Ethiopia: Humanitarian and Political Situation — [Mr Peter Bone in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:29 pm on 19th January 2022.

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Photo of Stephen Doughty Stephen Doughty Shadow Minister (Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs and International Development) 3:29 pm, 19th January 2022

I absolutely agree with the Chair of the International Development Committee. The Government’s decisions are absolutely baffling, not least because of the implications for countries in the region, many of which are also fragile; there is the situation in Sudan and in South Sudan, and last night we were debating Somaliland. How would those countries cope with a large influx of people crossing their borders? We have also discussed Somalia at great length. The Government’s perverse decision has much wider implications beyond this conflict and the people of Ethiopia and Tigray.

Evidence suggests that no aid convoys have reached Tigray since mid-December, and 80% of essential medication is no longer available there. Humanitarian groups are running out of fuel, and say that they may have to cease supply of some of the key international development programme camps completely as a result of fuel shortages. The region is also running out of key medical supplies, including insulin. Diabetics are just a matter of weeks away from facing agonising death if supplies are not replenished. The Ayder Hospital in Mek’ele—the largest in the region—has enough left to hold out for no more than one week.

Will the Minister tell us what conversations have been had with the parties to the conflict to secure and maintain urgent humanitarian access? What other methods are being considered? Have airdrops and other ways of getting resources into the country been considered, for example?

As many Members rightly said, we also want the UN and independent bodies to carry out an internationally recognised investigation into the atrocities—especially those committed against civilians in Ethiopia—so that the people responsible face justice. We must use our powers under the Magnitsky sanctions regime to sanction individuals who are already known to be committing atrocities. The US, for example, has already sanctioned many high-ranking individuals in the Eritrean Government, including the Eritrean defence forces chief and four others, in connection with the crisis in Ethiopia. It has also placed arms embargoes on Ethiopia, while the UK has lagged behind our allies in applying sanctions. I call on the Government to consider urgently working to bring forward measures against those found to have been involved in atrocities, particularly given that London is a key site for individuals who may wish to leave Ethiopia and Eritrea.

I commend the BBC World Service’s investigation programme, “Africa Eye”, for the incredible work that it does. Its investigation into the massacre of unarmed men in April last year exposed just one of many atrocities. As I and a number of other Members said in the debate on the BBC the other day, I find it perverse that the Culture Secretary has been making some quite demeaning attacks on the BBC when services such as the BBC World Service, which rely on the licence fee, are exposing such atrocities to help us to bring people to justice, as they have done in the past.

Can the Minister also tell me what engagement the Government have had in urging other countries, such as Turkey and the United Arab Emirates, to stop providing drones, other weapons and military support, which are fuelling the conflict and potentially being used against civilians? What is his position on calls for a wider arms embargo?

This situation is truly horrific for the people of Ethiopia and the people of Tigray in particular, and it has much wider regional consequences. We have already heard about the historical consequences of ignoring what is happening in Ethiopia, whether in the 1980s or the pre-world war two era. It is not some far-flung land that we can ignore. We have huge historical, trading and development responsibilities and links, we have a key role as one of the key players in the international community, and we should take leadership on this issue. I hope that the Minister will be able to answer many of the questions that we have raised today.