Tigray Province: Ceasefire Agreement - Question for Short Debate

– in the House of Lords at 8:13 pm on 15th November 2022.

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Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour 8:13 pm, 15th November 2022

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of (1) the 2 November ceasefire agreement between the government of Ethiopia and Tigrayan forces, (2) how ceasefire terms will be monitored and verified, and (3) how likely it is that foreign forces will now leave the Tigray Province in Ethiopia.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, yesterday I met Rita Kashay, a 25 year-old UK citizen of Irob heritage who has been working for the past three months in Tigrayan refugee camps in Sudan, taking and preserving testimony from women affected by conflict-related sexual violence. The Irob people are an ethnic minority group who live in a predominantly highland-mountainous area of the same name in north-eastern Tigray. The testimonies that Rita has taken record the existential threats and catastrophic humanitarian suffering that her people have endured at the hands of Eritrean and Ethiopian forces: the massacres, kidnappings, rapes, lootings and abductions committed against her people since the beginning of the war in Tigray in November 2020. While celebrating Christmas in January 2021, 10 members of her own family were massacred. Two years ago, in the absence of a systemic mechanism to collect and preserve this evidence for a day of reckoning, she gave up her studies to do so. For a while, she has been the only person working on this. Due to the unrest in Sudan, other investigators left.

Rita spoke at the recent AU-EU meeting in the Gambia on human rights in Africa. As a result, she was openly bullied by the Eritrean and Ethiopian delegates. Despite the dangers to her own security and the bullying, this brave young woman continues in her defence of the human rights of her people. In the meantime, she has achieved her master’s degree in chemical engineering. She is a hero and an excellent role model. I note her work and say her name in your Lordships’ House to remind us that, although much of today’s today will centre on the cessation of hostilities agreement reached in South Africa on 2 November between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front, and the prospects of its implementation, we must not forget what has happened since November 2020.

The last two years have seen an embarrassing and tragic failure of the international community in its response to the war in Tigray. I say this not to absolve the parties to the conflict of their responsibilities for initiating and prosecuting the war in Tigray: they are responsible and should be held accountable. However, we must look in the mirror and ask how the international community—including countries with influence such as our own, and international organisations such as the African Union, the European Union and the United Nations—could allow such a war to continue without effective steps to end it.

We have heard the mantra “African solutions for African problems” many times over the past two years. These solutions should not have allowed the unfettered prosecution of a suicidal war, while the international community meekly sheathed the tools that it may have to stop the fighting and protect civilians. The losses on all sides of this conflict are staggering—perhaps up to a million if we count combatant and civilian casualties, making this the most deadly and destructive war this century. War crimes on a vast scale have been committed, and ethnic cleansing and genocide inflicted on Tigray by the Ethiopian Government, its allies and Eritrea. All this is confirmed by the only reasonable interpretation of the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia in its report presented at the UN in September.

That said, we now have an agreement to “silence the guns”, which has been supplemented by the commanders’ agreement of 12 November, signed in Kenya. It is apparent that these agreements will be extremely challenging to implement, and the risks of a renewed conflict are real. Today, we must all ask what we, our Government and other countries and organisations can do to strengthen the framework for peace and accountability, or we will be judged as having utterly failed millions of Tigrayans and the people of Ethiopia.

Accordingly, I ask the Minister what assessment His Majesty’s Government have made of, first, the cessation of hostilities ceasefire agreement between the Government of Ethiopia and the Tigrayan forces, agreed on 2 November, and its supplements. Do the Government share the US State Department’s view of 12 November that

“Work remains, but progress is promising and gives the Ethiopian people reason for hope”, or is there a more cautious read in the FCDO and No. 10, based on the numerous credible reports of breaches of the terms of the peace deal and the fact that the conflict in Tigray continues, and that no humanitarian aid has yet been delivered? I wrote those words last night, but I saw on Twitter this afternoon from ICRC Ethiopia that two Red Cross trucks had made their way to Mekelle with medical aid in them.

Secondly, how will the ceasefire terms be monitored and verified? This is the issue that worries me most, considering that the stated mechanism for verification includes only 10 individuals without any ability to monitor the situation on the ground in Tigray. Given the scale of this war, is it beyond the international community’s resources to gather and deploy a robust capability to police, monitor and verify observance and breaches of the terms of this peace accord?

Thirdly, what is the likelihood that foreign forces will now leave Tigray province, even though these forces—let us name them: the Eritrean army, which has been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in the war, and the Amhara militia—are not even mentioned explicitly in any of these agreements? We have repeatedly called for Eritrean troops permanently to leave Tigray, but they remain. If Eritrea fails to honour the agreements in this respect, what will be the consequences? US voice are calling for sanctioning President Afwerki and introducing UN Security Council resolutions condemning Eritrea. What do we plan to do in such circumstances?

Considering these assessments, to enhance prospects for implementation of a cessation of hostilities and to ensure that humanitarian aid flows now, that perpetrators of war crimes are held accountable and that reconstruction of Tigray is made possible, I encourage the following steps, which are based on the premise of keeping the leverage we now have and increasing it where possible. Principal among them is withholding economic, military or other assistance to the Government of Ethiopia until implementation is secured.

