The government of Ethiopia has announced the expulsion of seven high-ranking UN officials from the country after accusing them of “meddling” in its internal affairs.
The officials, who worked for various UN human rights agencies, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), were declared “persona non grata” by the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and ordered to leave the country within seventy-two hours or face arrest.
The seven UN officials named include Adele Khodr, UNICEF representative in Ethiopia; Sonny Onyegbula, of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and OCHA officials Kwesi Sansculotte, Saeed Mohmoud Hersi, Grant Leaity, Ghada Eltahir Midawi, and Marcy Vigod.
Further explanation for the expulsions was not given. However, observers have speculated that the expulsions were linked to international organizations’ reporting on Ethiopia’s ongoing conflict in Tigray, which has led to a humanitarian crisis that Ethiopia has attempted to suppress.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres was “shocked” by the Ethiopian government’s actions, according to a press release. The release said the UN was “engaging with the government of Ethiopia in the expectation that the concerned UN will be allowed to continue their important work.”
In a statement posted on Twitter, Secretary of State Antony Blinken “strongly condemn[ed]” the decision, describing the UN’s work in Ethiopia as “critical to humanitarian relief.”
“The United States calls for this decision to be reversed and will not hesitate to respond decisively,” Blinken said, although it was not specified what actions would be taken.
Separately, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki described the decision in Thursday’s daily press briefing as a “stain on our collective conscience,” and suggested that it might have been taken in response to reports that the Ethiopian government had restricted food shipments to Tigray.
“President Biden signed an executive order earlier this month enabling the U.S. government to impose financial sanctions on those prolonging the conflict in northern Ethiopia,” Psaki said. “We will not hesitate to use this or any other tool at our disposal to respond quickly and decisively to those who obstruct humanitarian assistance to the people of Ethiopia.”
Fighting in Tigray has continued since November 2020. The Ethiopian government captured Mekelle, the region’s capital, in late November, but Tigrayan rebel forces recaptured it in June 2021. Thousands of deaths have been reported on both sides, as have a number of war crimes and human rights violations.
The UN’s investigation of the conflict is scheduled to be released on November 1. Onyegbula, who worked as one of the investigators, was among the seven officials expelled.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.