There is growing evidence of sexual violence being used as a tool of war in the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney has said.
The war in the north of Ethiopia has been going on for six months and Mr Coveney said “it is imperative the Eritrean forces leave Tigray immediately”. They had joined the fighting in support of the federal government which declared a military offensive against the country’s former ruling party, the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
Ethiopian prime minister Abiy Ahmed, said Tigrayan fighters attacked their military bases first.
Mr Coveney said Ireland is seen as “credible” because of its very strong relationship with Ethiopia and “our insistence on shining a spotlight on what’s happening”.
He said the Government “continues to advocate at all levels for a ceasefire” and “a full independent investigation so we can hold people to account who have committed crimes against humanity”.
Ireland is a major contributor to Ethiopian development through Irish Aid and has provided more than €3.2 million to support the humanitarian response on the ground.
Mr Coveney told the Dáil that Ireland’s development assistance programmes and partnerships with Ethiopia “are stronger than with any other region”.
He said “there are multiple credible and harrowing reports of ongoing human rights violations including in particular sexual violence being used as a tool of war in Tigray”.
He added that the humanitarian crisis is particularly difficult for internally displaced persons.
Outlining the latest developments in international efforts to negotiate a ceasefire and for an independent investigation into human rights violations in the conflict, Mr Coveney said there is significant involvement of Gulf states in the horn of Africa and he had discussed the Tigray situation with the UAE’s foreign minister.
Finland’s foreign minister, acting on behalf of the EU, had visited the region twice on including visits to Saudi Arabia and UAE and examined ways gulf countries can play a constructive role in addressing the crisis.
Ireland is currently a member of the UN Security Council and the Minister said “we are continuing to work with colleagues in the EU to keep the Ethiopian government in the spotlight in relation to ensuring they do everything appropriate on this issue.”
Mr Coveney was responding to Sinn Féin foreign affairs spokesman Johnny Brady who welcomed the work of the Security Council to deal with the war but he said its statement on the conflict "did not go far enough because it did not mention international actors".
Mr Brady said more pressure needed to be applied because it was only in April that there was the first acknowledgement that Eritrea had troops in the region. “A commitment was given to start withdrawing those troops but that has not happened,” he said.
The Wicklow TD also highlighted claims from Ethiopia that Eritrea is being used by Saudi and UAE to fly drones into the Tigray areas “which has been integral and instrumental in terms of the destruction, adding to the humanitarian crisis and deaths”.
But the Minister told him that “to get a unanimous statement in the UN Security Council you sometimes have to make some compromises”.
Ireland could have made its own statement “and very few would have been listening” and the statement had been agreed through negotiation.
“We did a strong statement on sexual violence and the need for independent investigation and humanitarian access to all of the Tigray region.”
Mr Brady also expressed concern that “the west if afraid to push Abiy too far because they have no one there effectively to replace him”.
“They are prepared to sacrifice Tigray to keep him in place,” he claimed.
But Mr Coveney warned it was in nobody’s interest to see a collapse of the Ethiopian government.
“This is a very large country. It’s broken up into many different quite powerful regions and maintaining a government is important” as well as ensuring that “we hold people to account” for what had happened in the region.