The UN Security Council as Guarantor to the Algiers Peace Agreement and the ensuing impact on the peace and security in the Horn of Africa
This paper is dedicated to Lord Avebury, liberal Democrat and a Friend of Eritrea. He engaged with the British Government, MPs as well as the Eritrean and Ethiopian Governments on the failure of the Ethiopian Government to comply with the decision of the Eritrean Ethiopian Boundary Commission and the ensuing impact on the people of Eritrea and on peace and stability in the Horn of Africa. During one of my meetings with him, he requested that I provide an overview of the current impasse. Sadly, I was unable to complete this task for him to review before he died peacefully at his London home on the 14th February 2016. This paper is written in his memory and his hope for a resolution to the current impasse.
The Current Impasse: Ethiopia and Eritrea
Ethiopia, once a poster child of US foreign policy and development largess, is now fending of allegations of a delinquent state. The “prodigal son” of the US, is now under scrutiny for alleged egregious human rights violations including ethnic cleansing particularly of the Oromo and lowland periphery populations, by the authoritarian and hegemonic policies of the minority, ethnically Tigrayan regime—the Tigray People’s Liberation Front (TPLF).
There are credible concerns that the current civil unrest and upheaval in Ethiopia will spill into Eritrea. The US, acutely aware of the impact of war on regional stability, where an implosion in either of these two countries could potentially lead to religious or radical Islamism, will need to revisit its policy towards Eritrea. This is especially the case now as Ethiopia could try and deflect international attention from its internal situation by initiating a substantive attack on Eritrea. Concerns emanate from a number of recent border skirmishes with Eritrea, resulting in significant loss of life. These unprovoked hostilities, in the form of Ethiopian incursions into Eritrea, are continued violations by Ethiopia of the Algiers Peace Agreement signed between the two countries on the 12th December 2000, the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) ruling issued in 13 April 2002 and the Geneva Conventions.
Following official demarcation of the Eritrea-Ethiopia border in November 2007, a bellicose and violent Ethiopian military has maintained ongoing illegal occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory, thus requiring Eritrea to divert its human capital away from the process of nation-building to the protection of its boundary with Ethiopia. The impasse that currently prevails is referred to as the “no war no peace” stalemate.
Eritrea’s population stands at 4-6 million while Ethiopia’s stands at 95-100 million. In the face of overwhelming odds, Eritrea has been on a virtual war footing, whereby its national service program, originally scheduled to last only 18 months, has been extended for a prolonged period, as much of Eritrea’s manpower must now remain mobilized and in a state of readiness to thwart off renewed hostilities by Ethiopia along its border with Eritrea spanning 1000 km.
Recently in London on Monday 5th September 2016, I attended the APPG Eritrea meeting, chaired by the Hon. MP Matthew Pennycook and Baroness Kinnock at the House of Commons which discussed the economic impact on Eritrea of the national service program. Despite substantive evidence to the contrary, no mention was made of the impact of the simmering tension ensuing from Ethiopia’s continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean territory and incessant saber rattling. Additionally, no mention was made of the failure of members of the international community, including the UN, US, EU and AU, to comply with their obligations as witnesses and guarantors of the Algiers Agreement. Little was said about Ethiopia’s failure to comply with the EEBC decision in April 2002 or importantly the official conclusion of the border decision, given that demarcation was completed in November 2007, presided over by our highly respected senior lawyer and distinguished academic Sir Elli Lauterpacht. The issue has therefore always been the illegal occupation by Ethiopia and not the demarcation of the border.
Furthermore, I was dismayed to hear a young gentleman of strong anti-Eritrean Government views refer to the recent border skirmishes as having no substance and insist that, in fact, this was actually an excuse by the Eritrean Government to deliberately enforce indefinite national service. My heart went out to the families of the young men from both Eritrea and Ethiopia who had lost their lives in these recent border skirmishes. I was saddened at how, in a first world democracy, our House was captured by individuals unwilling to engage honestly on facts and were unable to rise above the polarized, simplified debates on Eritrea to appreciate the actual complexity of the situation and therefore genuinely represent the human rights of the long-suffering Eritrean people.
Background, The Border War, The Algiers Agreement 2000 (Algiers Agreement) and the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC)
Eritrea, initially federated to Ethiopia in 1952 was thereafter annexed in 1962 by Ethiopia with the tacit complicity of the UN. All this was done without regard to the Eritrean people’s aspiration for self-determination. This led the Eritrean people to engage in a 30-year war with Ethiopia – what has been referred to as the “long struggle”. It was only in 1991 that Eritrea achieved independence and was recognized by the UN as an independent country in 1993. That same year, Isaias Afwerki was elected to office with almost unanimous majority as the President of the newly independent Eritrea. It is now 25 years since independence. Sadly, what had intended to be the beginning of peaceful relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea evolved instead into hostilities. In 1998, Eritrea and Ethiopia went to war in what is known as the Boundary War which lasted until the year 2000. A costly war, with substantive loss of lives on both sides, with Ethiopia suffering the heaviest of causalities.