While I was compiling my own list yesterday, my attention was drawn to Congressman Brad Sherman’s recounting on Twitter of a conversation he had with Jake Sullivan, in which he urged the suspension of the US African Growth and Opportunity Act and the maintenance of opposition to international lending institution loans and the provision of humanitarian aid to Ethiopian until

“commitments are kept to allow unrestricted food and medicine (and the fuel necessary to transport them) into Tigray … there is a full and lasting end to fighting … the Internet is restored so that the world can hear from the people of Tigray … international human rights monitors and journalists are on the ground within Tigray and at all sites across Ethiopia where Tigrayan civilians have been detained en masse”, and the release of Tigrayans imprisoned solely for their ethnicity. I adopt Congressman Sherman’s approach and add that we must continue to support the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia and subsequent international efforts to investigate and prosecute war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide.

Finally, I ask the Government to conduct a thorough review, and to report to Parliament, on what other steps can be encouraged, facilitated or supported to strengthen all aspects of the agreement and encourage its successful implementation. For example, the Minister will be aware that the Halo Trust registered in Ethiopia last year following a request from the Ethiopian Government for assistance in meeting their Ottawa mine ban treaty obligations. Halo is now clearing minefields on the Ethiopian side of the Somaliland-Ethiopia border, employing 90 Ethiopian staff, supported by Germany, Norway and the Netherlands. Funding permitting, it tells me that the programme could ideally field 1,000 staff.

Ethiopia requires a countrywide survey of mine contamination to determine the full extent of its estimated 150 minefields. The peace deal should pave the way for deployment of explosive ordnance disposal teams across the Tigray, Amhara and Afar regions. The United Nations Mine Action Service announced last week that it had secured $2 million of funding from the Government of Japan to deploy a limited EOD capacity in Tigray and has asked Halo for assistance. Linking EOD and mine-clearance support to the wider food security and environmental stabilisation efforts is critical to the reconstruction of Ethiopia. The Halo Trust, with 20 years’ experience in the Horn of Africa, is well placed to assist.

More widely, in the Halo Trust the UK has a robust and deployable capability that already in Ethiopia, as in 30 countries across the globe, does hazardous things in hazardous places with competence. In the context of its developing resilience strategy, and bearing in mind my comments about the absence of deployable capability to monitor or verify implementation of the peace agreement, have the Government thought about how this experienced and trusted NGO could form the basis of a capability needed in times such as these when a conflict moves into the resolution phase?

Photo of Lord Alton of Liverpool Lord Alton of Liverpool Crossbench 8:23 pm, 15th November 2022

My Lords, in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, for both securing this debate and opening it so comprehensively and powerfully, I should declare that I am co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Eritrea.

I will focus my remarks on justice and accountability, which are absent from the 2 November peace agreement and the 12 November road map. Yes, we all agree that the killings in the deadliest war in the world—Africa’s great war—must end immediately, but peace without justice is an illusion, a chimera, with impunity invariably leading to more atrocities. I remain sceptical that this omission will be addressed at a later stage.

Even in the past few days, I have seen disturbing reports from Alamata about accelerated ethnic cleansing, which I drew to the Minister’s attention yesterday. Since 3 November 2020, when the war began, I have hosted or participated in numerous discussions about Tigray. It took until March 2021 for Ethiopia and Eritrea to confirm Eritrea’s involvement in the war, but from the very outset its involvement was widely suspected. Eritrea is a country with enforced conscription, which abuses its own citizens and has a long record of exporting terror into Tigray and other areas of Ethiopia. In December 2020, and in repeated Questions, I have asked the Minister about the forced return of refugees to Eritrea, the desperate need for a humanitarian corridor and how and when we intend to bring to justice the militias responsible for these many barbaric acts. Back in 2020, the Minister said

“the moment does not allow”.—[Official Report, 2/12/20; col. 735.]

Let me ask again: when will it allow?

In March 2021, I raised reports of a massacre at the historic town of Axum, which is well known to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, whom we will hear from soon, in which a church deacon stated that 800 civilians had been executed. Amnesty said that atrocities could well amount to “crimes against humanity” and the Minister told me that the reports were “credible”. In June 2021, I hosted a meeting with Mohamed Abdelsalam Babiker, UN special rapporteur on human rights in Eritrea. He detailed appalling violations of human rights. On 16 December 2021, I told the House that “thousands” had been

“murdered, injured and subjected to inhuman and degrading treatment, and thousands subjected to sexual violence as a weapon of war”.—[Official Report, 16/12/21; col. 454.]

What did we do to stop that?

Seventeen months ago, all the predictors of atrocity crimes had emerged as the world stood by and watched. The utter failure of the international community to intervene and to save lives makes a mockery of the duty to protect. As Tigray was plunged into gross human suffering, the world was too busy and looked away. There has been repeated evidence, report after report, that Eritrean forces have been responsible for some of the worst atrocities, including massacres of civilians, conflict-related sexual violence and attacks and forcible repatriation of Eritrean refugees in Ethiopia in camps such as Hitsats. We have done precious little to help them. When did we last raise with Ethiopia its obligations under the refugee convention?

