hon. Members here today, I am deeply concerned about reports of multiple massacres in Ethiopia’s Tigray region, including the killing of up to 800 people in and around the sacred refuge of the Church of Our Lady Mary of Zion in Axum.

I am also greatly concerned about the food situation in the region. Even before the conflict over 1 million people in Tigray needed daily food assistance, including 40,000 Eritrean refugees, so will the Minister outline what discussions he has had with African counterparts about this terrible conflict and what he is doing to support those at risk of famine, in particular Christians and ethnic groups who are often at the end of the queue when it comes to getting help?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am concerned about all the people, whether they are Christians, Ethiopians or Eritreans, as I know the hon. Gentleman is. I continue a dialogue—in fact I think this issue comes up in every single meeting I have across the continent. It is a blight on the continent; it is a problem for the continent and the world, not just for Ethiopia. So we will continue raising those issues; the Minister of State Lord Ahmad has, as Minister on freedom of religion, particularly emphasised them, and we also heard from the Prime Minister’s envoy, my hon. Friend Fiona Bruce, in this Chamber just a few moments ago.

Photo of Bob Blackman Bob Blackman Conservative, Harrow East

Eritrea is effectively a dictatorship with one of the worst human rights records in the world. What pressure can my hon. Friend put on the Government of Eritrea to remove their troops from this conflict and to make sure that they abide by the human rights records we want to see right across the world?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

At various points in the conflict there has been denial that troops are there, denial that they were there and committing atrocities, and so on and so on; it has been very unclear. I share my hon. Friend’s analysis of the situation. Guy Warrington, a senior member of the Foreign Office, will soon be visiting the area and taking up the post of ambassador there to work on this issue and a number of others. As I have said, my hon. Friend’s analysis, while uncomfortable, is correct.

Photo of Helen Hayes Helen Hayes Labour, Dulwich and West Norwood

The UN Secretary-General’s special representative on the elimination of sexual violence, Pramila Patten, said last week that 22,500 women in Tigray need access to services as a result of conflict-related sexual violence. This coming Saturday is the UN International Day for the Elimination of Sexual Violence in Conflict. Will the Minister support Tigrayan women around the world who are calling for justice for their sisters by using the UK’s position on the UN Security Council to press for urgent and immediate action to stop this violence and ensure that the perpetrators are brought to justice?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank the hon. Lady for the way in which she has addressed this and a number of other issues on Ethiopia behind the scenes as well as in public; that has been very helpful. I am very keen to support raising the issue, whether on the UN day or in debate. Anything we can do to call out sexual violence against women makes it harder for the perpetrator to commit the crime and easier for us to rally support for people to be prosecuted and to put others off in the future.

Photo of Robert Largan Robert Largan Conservative, High Peak

Reports of new atrocities in Tigray continue to emerge almost daily. Does the Minister agree that UN investigators need to be given urgent and full access to the region so that they can investigate, and will he consider further joint action with our international partners if that access is not forthcoming?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

It is important that we look at the situation as an international community rather than acting on a bilateral basis. I am hopeful that the end of the elections will be a pivot point; it is difficult to see big changes happening before that, but we should call for greater humanitarian access and we must do so as a collective region or an international community. Clearly, given the deteriorating situation, we cannot just call for these things not to happen and then rest on our laurels. We will have to look again at these issues.

Photo of Paul Blomfield Paul Blomfield Labour, Sheffield Central

The Minister will have seen reports that Vodafone is paying the Ethiopian Government £850 million for a telecoms licence, as the first stage of a deal that Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed described as

“the single largest foreign direct investment into Ethiopia”.

There is widespread concern that that funding will be used to support the war in Tigray. Will the Minister therefore explain what advice the Government are giving British business on investment in the country at this time?

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

This is not a Government investment, but a CDC investment, although we are dancing on the head of a pin in the sense that the CDC itself is a UK Government-supported institution. We supported the bid to be a telecoms supplier; that bid precedes the Tigrayan conflict, and its successes in bringing greater mobile telephony across the area will help to transform Ethiopia. If there were any question of the money being used to support the conflict in Tigray, we would not be involved; if the hon. Gentleman has any evidence of that, he should come forward. We see this as something that will open out Ethiopia, not shut it down.

Photo of Anthony Mangnall Anthony Mangnall Conservative, Totnes

The Government have rightly identified the scale of this crisis. Will they therefore detail how the reduction from 0.7% will cut the ability for us to fund projects in Ethiopia?

May I also ask the Minister whether the preventing sexual violence in conflict team is ready to deploy into Ethiopia? It was suggested on 24 May by the special representative in the House of Lords that the team would be deploying. I would like the Minister to come to the House and tell us when they will deploy, when they will be able to provide assistance to victims of sexual violence in conflict, whether documentation of these crimes is taking place and whether we will be able to lead any prosecutions for what are the most atrocious crimes.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I cannot give my hon. Friend the detailed breakdown that he is looking for. I do recall signing off, in the past week or so, an answer to a parliamentary question about specific support in Ethiopia; I will not quote it from memory, because I do not want to introduce errors into Hansard, but when I get back to the office I will be more than happy to point him in the direction of that PQ. I point out again that the ambassador is travelling to the region this week. We will work with our UN partners to work out what specialist support, what physical kit and which individuals across the region are needed. The answer is not always sending people from London; it is about sending people regionally to support exactly the same work. I am conscious that we will have more time to discuss the matter on Thursday, and I will make sure that I can give my hon. Friend an even better answer then.

Photo of Diana R. Johnson Diana R. Johnson Labour, Kingston upon Hull North

May I follow up on the question asked by Anthony Mangnall? Because of the widespread reports of sexual violence in Tigray, can the Minister confirm whether he is expecting that the UK’s preventing sexual violence in conflict teams will be travelling to the area and working with and supporting survivors, or not? I was not clear from his last answer whether he is expecting that to happen.

Photo of James Duddridge James Duddridge Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I am afraid that I cannot provide the right hon. Lady with that clarity. I will do so later today in writing and address that issue in the House on Thursday. I do not want to inadvertently mislead the House with the wrong statistics, but we are very aware of the problem and very aware of the need to take action.

Photo of Rosie Winterton Rosie Winterton Deputy Speaker (First Deputy Chairman of Ways and Means)

I thank the Minister for answering the urgent question. I will suspend the House for three minutes to make arrangements for the next business.

Sitting suspended.