UN asks Ethiopia to free detained staff

Thursday November 18 2021
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres. FILE PHOTO | AFP


The United Nations (UN) is demanding the release of local staff detained by the Ethiopian government in a controversial crackdown on people believed to be supporters of the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said it was wrong for Ethiopia to detain people without formal charges.

“The SG reiterates his calls for immediate release of UN staff detained in Ethiopia. As far as he is aware, the staff are being held without charges, and no specific information regarding the reason for their arrest,” said Stéphane Dujarric, the spokesperson for the UN Secretary-General.

The UN hasn’t specified the number of staff detained, but it came amid critical reports that authorities in Addis Ababa were rounding up experts and other professionals from the Tigray ethnic group, suspected of supporting or being sympathetic to the TPLF. 

Officially, the government rejects the accusation of targeting ethnic groups but the families of some UN staff have told the media their kin disappeared without a trace.

“The SG expresses his concerns over reports of arbitrary arrests and detentions, which serve to widen divisions and resentment between a group or groups,” she said.


“He calls upon authorities to publicly speak out against the targeting of specific ethnic groups and to demonstrate their commitment to human rights and respect the rule of law.”

The UN Secretary-General reiterated his calls to Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and TPLF to consider dialogue, urging them to cease fire and prioritise the welfare of civilians.

“The course of military conflict will not bring lasting peace and stability to Ethiopia. Safe and unhindered humanitarian access must be restored urgently,” the spokesperson stressed.

As of November 17, nearly 200 infants were reported to have died from starvation in hospitals across Ethiopia's Tigray region as malnutrition soars one year after a brutal conflict broke out, according to data collected by local doctors and researchers.

Much of Tigray is under the control of TPLF, which ran the region before the start of the conflict and is now considered a terrorist group by Addis Ababa.

PM Abiy sent troops into Tigray last November to topple the TPLF, the regional ruling party, a move he said came in response to TPLF attacks on army camps.

The 2019 Nobel peace laureate promised a swift victory, but by late June the TPLF had retaken most of the region, including its capital Mekele and has since advanced south.

Since mid-July, less than 15 percent of needed aid has entered Tigray, according to the UN, raising the spectre of the kind of mass starvation that turned Ethiopia into a byword for famine in the 1980s.

As foreign envoys scramble to end the conflict, with US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visiting neighbouring Kenya on Wednesday, the TPLF has said lifting the "siege" of Tigray is a condition for any ceasefire.