As recently as 6 October, the European Parliament passed a resolution condemning the invasion of Tigray by Eritrean forces and specifically condemned the war crimes and human rights violations by Eritrean forces. It called on Ethiopia to sign and ratify the Rome statute of the ICC and stressed the need for an independent and impartial mechanism to address ongoing violations and accountability. What have we done to support that European initiative?

This weekend, I sent the FCDO Alex de Waal’s assessment, The Despotism of Isaias Afewerki, whose “logic”, he said, “is genocidal”, and the conclusion of Professor Kjetil Tronvoll that atrocities in Tigray “amount to genocide”. What has the Foreign Secretary done about this? Others who have issued warning signs of atrocity crimes include Genocide Watch and the US Holocaust Memorial Museum. Why has this expert analysis been ignored? These statements on the serious risk of atrocity crimes and genocide trigger the duty to prevent, as confirmed by the International Court of Justice in its 2007 judgment. How have we responded to that duty?

What assessment has been made of the report, referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights following their joint investigation into alleged violations of international human rights and humanitarian and refugee law committed by all parties? What about the findings of the UN Human Rights Council’s International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia, which said in September:

“Regarding the EDF, the Commission finds reasonable grounds to believe that it committed the war crimes of violence to life and person, in particular, murder; outrages on human dignity, in particular humiliating or degrading treatment; rape; sexual slavery and sexual violence”?

How is all this informing the Government’s responses in line with the genocide convention?

On 23 September, in answer to a Question that I tabled to the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, it was confirmed that:

“A Joint Analysis of Conflict and Stability (JACS) was completed earlier this year”

for Ethiopia. The noble Lord did not answer the second limb of my Question on whether the Government had examined and assessed

“the risk of … identity-based violence, and … mass atrocities”.

Will the analysis be made available to Members of your Lordships’ House via the Library? If not, why not?

These are not trivial matters. We are talking about mass killings, starvation, rape and sexual violence used as weapons of war. Yes, rape is being used as a weapon of war. Last week, the Dr Denis Mukwege Foundation, in co-operation with the FCDO and the Washington University Institute for Public Health, published a joint report entitled Understanding Conflict Related Sexual Violence in Ethiopia. Among the testimonies in this rare and rigorous analysis is a statement by a 27 year-old woman

“raped in front of her children by a half-dozen Fano militiamen carrying out neighborhood searches targeting Tigrayans”.

She testified:

“Two of them raped me and then I lost consciousness and don’t know how many more raped me, if all six [did], or not. They said: ‘You Tigrayans should disappear from the land west of Tekeze! You are evil and we are purifying your blood.’”

The report said:

“Data suggest that Ethiopian and allied forces committed CRSV on a widespread and systemic basis in order to eliminate and/or forcibly displace the ethnic Tigrayan population.”

It also cites “revenge rape” and the lack of support for the deeply traumatised victims.

Does the Minister accept that the systemic elimination of a people because of their ethnicity is one of the criteria used to determine whether atrocities amount to genocide? Before he says that only a court can decide what is genocide, can he answer the actual question I have just asked—whether, under the provisions of the 1948 genocide convention, the elimination of an ethnic group constitutes a genocide? Does this not demonstrate why the Government should provide time for the Genocide Determination Bill, given a Second Reading on 28 October, to make progress? I remind the Minister and the House of the speeches by my noble friend Lord Hannay and the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg.

As for starvation being used as a weapon of war, a year ago I told the House that millions had been deliberately denied food and were starving, and that:

“This catastrophe is manmade”—[Official Report, 16/12/21; col. 455.]

That word was repeated in a letter to me by Vicky Ford, the then Africa Minister. She added that

“a prerequisite to ending the depredations” was Eritrea’s immediate withdrawal from Tigray.

This is not over. There are continuing reports of attacks on civilians by Eritrean soldiers in Tigray. There is a quotation, which I can send to the Minister, from the president of Mekelle University. There is Rita Kahsay—referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Browne—a young woman who addressed a meeting in your Lordships’ House at which the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and I spoke. She tells me that there are unconfirmed reports from Adwa of Eritrean soldiers looting properties and stealing water pumps. Unsurprisingly, then, Tigrayans in the UK, who recently lobbied Parliament, are deeply concerned by the lack of explicit mention in the peace agreement of the withdrawal of Eritrean militia.

What does the Minister make of Eritrea’s training of an Amhara militia? How does he respond to its continued collection of its war fund, the 2% diaspora tax, which has collected $4 million a year in Saudi Arabia alone—as detailed in a report I sent him two weeks ago—and is used to pursue its agenda of destabilisation?

Eritrean forces have the potential to derail any peace deal. We should be very clear-headed about its pitiless, brutal and cruel ideology and its indifference to the suffering it causes. Until we address the elephant in the room and attend to justice and accountability, that will not change. Peace without justice will not endure. I hope the Minister agrees.

