Ethiopia tells off UN, says decision to expel staff is final

Abiy Ahmed

Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed.

Photo credit: File | AFP

Ethiopia says the decision to expel seven senior United Nations (UN) staff last week is final, meaning there’s no room to reverse it despite the global agency’s efforts at negotiations.

Taye Atske Selassie, Ethiopia’s permanent representative to the UN, said his country had found a “multitude of transgressions” against the expelled bosses and alleged that “they openly conducted activism for the TPLF”, the country’s former ruling party that has been fighting government forces in Tigray.

The diplomat argued that Addis Ababa will no longer engage on how to reaccept the officials because the expulsion was legal and should never have become an agenda for discussion at the UN.

“There have been several instances where governments expelled UN staff and other diplomatic envoys for so many disclosed and undisclosed reasons. Did the Council ever meet to vindicate such a decision? Not to the best of our recollection,” he pointed out.

While he did not name the countries, Burundi and Somalia are some of the states that recently expelled UN staff for alleged meddling, without a reprimand from the UN.

“The government of Ethiopia is not under any legal obligation to provide any justification or explanation for its decisions.”

Last week on Thursday, Ethiopia announced it had expelled the seven in a statement issued by Dina Mufti, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry spokesperson. They were given until Sunday, September 30 to leave the country.

The note did not elaborate on the exact nature of the meddling, but listed Adele Khodr, the Unicef country representative in Ethiopia, Sonny Onyegbule, monitoring, reporting and advocacy team leader for the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, and Kwesi Sansculotte, the peace and development adviser for the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Others declared personae non gratae are Saeed Mohamoud Hersi, who served as deputy head of UNOCHA’s Ethiopia office, Grant Leaity, deputy humanitarian coordinator, Ghada Eltahir Mudawi, acting deputy humanitarian coordinator, and Marcy Vigoda, coordinator for humanitarian affairs.

Allegations of ‘cooked figures’

While the officials have not issued a statement on their expulsion (expelled officials hardly do), Ethiopia said they cooked figures on the country’s humanitarian crisis and added one million to the number of people facing food shortages, raising the figure to 3.8 million.

Mr Taye spoke at a UN Security Council session as an invited party on Wednesday night where he argued that Ethiopia had followed the “unequivocal” rules on punishing the behaviour of UN staff.

“The former head of OCHA was made to report to this Council that 152,000 people had died from food shortage, which such a number had never occurred. They made up the data and went to an extent of misinforming the Council,” he said.

“They assisted in the fabrication of false allegations to the United Nations Security Council under a White Paper…which contained allegations on the use of hunger as a weapon,” he said in the session chaired by Kenya, the October president of the UN Security Council.

Citing paragraph 101 of the UN Charter that requires that all UN staff have high standards of competence and integrity, he said the host country had every right to pluck foreign officials if they strayed.

The session, the second since Ethiopia expelled the officials, was actually the 10th on Tigray since the conflict erupted nearly a year ago.

But the Council has failed to agree on a common stance on the crisis, issuing only one presidential statement since. China, for instance, called for support for Ethiopia, without violating its sovereignty. Kenya and other African countries under A3+1 called for the reopening of humanitarian corridors while giving the new government led by PM Ahmed Abiy time to settle and organise dialogue.

“The priority now is to engage in quiet diplomacy in order to prevent a deadlock,” said Zhang Jun, China’s permanent representative to the UN.

“We encourage both sides to maintain contact, fully exchange information, work together to seek a solution, and avoid undermining existing trust and cooperation between the two sides. The international community should create a favorable atmosphere for a settlement through dialogue.”

UN boss expresses concern

UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said the “unprecedented expulsion” was a matter of concern in terms of how the agency will relate with member states in future. The UN has argued that its staff cannot be declared persona non grata, saying Addis should have asked the UN to withdraw them.

“I now call on Ethiopian authorities to allow us to do this without hindrance and to facilitate and enable our work with the urgency that this situation demands. This means ensuring that visas for incoming personnel – from UN entities and from our partners – are issued quickly so that we can augment our capacity. The delays we have witnessed in the recent past are another obstacle to effective humanitarian aid.”

Ethiopia’s Tigray region has been under conflict since November last year when the government declared a ‘law enforcement operation’ on TPLF.

The operation morphed into a full-blown conflict, which has seen at least 500,000 people face extreme hunger, and various atrocities reported.

After the session, the US said Ethiopia should stop its “self-inflicted wound” and choose dialogue for all, including the TPLF.

“We need a ceasefire that brings all parties to the table to find a peaceful way forward so that Ethiopians can return to the future we know it can have,” the US representative to the UN, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, said at a media stake-out.

“In terms of the United States, we do have tools at our disposal…it could be that we do a resolution, but also the president signed an executive order a couple of weeks ago that puts us at a possibility of imposing sanctions against individuals for gross violations and blocking of humanitarian assistance. That is available for our use when we need it.”