Africa, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines

POLITICS-AFRICA: Ethiopia Expels U.N. Staff

Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS, Nov 2 1998 (IPS) - The United Nations has “vigorously” protested Ethiopia’s decision to expel some 30 U.N. staffers working for various U.N. agencies around Addis Ababa because they are of Eritrean origin.

Ethiopia and neighbouring Eritrea currently were fighting a border war and Ethiopia declared the 30 staffers “persona non grata” – making them politically unacceptable to the Ethiopian government.

The U.N. employees, however, were entitled to certain privileges and immunities that all U.N. staffers enjoy in host countries and overseas missions, declared U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan. The headquarters of the U.N. Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), one of the U.N.’s major regional bodies, is based in the Ethiopian capital of Addis Ababa which is also home for one the largest U.N. conference centres in Africa.

In a report to the General Assembly released Monday, Annan said that the Ethiopian government had refused to change its decision on the expulsion order.

Annan maintained “(U.N.) staff members are not diplomats and cannot be declared persona non grata from the country without giving the Organisation an opportunity to look into the charges against individual staff members and to decide whether the privileges and immunities of the Organisation had been involved.”

Under article 105 of the U.N. Charter, the United Nations enjoyed privileges and immunities – as necessary to fulfill its duties.

In May this year, the United Nations was forced to evacuate all U.N. dependents and non-essential staff from Asmara in Eritrea, because of the ongoing hostilities with Ethiopia. “This case illustrates how conditions at a duty station where security was not a concern can change rapidly, necessitating urgent action on the part of the organisation to safeguard the lives of its personnel,” Annan’s report noted.

Eritrea was part of Ethiopia until it became an independent nation in May 1993 after a fight that lasted 31 years.

The new conflict over territorial borders has spilled into the United Nations where there has been a continuous war of words between delegates from the two countries in the current session of the General Assembly.

In May this year, a consultant for the U.N. Children’s Fund (UNICEF) was arrested by Ethiopia’s internal security police for alleged genocide and subsequently charged with that offense.

UNICEF, while not denying the right of the government of Ethiopia to arrest and try those individuals, said it was “disturbed” that no effort was made to advise UNICEF of the individual’s arrest. UNICEF said the official concerned has also been denied legal representation.

Meanwhile, Annan also complained that the arrest or detention of staff members continued to be a major issue for the world body. As of last week 60 U.N. staffers were either under arrest and detention or missing mostly in such countries as Rwanda, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Ethiopia, Angola and in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The report also listed the names of some 27 staffers who lost their lives in the line of duty, since July 1997. Annan says the last 12 months had seen “a dramatic escalation of attacks on U.N. personnel, both civilian and military.”

“Never before have so many colleagues lost their lives in the service of the Organisation. Never before has the number of U.N. civilian casualties exceeded the number of U.N. military casualties,” Annan noted.

He pointed out that, “never before has the Organisation recorded so many deliberate, wanton incidents in which personnel have been directly targeted by warring factions or criminals who make a mockery of the principles on which the United Nations was built.”

The Secretary-General warned if he did not have the cooperation of member states, he would have no option but to withdraw staffers even though most of them are involved in providing humanitarian assistance. ‘United Nations personnel can no longer be expected to fill vacuums created by political inaction on the part of member states,” he declared.

Annan said that, of the 162 incidents against U.N. staffers reported since January this year, thos responsible had been caught and brought to justice in only one case. “The perpetrators of deliberate attacks on U.N. personnel must be held accountable for their acts in which staff members have lost their lives,” he said.

The Secretary-General called on the 185 member states to ensure that any assult or physical violence against U.N. personnel is properly investigated, and that measures be taken against those found guility. “Furthermore, international legal machinery should be developed to find and seize the assets of the transgressors.”

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