Photo of Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Green 8:33 pm, 15th November 2022

My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne, on bringing this debate. It is a war that has been going on for two years and about which we hear almost nothing here in Britain. It is very hard to follow two such powerful speeches, and I congratulate both speakers on their knowledge of the area.

In the mid-1990s, in the last century, I worked for three months as an archaeologist in Axum in Tigray. It was not long since another war had finished. The people were quite shocked. There had been a lot of death and distress. There was very little food—no fruit or vegetables—because they had not been able to sow their harvest or crop their food. Life was very hard, and it seems that yet again they are experiencing this sort of life.

In two years, 2.5 million inhabitants have been displaced, at least 600,000 innocent civilians have been killed, and the young have been robbed of a prosperous future. Nearly one in three children under five in Tigray is malnourished; 29% of very young children are suffering from global acute malnutrition; and more than half of pregnant or breastfeeding women are also malnourished. This is not just an immediate problem but a problem that will persist for decades as those people move on and those children live lives made worse by the experiences that they have had. I very much welcome the fact that both previous speakers spoke of the sexual violence that has been happening. Women and young girls have been subject to sexual violence and torture by Eritrean and Ethiopian forces. These are war crimes.

The recent ceasefire agreement between the TPLF and the Ethiopian Government is obviously very welcome and comes as a relief for the victims. The fighters will enter a disarmament, demobilisation and reintegration programme while the Government have assured us that they will cease hostilities and enable humanitarian agencies to deliver much-needed aid to the Tigray region.

However, there is never any room for complacency; as with all wars, the prospect of a reignited conflict is always possible. Britain should do all it can diplomatically and financially to ensure that Ethiopia does not experience yet another political conflagration. As the Rwanda reconciliation model has shown, post-conflict stabilisation is possible but, for it to succeed, the country needs to have a conversation with itself to address the underlying tensions and trauma experienced by victims. There has to be a judicial process, as in Rwanda, bringing perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity to justice so that victims can have some level of peace. There need to be educational programmes, which Britain and the UN can organise, teaching the young the importance of peace and democracy.

Of course, all this is put at risk by the humanitarian crisis that the Tigray region faces today. A combination of fuel costs and lack of access due to fighting has prevented the delivery of vital medical aid and food supplies. The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs said in a report that a

“limited number of commercial transporters” are

“available for the northern Ethiopian response”.

In addition, a lack of harvests has meant that 4.6 million people are food-insecure and facing famine. This is not the foundation of a lasting peace but could be a reason for further violence down the line. Britain should surely take a proactive role in leading the humanitarian effort, along with aid agencies and the UN—in facilitating the logistical task of delivering tonnes of supplies to affected areas, utilising all its available resources and assets.

I have two questions for the Minister, which have sort of been covered already. First, can the Government make assurances that they will provide financial and logistical assistance to Ethiopia and ensure that humanitarian aid is delivered safely to areas most in need? Secondly, can the Government reaffirm their commitment to regional security in east Africa by communicating to the Ethiopian Government that humanitarian agencies must be allowed unhindered access to the Tigray region?

Photo of Lord Boateng Lord Boateng Labour 8:38 pm, 15th November 2022

My Lords, the whole House owes the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, a debt of gratitude for bringing this matter to our attention. All speakers in today’s debate bring a commitment to human rights and to Africa, for which we owe them too a debt of gratitude.

My own experience of Ethiopia has been as a boy growing up in Africa at a time when Ethiopia was very much at the heart of the development of the Organisation of African Unity, which became the African Union; then, as a man, it has been as a Minister and a diplomat working in Ethiopia and, more recently, as vice-president of the Bible Society, which has worked extensively with Ethiopians in their country.

Ethiopia is a great nation. It deserves to be treated with respect and Tigray is an integral part of it. The international community needs to approach Ethiopia and Tigray with a degree of humility because, frankly, like Britain it has a mixed record in that region. Ethiopia has experienced Britain as an aggressor in the 19th century, and the fruits of that aggression are still to be found in the British Museum in the form of the Ethiopian tabots—sacred Christian relics which were looted from that country and have yet to be returned.

In the 20th century, Ethiopia was a valued ally against Mussolini and European fascism. In the late 20th century and this 21st century, Ethiopia has been a development partner and played a hugely important role under Prime Minister Meles in our country’s initiative in relation to Africa and its development, which was launched in Gleneagles. The international community again did not cover itself with glory during the Cold War, I am afraid, when it set Ethiopia and Eritrea against each other. They were surrogates in the battle between West and East. The peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea suffered as a result of that, so we need to come to this issue with a degree of humility.

Having said that, as noble Lords have indicated, there have been the most appalling human rights abuses in that country in recent years. There have been human rights abuses on both sides of the war that saw, on 2 November, at least the hope of a transitional peace agreement that would bring some cessation to hostilities. That is what we now need to get behind, not just with fine words but with resources.

