The United Nations says that six of its officials detained in Addis Ababa have been released, with 16 others still being held. The UN says the staffers who are all Ethiopian nationals, were arrested on Tuesday in Addis Ababa in raids targeting ethnic Tigrayans under a state of emergency; the arrests are said to have come shortly after a senior UN envoy visited Tigray to plead for more aid to civilians.
“We are of course actively working with the government of Ethiopia to secure their immediate release,” UN spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.
“There has been, as far as I know, no explanation given to us on why these staff members are detained,” he added.
Reports indicate that UN security officers “have visited the detained colleagues”. “Notes verbales have also been sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to request the immediate release of the detained personnel.” A UN spokeswoman in Geneva said requests for their release had been submitted to the foreign ministry.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed’s government announced a six-month nationwide emergency a week ago, amid rising fears that fighters from the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF) and Oromo Liberation Army (OLA) rebel groups could advance on the capital. Human rights groups including Amnesty have denounced the emergency measures, which allow for anyone suspected of supporting “terrorist groups” to be searched and held without a warrant.
Lawyers say that arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans have spiked in the last week, ensnaring thousands. Law enforcement officials claim such detentions are part of a legitimate crackdown on the TPLF and OLA.
Abiy sent troops into Tigray in November 2020 to topple the TPLF, but by late June the TPLF had regrouped and retaken most of the region. Since then, Tigray has been seen to come under what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade.
Tensions between Abiy’s government and the UN have been high throughout the war in Tigray region, which has left thousands dead; UN estimates indicate the war has pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions. In late September Ethiopia’s foreign ministry announced it was expelling seven senior UN officials for what it termed as “meddling” in the nation’s internal affairs.