U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed that Ethiopia has no legal right to expel seven U.N. humanitarian officials.
Guterres told the Ethiopian leader in a phone conversation Friday that the world body does not accept Ethiopia’s decision to expel the senior U.N. officials, according to U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq.
He said the rule is that when concerns arise with regard to the conduct of UN personnel, the requirement is that such concerns are appropriately conveyed to the organization and then the Secretary-General will make the necessary determinations and take the necessary steps to address the matter.
Haq said the U.N. Office of Legal Affairs sent a note to Ethiopia’s U.N. mission in New York on Friday stating the U.N.’s “longstanding legal position” that the action of declaring someone “persona non grata” does not apply to U.N. personnel.
Ethiopia announced the expulsion on Thursday, giving the U.N. officials 72 hours to leave.
In a tweet, Ethiopia’s ministry of foreign affairs said the seven were “meddling in the internal affairs of the country.”
The tweet came amid growing pressure on the government over its deadly blockade of the Tigray region where children are reportedly starving to death. Ethiopia’s government has accused humanitarian workers of supporting the Tigray forces who have been fighting its soldiers and allied forces since November, a charge that aid workers deny.
Spokesperson Haq said the U.N. officials remained in the country. When asked by a reporter if the U.N. officials would leave Ethiopia by the end of 72 hours, Haq did not directly answer.
The U.N. officials include the deputy chief of the U.N. Office for Humanitarian Affairs and a representative of the U.N. Children’s Fund, UNICEF.
UNICEF said Friday the Ethiopian government’s decision to expel the U.N. officials from the country is “regrettable and alarming.”
Declaring its work “is more urgent than ever,” UNICEF said in a statement that children are bearing the brunt of the country’s worsening humanitarian crisis.
“We have full confidence in the teams working on the ground to save children’s lives, guided — as always — by the principles of impartiality, humanity, neutrality and independence. Our programs will continue,” UNICEF added, noting it has been present in the African nation for more than 60 years.
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