We will want to hear from the Minister, who brings a wealth of experience to these issues, a very firm commitment that His Majesty’s Government will ensure, despite the real pressures that we know exist on the budget of his department, that they bring to bear the necessary resources in support of this peace initiative—particularly but not just in support of the humanitarian relief that is needed, because there are some 5.2 million Tigrayans in desperate need of that relief. We need to be supporting the World Food Programme and others in making sure that they get it, but the Government should also provide resources for the necessary effort on behalf of the African Union to monitor the peace agreement; for support for civil society to rebuild the region; and, importantly, for resource to ensure that we move to a situation in which peace is upheld by justice.

There cannot be peace without justice, or without a process that recognises the enormous harm that has been done in the region. That hope for peace and justice has to be striven for with the full and active engagement of the African Union because, frankly, it is the African Union that has the best hope of bringing about a settlement in that country. One needs to praise the efforts of the former President of Kenya, President Kenyatta, and his work on bringing the various sides together. However, he and the African Union will need support and resources.

There is one particular initiative that I want to draw the attention of the House to, because it offers hope of peace and justice. It is the commitment of all the parties to the agreement described as the comprehensive transitional justice policy under the African Union framework. It will be the first time that that policy will have been implemented. The head of the Kale Heywet Church, one of Ethiopia’s largest evangelical denominations which will be well known to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about that policy:

“The possibility for reconciliation is there … But some claims for justice will have to be given up for peace, painful as it might be”.

That framework is being tried for the first time in Ethiopia and it will not succeed without resources or international backing. It was described by the chairperson of the AU as

“a Transitional Justice Toolkit … that is home-grown ... rich in its progressive methodologies and approaches and rooted in African shared values”.

It is not simply about criminal accountability—impartial investigation of that is absolutely vital—but about setting up measurable standards for reconciliation, reparation and memorialisation of the conflict. All of those things require resource and focus.

My question of His Majesty’s Government is: will they undertake to get behind that process and use all the energy and resource at our disposal to make sure that it is a success? If it is successful in Ethiopia, it can be applied elsewhere in Africa where there is conflict and where it is desperately needed. Respect for Ethiopia and respect for Tigray have to be at the heart of our approach to this peace settlement.

We should not forget that the gospel was preached in Ethiopia before it was preached in Britain. The peoples of Tigray spoke and speak a language that was known to our Lord when the peoples of these islands were covering themselves in blue paint and furs. We need to have a sense of perspective, but also—I want to end on this—we need to remember the messages that are coming out of Ethiopia now.

I will give noble Lords just one example. On Saturday I received this message from a Tigrayan who is living and has family in Adwa. “The Fano”—the Amhara region militia that has been continuing with the ethnic cleansing of Tigrayans in west Tigray—

“as of today control Adwa town. They arrived on 10 buses.”

They are notoriously brutal. Wherever there are Fano militia and Eritrean troops you can be sure there will be atrocities. This is the extent of the horror being visited upon the people of that region now. Their only hope is in this peace accord. It needs our resource; it needs our backing.

Photo of Lord Purvis of Tweed Lord Purvis of Tweed Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Trade), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (International Development), Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs) 8:49 pm, 15th November 2022

My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and his words of caution from history should be listened to very carefully. I join him and others in commending the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for securing this exceptionally timely debate. While the speakers’ list is fairly short, the powerful and direct experience of those who have taken part is really impressive.

I declare that I have been on the Sudanese-Ethiopian border. Indeed, on a visit to the museum in Khartoum, I saw for myself how, for centuries, communities had lived together in harmony and in tolerance, and that it was not inevitable that there would be a crisis in this area. I also join the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, in recognising that there has been more quiet diplomatic work from the UN, USA and EU envoys, who have perhaps been more successful in securing this cessation, which I hope is sustainable. This is in addition, of course, to the work being done by the good offices of the Pretoria Government and President Ruto of Kenya. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, indicated, there has been deep history, deep division and deep wounds for many years in relations between the TPLF and the Ethiopian Government—as well as, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, indicated, continuing concerns with Eritrea, which I will touch on in a moment.

The people across Ethiopia are suffering from conflict in the north and drought in the south, and this is compounding the situation of the economic crisis. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, indicated, I would be grateful if the Minister could outline His Majesty’s Government’s view of the withholding of IMF support. There is concern that the rapid rise in fuel and food prices across the country is compounding the issue, so I would be grateful to know the Government’s position on the IMF situation.

Even as recently as the resumption of hostilities in August, there was an extra displacement of 574,000 people across Afar, Amhara and Tigray, and there was little assistance in funding available to them. As the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Browne, indicated, there are concerns from the UN-appointed International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia about extrajudicial killings, rape, sexual violence and the starvation of the civilian population as a method of warfare.

Using starvation as a weapon of war is really grotesque. This has left 13 million people in need of support due to the conflict in the north of Ethiopia, and more than 20 million people in Ethiopia are estimated to be food insecure, with 25,500 severely malnourished children in the region today. However, there are warning signals from the UN that its humanitarian appeal for Ethiopia is currently only 47% funded, thereby hampering those agencies that want to respond to these pressures. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, indicated, there was perhaps better news this morning, with Ethiopia lifting all restrictions for humanitarian access to Tigray. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, indicated, those support areas are only a tiny element of what is needed.

