More than a dozen Ethiopian staffers working for the United Nations have been arrested in Addis Ababa in raids targeting ethnic Tigrayans under a state of emergency, UN and humanitarian sources told AFP Tuesday.
“Some of them were taken from their homes,” one of the sources said, while a UN spokeswoman in Geneva said requests for their release had been submitted to the foreign ministry.
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 arbitrary detentions of ethnic Tigrayans — commonplace during the war — have spiked in the last week, ensnaring thousands.
Law enforcement officials describe such detentions as part of a legitimate crackdown on the TPLF and OLA.
Tensions between Abiy’s government and the UN have been high throughout the war, which has left thousands dead and, according to UN estimates, pushed hundreds of thousands into famine-like conditions.
In late September Ethiopia’s foreign ministry announced it was expelling seven senior UN officials for “meddling” in the country’s affairs.
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 under what the UN describes as a de facto aid blockade.
UN security officers “have visited the detained colleagues”, a UN spokeswoman in Geneva told AFP Tuesday.
“Notes verbales have also been sent to the Minister of Foreign Affairs to request the immediate release of the detained personnel,” the spokeswoman said.
A spokesperson for the world body in Ethiopia, meanwhile, said the UN was “in the process of verifying and following up on the reports of arrests related to its staff members”.
“The safety and security of UN staff remain at the highest priority for the UN in Ethiopia,” the spokesperson said.