Ethiopia: Tigray Crisis

Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – in the House of Commons on 30th November 2021.

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Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

What diplomatic steps she is taking to help de-escalate the crisis in Tigray following the declaration of the state of emergency in Ethiopia.

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

We remain deeply concerned about the situation in Ethiopia and continue to engage with and call upon all parties to press for a ceasefire. Since the state of emergency was declared, I have spoken with African Union High Representative Obasanjo, making clear our support for his mediation efforts, as well as with President Kenyatta of Kenya and AU Commissioner Bankole. I recently urged the Ethiopian State Minister Redwan to engage with these mediation efforts. Our Foreign Secretary spoke to the Deputy Prime Minister Demeke on 5 November and our ambassador has spoken with the President, Prime Minister Abiy and leaders in Tigray, consistently calling on all parties to stop fighting, declare a ceasefire and allow humanitarian aid to flow.

Photo of Wera Hobhouse Wera Hobhouse Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Justice), Liberal Democrat Shadow Leader of the House of Commons, Liberal Democrat Spokesperson (Women and Equalities)

The conflict in Tigray has dramatically escalated in the past year. My constituents in Bath who have family detained in the capital in Ethiopia have not heard from them for the best part of this year. Can the Minister outline what efforts have been made with the international community to ensure that all those who are unlawfully detained across Ethiopia are released?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

As I have said, the situation is incredibly challenging. When I spoke to Minister Redwan, I urged him to end the mobilisation of civilians and ethnically targeted arrests. There is a growing risk of uncontrollable ethnic violence, which is doing huge long-term damage to the social cohesion of the country. As I said in my statement on 24 November, we may see the conflict move closer to Addis Ababa, and we are strongly urging all British nationals to leave now while commercial flights are readily available.

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

As chairman of the all-party parliamentary group for Ethiopia, may I thank the Minister for all the work that she is doing on this terribly difficult issue? We recently saw the Prime Minister of Ethiopia taking up arms himself and urging others to do so, which demonstrates the seriousness of the situation. I do not think that it is an exaggeration to fear that the very existence of Ethiopia may be at stake and at risk. Does the Minister feel that the United Nations could be doing more to bring about peace in the country?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

My hon. Friend is absolutely right: it is a truly tragic situation. Civilians have experienced appalling, outrageous abuses, including widespread sexual violence. We are fully supporting the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in her calls for further timely discussion of the report of the joint human rights investigation and its recommendations at the UN in Geneva.

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

The crisis in Ethiopia and Tigray has catastrophic implications for civilians, the region and the globe. We have seen shocking atrocities over the past year, including war crimes and sexual violence. We are now hearing warnings of potential genocide from former New Zealand Prime Minister Helen Clark and from Lord Alton in the other place, and deeply concerning reports of further apparent incitement this weekend in the media, which I have raised with the Minister. What assessment has the Minister made of those very serious reports and warnings? What are we doing to protect and secure UK citizens who are still present in Ethiopia? What are we doing to bring to justice all those who are committing or inciting such atrocities?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

The hon. Gentleman raises a number of points; I thank him for continuing to look at this serious situation. It is really important that we keep spreading the message that British nationals, whatever their circumstances, should leave Ethiopia now while the airport remains available and there are flights. We have asked all sides not to use inflammatory language; it is making the situation even more dangerous, and the impact on civilians is very severe.

We have provided humanitarian aid of up to £76.7 million in badly needed support for people in north Ethiopia, which makes us the second largest donor to the humanitarian response. That support has gone into Tigray, Afar, Amhara and eastern Sudan; it includes critical food aid, safe drinking water, medical care and support for women who have been victims of sexual violence.

Photo of Jeremy Hunt Jeremy Hunt Chair, Health and Social Care Committee, Chair, Health and Social Care Committee

May I congratulate the Minister on the excellent job that she is doing of standing in for the Foreign Secretary?

A genocide is happening in Tigray. What work is the Minister doing with our partners in the United States, the EU and other western countries to send a message to Prime Minister Abiy that no international aid can be channelled through the Ethiopian Government until the genocide stops? Why does he still have that Nobel peace prize? Is it not high time that he was stripped of it?

Photo of Vicky Ford Vicky Ford Parliamentary Under-Secretary (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office)

I thank my right hon. Friend for his praise. I am not sure I am doing that brilliantly!

We are continuing to work extremely closely with our partners in the United States and the United Nations, and I met the African P3 partners during my recent visits to New York and Washington. It is particularly important that we are also supporting the efforts of Obasanjo, Bankole and President Kenyatta to bring all people to a ceasefire. As for the Nobel peace prize, that is a decision for the Nobel Committee itself.