I will return, before I close, with specific questions on UK support, but in the first instance I will ask the Minister a number of questions on the 2 November and 12 November agreements. My understanding is that, as part of the agreements, there is an agreement that there will be disarmament of heavy weaponry within a number of weeks and small arms within a month. That is an incredibly ambitious target, especially since there is concern regarding the lack of clarity on the movement of Eritrean forces. It seems to be difficult to see a simultaneous process of disarmament within a month while there has not been the guarantee that Eritrean forces and Amhara forces will also leave. I would be grateful to know what the Government’s estimate is on that element of the agreement for disarmament.

That leads on to the very pertinent point about monitoring. What role will the UK play? The noble Lord, Lord Browne, gave some very practical suggestions as to how we could support the monitoring and verification, but is the UK intending to play a role with regards to Eritrean forces, as well as the disarmament by TPLF forces?

Secondly, one of the potential positive areas is the work that I hope will now be under way for an interim Administration in Tigray. Will the Government be planning to play a role in support of that? It seems to have been peace secured on the battlefield, but it will not be sustainable unless there is proper administrative and governance support. I share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, that with the lack of clarity on transitional justice, at the same time as there is intended to be an interim Administration and sustainable governance, it is hard to see how it will be genuinely sustainable for the people. I would be grateful if the Government intended to play a role in providing direct support in this area.

That leads me on to seeking clarity from the Government with regard to assistance. The UK has said that it has spent £90 million on life-saving aid across Ethiopia in the past 18 months, but it is possible that £86 million of that has already been committed, which means that only £4 million is actually there for humanitarian funding in the current crisis. In September, the UK said that it had allocated £6 million in humanitarian aid from the crisis reserve fund for Tigray and Ethiopia, but I understand that it has not yet been spent. If the Minister could clarify that point, I would be grateful.

The Government have also indicated that they have provided £4 million to address sexual violence in Ethiopia, but it is not clear whether that is part of what has already been committed or whether it is new funding. In June, the UK said that it would provide aid for 200,000 children and pregnant women in the southern and eastern regions, but again I have not yet been able to identify clarity as to whether that has so far been delivered. Also in June, the UK said that it had funded the productive safety net programme, benefiting 8 million people via financial welfare provision, but I have not been able to identify which funding stream it is from.

Obviously, some of these issues are technical ones, on which the Minister will not be able to respond this evening, but I shall be grateful if he can write to me setting out the exact figures on how much humanitarian development, as well as women and girls and climate financing, has been provided in this financial year and under which funding streams—specifically, from the crisis reserve fund. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, is absolutely right: the UK has a role to play, but it is about resources as well as our diplomatic work. If the Minister could provide clarity on that, he would be doing the people a service. I shall be grateful if he could write to me with regard to those issues.

Photo of Lord Collins of Highbury Lord Collins of Highbury Opposition Whip (Lords), Shadow Spokesperson (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development), Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of Lords 8:58 pm, 15th November 2022

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Browne for initiating this debate. Sadly, we have not had sufficient time to focus on this conflict; we have raised questions but not really had the opportunity to debate it in full, and I appreciate that he has been able to get this debate scheduled so quickly after the peace talks. I also start by thanking my noble friend Lord Boateng, who is absolutely right about the context of this debate. Ethiopia was a highlight of development and a positive news story in that regard, and it shows how quickly conflict can undermine such progress. That is why our emphasis and minds need always be turned to conflict prevention.

I shall not bang on about the integrated review, but diplomacy, defence and development are all key ingredients of any reaction to these sorts of events. It is important, when we consider the future, that we have uppermost in our minds the need to ensure that we support conflict prevention. Of course, what we have seen for the last two years, from Ethiopian government forces, along with Eritrean forces and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front, is a humanitarian disaster developing. We have seen massive impacts, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, highlighted, on food security and access to medical care. Severe shortages of fuel have limited aid delivery outside major areas, even when this has been able to flow into Tigray.

We have had periods of hope. We had the humanitarian ceasefire, established in March, which broke down in August. One of the things I was most heartened by was the news on Sunday that the 2 November agreement has now been backed up with a very clear agreement to facilitate immediate humanitarian access to all in need in Tigray and the neighbouring regions. That is good news, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we should ensure it is backed up by resource. If it is not, we have the potential to fall back into conflict.

I also absolutely agree with my noble friend Lord Boateng about the role of the African Union. I know that in previous debates on this issue, the Minister and I have agreed about that and he stressed its importance, but we all have to understand that this agreement is a crucial first step, not the end of the matter. That is why we have to be continually focused on this. The restoration of aid to Tigray and its 6 million people was one of the key planks of the accord, and I hope this will be backed up. As we have heard, the conflict has caused untold numbers of deaths, forced more than 2 million people from their homes and driven hundreds of thousands to the brink of famine in Tigray.

