The British government’s claims that its new development strategy would make it a “force for good” will be tested by whether it helps to end the conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia, a parliamentary select committee said on Friday.
Failing to act would be “devastating” to the claim that the new Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) could lead the world by combining diplomacy and development, the MPs said in their report on the humanitarian situation in Tigray.
Ethiopia launched a military offensive against the rebel Tigray People’s Liberation Front six months ago but, despite early claims of victory, the conflict has turned into a guerrilla war and fighting has intensified again.
Sarah Champion, chair of the Commons international development committee, said: “The risk of conflict spreading is real and that is why the UK must take urgent action. We cannot bury our head in the sand – it is our moral duty to help find a solution and an end to the misery and fear.”
“This will be the first real test of the FCDO’s new combined diplomacy and development strategy. The UK can utilise its development and diplomatic strengths to help end the current political unrest and violence and find a lasting, peaceful solution. The consequences of a failure to act will be devastating.”
The committee said the government needed to use its links to Ethiopia and work with the UN and African Union to end the conflict and human rights abuses. It also said the government should push for an end to alleged restrictions to aid access, while sanctioning anyone identified as blocking humanitarian support.
More than 1.7 million people have been displaced within Ethiopia by the fighting, according to the UN, and there have been widespread reports of rape, massacres and attacks on health facilities.
A spokesperson for the FCDO said: “The international development committee rightly recognises the role the UK can play in addressing the drivers of conflict in Ethiopia. Ongoing violence remains the biggest barrier to an effective humanitarian response, including reducing the growing risk of famine. We are shocked and appalled by reports of massacres and of widespread sexual and gender-based violence in Tigray. Those who are responsible should be held to account.”
Responding to criticism about merging the Department for International Development into the Foreign and Commonwealth Office last year, the government claimed that combining the diplomacy with its aid work would make the UK a “force for good”.
“The FCDO must do everything in its power to ensure humanitarian access, and bring sanctions against those who try to obstruct delivery of vital food, water, healthcare and shelter,” said Champion.