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

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:41 pm on 19th January 2022.

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Photo of Chris Heaton-Harris Chris Heaton-Harris Minister of State (Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office) 3:41 pm, 19th January 2022

I will happily pass that message on to my hon. Friend the Minister for Africa, who has already spoken to Kenyan partners about Ethiopia during her trip to the region this week. The UK Government actively support those regional efforts to bring peace, particularly the work of the African Union envoy, Obasanjo, and Kenyan President Kenyatta. The Minister for Africa has also discussed the need for dialogue, humanitarian access, and accountability for human rights violations with the UN, the US and all other Security Council members.

Alongside our political work, the UK Government have been at the forefront of the humanitarian response to the conflict. We have provided over £76 million in response to the crisis. That includes life-saving food aid, safe drinking water, medical care, sanitation, and nutritional supplies. The conflict has tragically, as outlined in many speeches this afternoon, been characterised from the outset by appalling human rights abuses and violations, including mass detentions, killings and torture. There have been intolerable levels of sexual violence committed by all sides, and tackling sexual violence in conflicts around the globe is one of the Foreign Secretary’s top priorities.

In November, the Foreign Secretary stepped up the UK’s global leadership on tackling conflict-related sexual violence and violence against women and girls. As part of that, she announced a package of more than £22 million of new funding for initiatives on the frontline to tackle that type of violence.

Last week, the Minister for Africa met representatives from international NGOs to discuss the situation in Ethiopia and the impact of sexual violence there. The reports that she heard, I am told, were harrowing. The UK is delivering essential services to survivors and those at risk of sexual violence in northern Ethiopia. Our programmes provide victims with critical support and care, including support for emergency mental health services. Alongside our partners in Ethiopia, we are taking forward the recommendations made by our preventing sexual violence initiative’s team of experts, a point raised by the Chair of the Select Committee and others, to help to strengthen accountability and hold perpetrators of sexual violence to account.

We have also strongly supported the joint investigation into human rights abuses and violations during the conflict conducted by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. We welcome the Ethiopian Government’s creation of a ministerial taskforce to take forward recommendations from the joint report, and we call on all parties to the conflict to act decisively to respond to its findings.

At a special session of the Human Rights Council on 17 December, we backed a resolution that created an international commission of experts to investigate allegations of violations in Ethiopia. We urge all parties to engage with the commission. We will continue to press for the justice and accountability that the situation demands.

The Government are under absolutely no illusions about the gravity of the humanitarian and political situation in Ethiopia, but we are hopeful that the progress made over the last few weeks can act as a platform for peace. The Government will use every opportunity to offer the UK’s support for work towards a peaceful solution. In the meantime, we will continue to push for humanitarian access and to provide humanitarian aid to those in need, and we will keep pushing all sides to end this terrible conflict peacefully. We will not turn away from those who need our help.