Sunday October 3, 2021
Abeba Gebru, 37, holds the hands of her malnourished daughter, Tigsti Mahderekal, 20 days old, in the treatment tent of a medical clinic on May 11 in the town of Abi Adi, in the Tigray region of northern Ethiopia.
UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations chief informed Ethiopia on Friday that it has no legal right to expel seven U.N. officials and warned that severe restrictions on desperately needed aid to the conflict-wracked Tigray region have created a humanitarian and human rights crisis that is “spiraling out of control.”
Tigray is facing a near-blockade by the government on deliveries of food, fuel and other humanitarian supplies, and children are reportedly dying of famine.
Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at least 5.2 million people in the region need humanitarian assistance including at least 400,000 “living in famine-like conditions.” Child malnutrition levels are now at the same level as they were at the start of the 2011 famine in Somalia, he warned.
Ethiopia announced the expulsions on Thursday, accusing the seven officials of “meddling” in the country’s affairs and giving them 72 hours to leave. In a new statement Friday, Ethiopia’s foreign ministry accused some U.N. staff of failing “to fulfill their mission independently and impartially” and listing “grave violations” including the alleged diversion of humanitarian assistance to Tigray forces fighting government troops.
Guterres said in a letter informing the U.N. Security Council of the expulsions, which was obtained by The Associated Press, that Ethiopia’s decision to expel critical members of the U.N. leadership team “creates yet another obstacle to reaching Ethiopians, at a moment when all efforts should be focused on working together to save and protect lives, protect human rights and avert a humanitarian catastrophe.”
U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq said a diplomatic note sent to Ethiopia’s U.N. Mission and conveyed to Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed during a phone call with U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres on Friday stated the U.N.’s “longstanding legal position” that the doctrine of declaring someone “persona non grata” — or unwelcome — does not apply to U.N. personnel.
“The application of this doctrine to United Nations officials is contrary to obligations under the Charter of the United Nations and the privileges and immunities to be afforded to the United Nations and its officials,” he said.
The doctrine of declaring someone persona non grata applies between one state and another state, Haq said. “We are not a state.”
When issues are raised regarding U.N. personnel, Haq said, “the requirement is that such concerns are appropriately conveyed to the organization.”
“It’s then for the secretary-general to make the necessary determinations and take the necessary steps to address the matter,” the spokesman said.