As we have heard, the UN investigators have accused all sides of committing abuses but, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, highlighted, they also charged Addis Ababa with using starvation as a weapon of war. On Wednesday, the WHO called for a massive influx of food and medicines into Tigray after the ceasefire, saying that aid had not yet been allowed in. I hope the noble Lord can respond to the questions about aid. What are we doing to co-ordinate support through UN agencies in particular? Now that we have the open door, how are we going to get that support in? It is really important. The WHO chief was saying that many people are still dying from treatable diseases, and that is why access to medicines is so crucial.

Many noble Lords, including my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referenced the September 2022 report of the UN International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia. That looked at a selection of incidents that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted—I will not repeat them, but they included crimes against humanity and even worse than that. We should understand that that team had limited access; we should demand clear access to the whole of Tigrayan Ethiopia to examine them. I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance that, in holding people to account, we are prepared to give the necessary resources. As all noble Lords have said, without justice there can be no peace. That is a really important element.

We have heard descriptions of the sexual violence that has been rife in this conflict. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, highlighted, we were at a meeting where we heard first-hand evidence from a very young, brave woman who had been to the camps. We need to ensure that that sort of evidence and testimony is heard at the forthcoming conference on the Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative. We need to ensure that civil society representatives from the Tigrayan and other diaspora communities in the UK can have their testimonies heard. That will be an important element of this conference, which I am pleased to be able to attend. I look forward to hearing the Minister speak about that.

I want to hear from the Government how we will continue to support investigators from the international commission so that there can be proper processes, as my noble friends have highlighted, to ensure that people are held to account. This has been an important debate. I do not think it will be the last time we discuss this issue. It is really important that we continue to focus on it, because it is a lesson on how conflict can undermine such good work. I commend my noble friend for initiating this debate.

Photo of Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 9:07 pm, 15th November 2022

My Lords, I join all other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for tabling this timely debate and for his powerful introduction. I have been listening very carefully and making my own notes as well as getting some answers and helpful insights from the Box, but it is one of those debates where nothing has been said that I disagree with.

This is important for two reasons. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, poignantly reminded us about the lessons of history and the high dose of humility that is required when we look at resolving or preventing conflict. I assure him that we are fully behind the peace process and are working with both the UN and the African Union. Like others, I pay particular tribute to the African Union and its envoy, former President Obasanjo, to former Kenyan President Kenyatta—I personally know him and his commitment very well—and former South African Deputy President Mlambo for their efforts in this.

As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, reminded us, this is a crucial moment for Ethiopia. He asked about hope and optimism. They are important ingredients when a peace agreement is signed. The United States has made its view known, and I will always attach cautious optimism. However, as the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Boateng, reminded us, hope can very quickly turn to fear, and peace can very quickly turn to conflict, as we have tragically seen in Ethiopia: there have been two years of brutal conflict in northern Ethiopia which has killed thousands on the battlefield and visited atrocious human rights abuses and violations, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, reminded us.

On the important issue of conflict-related sexual violence, it is shocking and abhorrent that in any conflict in 2022, whether in Tigray or in Ukraine, violence is used as a weapon of war, particularly against young girls and women. The noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, referred to testimonies. I know, not just from those who take the testimonies, that when you sit in front of a survivor of sexual violence, it is important that you invest in the testimony they are relaying. That is why I am really proud of the fact that we have played a key role, through the UN, in the launch of the Murad code, which does exactly that—working with Nadia Murad, herself a survivor of sexual violence, to ensure that we protect testimonies to allow justice. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, we must have justice; peace without justice is no peace at all.

The peace agreement signed by the Ethiopian Government and the Tigray People’s Liberation Front on 2 November is—I say cautiously—a momentous opportunity to end this terrible conflict for good, and the choice is for peace. As all noble Lords reminded us, we have seen a further agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Browne, mentioned the fact that we have seen the first trucks, which are providing 40 tonnes of essential medical and surgical support, rolling through—I too received that report in advance of the debate. I think we all acknowledge and welcome that. While this is the first step, as the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, it is important that the United Kingdom comes together with our international partners, Ethiopia, the African Union, the UN and all bodies to ensure that the focus and momentum is sustained.

This agreement provides for a permanent cessation of hostilities, the disarmament and demobilisation of Tigrayan forces, the urgent provision of humanitarian aid and the restoration of services across Tigray. I will try, during the course of my contribution, to answer some of the specific questions that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, relayed, including on financing. However, as he asked, in the interests of both time and ensuring I give him the correct information I will also write to all noble Lords.

The agreement also provides for the restoration of the constitutional order, the presence of federal authorities within Tigray and the deployment of the Ethiopian military along international borders, safeguarding Ethiopian territorial integrity—a point made very powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Boateng. This is a comprehensive list of measures to bring about a peaceful and lasting end to the conflict. It is what we have called for throughout the conflict. As the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, it is of course just the start of the process. It will require hard work, leadership and sustained international support; I agree with all noble Lords on that point.

