The United Nations said on Tuesday that 22 of its Ethiopian national employees were detained by the federal government in Addis Ababa, following a raid allegedly targeted to ethnic Tigrayan. Six UN employees have been released.
“We are certainly working actively with the Ethiopian government for their immediate release,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters, of the 16 people in custody. “It is imperative that they be released.”
He said no explanation was given for the detention of employees working for various UN agencies. “Some of them have been detained in the last few days,” he said. UN security officials have met with those in custody.
On 30 September, Ethiopia expelled seven UN humanitarian officials, saying they were interfering in the country’s affairs.
The detentions were announced just a day after UN humanitarian chief Martin Griffiths concluded a four-day visit to the country to try to improve aid access to northern Ethiopia.
He met Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and made a one-day visit to Mekele, the capital of the Tigre region.
Last Thursday marked the first anniversary of the deployment of troops to Tigre by Prime Minister Abiy in response to the Tigre People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) capture of military bases.
According to the United Nations, the ensuing conflict has left thousands dead, several million displaced from their homes and millions in need of aid, and at least 400,000 residents of the Tigre are facing famine.
The conflict threatens to spread to the capital as TPLF and allied groups threaten to march there.
A week ago, the Ethiopian government declared a six-month state of emergency and called on residents to protect their neighborhoods when rebels arrive in the capital.
Reuters reported that the announcement allows the government to make arrests without a warrant, which it claims is cooperating with the rebels. There have been reports of tigresses being arrested in Addis Ababa.
Asked if the detained staffers were Tigrayans, UN spokesman Dujarric said: “It is a valid question, but for us, these are UN staff members. They are Ethiopians. They are UN employees. And we want to see them released, irrespective of the caste mentioned in their identity cards.”
A joint investigation by the United Nations and the government-created Ethiopian Human Rights Commission found human rights violations committed by all parties to the Tigre conflict, including torture of civilians, gang rape and arrests based on ethnicity. UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Michelle Bachelet said some of these abuses could be war crimes and crimes against humanity.
Last week, the US urged all Americans to leave Ethiopia and cautioned against traveling there. It renewed its call for Americans to leave Tuesday, saying the security situation “remains very fluid.”
Some information in this report has been received from Reuters and Agence France-Presse.