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15 years of deafening silence on Ethiopian defiance




15 years of deafening silence on Ethiopian defiance
Simon Weldemichael
Adi Keih College of Arts and Social Sciences
April 14 2017

It is 17 years since the Algiers Peace Agreement marked the formal end of the 1998-2000 war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and it is 15 years since the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) rendered its "final and binding" decision closing the final chapter of the Eritrea-Ethiopian border conflict once and for all. Irrespective of its agreement to the "final and binding" nature of the arbitration agreement, and irrespective of the decisions made by an international court, the verdict has yet to be implemented due to Ethiopian defiance.

In 1998, as Eritrea was preparing to celebrate its 8th year of independence, Ethiopia declared a total war. While the pretext of the war was disguised as due to a border issue, the underlying cause was Ethiopia’s attempt to undo the hard won independence of Eritrea and implement regime change. The original small, yet deadly, skirmishes quickly quickly escalated into full-scale war characterized by intense fighting from Burie to Badme. To realize its long-held dream of domination, Ethiopia launched three successive and massive military offensives to dismantle Eritrean resistance and to control the country. Speaking of Eritrea’s penchant for resistance, Ethiopian General Samora Yunis boasted that "Eritreans are good at digging trenches and we are good at converting trenches into graves." As well, Gebru Asrat, another top TPLF official, said “regardless of the costs of the war, we will continue to fight.” Despite Ethiopia’s quick escalation of the original skirmished into all-out war, the Government of the State of Eritrea (GSE) repeatedly attempted to play down the gravity of the situation and sought to resolve the conflict peacefully.

The fighting continued for two years; on 18 June 2000, the parties agreed to a comprehensive peace agreement and binding arbitration of their disputes under the Algiers Agreement. On 12 December 2000, a peace agreement was signed by the two governments. The most significant element of this package was the expeditious delineation and demarcation of the border, a task that was conferred on the EEBC. The Commission had a mandate “to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law.” The parties agreed that the verdict of the EEBC was to be final and binding, and the facilitators and guarantors (UN, EU, OAU and US) were to ensure that the agreement was respected. The Decision on Delimitation of the Border between Eritrea and Ethiopia was delivered by the Commission on 13 April 2002. The ruling awarded Badme, the flashpoint of the conflict, to Eritrea. Notably, on the day after the ruling, Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi unequivocally stated “we gained territories that we have asked and not asked for.” The GSE congratulated both the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia and said “it is a victory for both people of Ethiopia and Eritrea alike, now that a final and legal solution has been found to the border conflict”. A few months later, however, Ethiopia requested clarifications and alterations, and then stated it was deeply dissatisfied with the ruling.

Many observers have said that Ethiopia’s adamant opposition to the EEBC verdict was driven primarily by EEBC's decision to give the flashpoint of the conflict, Badme, to Eritrea. The EEBC found no reason to do alteration thereby rejecting Ethiopia's position that the verdict was unjust and illegal. Despite the fact that the Algiers Agreement "empowers the international community and more specifically the guarantors of the Agreement, to invoke Chapter Seven of the UN Charter and take appropriate measures against the violating party," the international community has done nothing. Ethiopia even announced the EEBC verdict as null and void and demanded bilateral dialogue aimed at reopening the ruling. Zenawi even publicly stated that unless readjustment was made in the disputed territory Ethiopia would not accept the ruling.

Ethiopia’s attempts at “dialogue before demarcation” are simply a diplomatic trick and seek to remove the case from the Arbitration Court and place it in an endless cycle of bilateral dialogue. Eritrea has consistently opposed these attempts and remains firmly wedded to the “final and binding” court verdict. Eritrea’s resolute adherence to the court verdict can be interpreted as an obedience to rule of law, for the interest of lasting peace and for not losing what it had won by legal means. The guarantors of the agreement, instead of pressurizing Ethiopia to accept international law, have illustrated concerted efforts to reopen the final and binding verdict for dialogue.

The US, largely based on its geopolitical strategic interests, has tilted towards Ethiopia, as it did sixty years ago. The approach of the US has encouraged Ethiopia to undermine the ruling, while the inaction of the international community has encouraged Ethiopia to continue defying the international ruling. Western countries continue to prop-up the TPLF regime – which increasingly appears on the precipice – despite the fact that it flouts international laws and is a source of major instability in the region. It is readily apparent that no real progress can take place so long as foreign funding and support to the defiant Ethiopian regime continue.

In obstructing implementation of the EEBC, the Ethiopian governments of Meles Zenawi and Hailemariam Desalegn have lost a golden opportunity to ensure peace and prosperity for the region. There remains a harmful “no war, no peace” situation, while the Ethiopian government retains its state of aggression and hostility toward Eritrea. The “no war, no peace” situation is sustained by Ethiopia in order to buy time for another war, as was so evident in last year’s attack by Ethiopia on Eritrea at Tsorona.

In spite of Ethiopia’s refusal implement the EEBC verdict, the international community also continues to punish Eritrea. The US, wielding its power and influence through the UN and UNSC, imposed unjust sanctions. Eritrea, although unsatisfied with the misguided approach of US, remains engaged in its commitment towards regional peace and stability. The hope for sustainable peace and stability in the Horn of Africa will quickly materialize after Ethiopia’s withdrawal from sovereign Eritrean territory. The US also needs to lift the unjust sanctions it has imposed on Eritrea through the UN Security Council. Furthermore the US and its European allies must reverse their misguided policies in the Horn of Africa. The international community should act immediately, before Ethiopia’s rejection brings about a catastrophic consequence for the region.

Eritrea patiently and steadily marches forward but for how long will it be denied justice? 15 years of deafening silence on Ethiopia’s defiance is a clear indication of the suggestion that there justice often is only for the big or mighty. Currently, the determination, devotion, and self-control of the government and people of Eritrea has made the border with Ethiopia delimited and demarcated on paper. The only things remaining are for the delimitation and demarcation of the border to occur, first in the mind of the Ethiopian government and then on the ground.

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