We are encouraged by the early signs. We believe that fighting between Ethiopian government forces and the TPLF has stopped. As we have heard, discussions on the implementation of the agreement are under way and continue in Nairobi, under the stewardship of the African Union. So far, generally speaking, the timelines set out in the peace agreement have been met. We also welcome the recent announcement on the renewal of UN flights and the reopening of land routes into Tigray.

As the Question tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, recognises, it is also essential to monitor the ceasefire and implement the agreement if this is to be a lasting peace. Under the terms of the agreement, the African Union will chair a monitoring committee comprising representatives from the Ethiopian Government, the TPLF and the Intergovernmental Authority on Development—IGAD—and a team of African experts will assist them. Of course, I will update noble Lords on what the African Union and other key bodies ask of us, and indeed other partners.

As noble Lords have said, including the noble Lord, Lord Collins, it is right that this is an African-led mechanism. We respect that, but I assure noble Lords that the United Kingdom, along with other partners, stands ready to assist the African Union, and indeed the Ethiopian Government. The agreement explicitly calls on international partners to support this to help rebuild infrastructure. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, through her own insight and experience, drew an important focus on to this, because supporting economic recovery is also a key part of ensuring sustainable peace.

Before the conflict, our development partnership with Ethiopia had lifted millions of people out of poverty, as the noble Lords, Lord Boateng, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, mentioned. It had helped Ethiopia become one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Our aim is to help Ethiopia return to that.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, made some specific points about how we can help the process, and on the important issue of demining. The Halo Trust is well known to me. I am a big supporter of the Halo Trust. I will certainly take back the practical and helpful points that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, made and ensure that they are part and parcel of our discussions as we seek to stand ready to support. We are also speaking to our partners in the international community and to the Ethiopian Government to agree how we can collectively support the implementation of the agreement.

On the issue mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, we will encourage international financial institutions to support Ethiopia’s recovery, provided that progress on the peace process is sustained. That is an important point. The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about IMF support. We will be encouraging IFIs to step up in support, but the key point is that this peace agreement must be sustained. As we all acknowledge, this support is needed urgently. We are reminded of the numbers involved, with the UN estimating that 13 million people in northern Ethiopia require assistance. Millions in Tigray have been beyond the reach of humanitarian agencies since August, and without access to essential services for more than a year. My colleague the former Minister for Development pressed for unfettered humanitarian access in her meeting with the Ethiopian Deputy Prime Minister on 22 September in the margins of the UN General Assembly. She did so again on 19 October during a visit to Ethiopia.

We welcome the peace agreement’s commitment to expedite the provision of humanitarian aid into Tigray and to restore essential services, but the conflict in the north is not the only cause for concern. As the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, reminded us, with four seasons of failed rains leading to a devastating drought in the south, around 30 million people in Ethiopia need food and nutrition assistance. This is one of the largest humanitarian crises in the world. We have talked about other regions. As the former Minister for Development saw in October, the need in Afar is acute.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about UK support. We have allocated nearly £90 million to support crisis-affected communities across Ethiopia, including in the Tigray, Afar, Amhara, Oromia and Somali regions, and we will announce further humanitarian funding. I recognise what the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, said: despite difficult challenges, it is important that we seek to provide support.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne, asked about foreign forces. Eritrean forces have fought there in large numbers alongside the Ethiopian Government. This has fuelled the conflict and there have been many credible reports, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others noted, that Eritrean forces have committed terrible abuses and violations of human rights, as have others. All parties to the conflict need to be held to account. We have consistently called on Eritrea to withdraw its troops from Ethiopia, but those confirmations still need to be verified and acted on.

I am conscious of time. On the CRSV element specifically, in northern Ethiopia the United Kingdom has provided £4 million of support. In October we announced a further £14 million of assistance for 150,000 women. I will give some stats: 11,444 children and adolescents will be accessing community-based maternal health and psychosocial support; 9,406 women, girls and boys will be accessing gender-based violence prevention and risk mitigation response interventions. As I have said already, I will write to noble Lords with a breakdown of what has and is being spent.

I add one small caveat: because of the lack of access from a humanitarian standpoint, the assessments, even for the UN and agencies such as UNICEF, have been extremely difficult, especially going back 12 or 18 months. However, as all noble Lords have said, this is a moment of cautious optimism.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, raised a number of points on addressing conflict and accountability. I will write to him on his specific questions, including on the report. I know that under normal circumstances we do not normally publish such reports, but I will follow up in writing to the noble Lord.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Browne, for securing this debate. We are at the beginning of the process. We have had briefings for Members of your Lordships’ House on various issues of both interest and importance. As the situation unravels, and as we hope the peace agreement is sustained and access given, I commit that I will not just look to update the House in the normal way but to arrange appropriate briefings with key officials at the FCDO so that noble Lords have a full awareness of and insight into what is happening. Of course, I welcome the valuable insights into practicalities and experiences on the ground, which I hope will formulate our view, support and programming to help Ethiopia stand up, once again, as a united state in the interest of all its communities.

House adjourned at 9.21 pm.