The Origins of the Border Conflict
To understand the origins and the nature of the conflict, one needs to look back in time to ascertain the intention and modus operandi of the actions and decisions that emanated in the attacks in 1998 and the ensuing border war. One must be aware that around this period, the bilateral ties between Eritrea and Ethiopia were close and cordial and it is therefore difficult to make sense of why the town of Badme in Eritrea, often cited as the casus belli, was relevant. It is only upon review of facts that one is made aware of Ethiopia’s concerted plan to alter the boundaries by laying new facts on the ground, including in Badme and Adi Murug and the unprovoked border skirmishes, as part of a complex, premeditated and centrally planned operation, that included the concerted engagement of external actors.
In 1997 two battalions of Ethiopian troops requested permission to enter Eritrea, allegedly in “hot pursuit of an Afar armed opposition group” that had fled into Eritrea. Eritrea acquiesced to the request. The battalions entered Adi Murug in central Eritrea, overstayed their agreed two-week permit and commenced a provocative act of altering the administration of the village, asserting it was Tigrayan land and citing long-standing claims. At the time, President Afwerki, assuming these to be the actions of a few rogue Tigrayan administrators or military units, followed up directly with a handwritten letter to Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi. A responding letter by Prime Minister Meles downplayed the provocative act referred to in the initial letter. President Afwerki sent a subsequent letter stressing that “tampering with established boundaries would be a recipe for undesirable and unavoidable tension” with a suggestion that a bilateral Boundary Committee composed of a high-level delegation from both countries be set up to address Ethiopian assertion of land claims along with the suggestion of informed consultation with the local people impacted by the said claims.
It is important to note that, despite the fact that colonial boundaries were often thought to be fluid in Africa, the Eritrea Ethiopia boundary was known to be one of the most clearly defined boundaries in Africa. Having been defined by three sequential colonial treaties, that is, the 1900, 1902 and 1908 Treaties, which set out, exhaustively and in detail, the 1000km long border line without any ambiguity. Subsequent State practice for a period of over 100 years did not alter or change that boundary. This was the reality, irrespective of the change in control, that is, from colonization (Italian colonial period after 1908 until 1941), administration (British Military Administration from 1941-1952), and federation (UN imposed federation 1952-1961). The UN expressly re-confirmed the boundaries stipulating in its Resolution 390 A(v) in 1952 that “the territory of Eritrea, including the Islands, is that of the former Italian colony of Eritrea”. In addition, colonial maps confirmed this as Eritrean territory. Ethiopia’s claims were therefore unsubstantiated. Despite this, Eritrea was always willing, and from the outset to engage with Ethiopia to find a peaceful resolution to the asserted claims.
The high-level bilateral Boundary Committee was established. However, no substantive action was carried out as Ethiopia maintained during this period that it needed time to compile evidence and facts to establish their claims. The Boundary Committee, therefore, only ever met twice. In the meantime, Ethiopia continued its encroachments on sovereign Eritrean territories by stealth, and in a piecemeal manner. In January 1998, Ethiopian army contingents in Bure (Assab area) penetrated deep into Eritrean territory (some 20km) and tried to set up camp. They were forced to withdraw after firm warnings from Eritrea. This pattern continued in western Eritrea intermittently and in an incremental manner. During the months of March and May 1998, without notice, authority or consultation, Ethiopia commenced the placing of stone pillars in western Eritrea around the area of Badme in undisputed and sovereign Eritrean territory. In one of these provocative breach, the Ethiopian military opened fire on an Eritrean patrol unit that tried to stop the illicit acts, killing five Eritrean soldiers. This incident led to localized skirmishes and the eviction of Ethiopian military units from sovereign Eritrean lands in the Badme area. Ethiopia used this as a pretext to declare war on Eritrea on the 14th May 1998 without disclosing to the international community their action and instigation of the debacle.
These actions clearly demonstrate the hidden agenda of Ethiopia’s ruling party to bring under its occupation areas in Eritrea as part of its expansionist plans. Ethiopia had utilized the Boundary Committee discussions as a stalling mechanism by repeatedly postponing its meetings to continue their stealth and sporadic incursions into Eritrean territory. It was a deliberate plan of deception and to thwart all peaceful resolution of the situation.
In hindsight, what was required was international scrutiny and investigation of the events of May 1998 and specifically requests were made by President Afwerki to the OAU then – when it would have been clearly evident that it was the Ethiopians that had initiated the war.
Once again, Eritrea acted in good faith as evidenced by official statements issued at the time by the Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers and the National Assembly requesting that matters be addressed peacefully and without recourse to war. President Afwerki, on the 24th May 1998, during Eritrean independence day celebrations, emphatically stated “Eritrea does not wish to take an inch of Ethiopia’s sovereign territory; nor will it allow Ethiopia to take an inch of Eritrea’s sovereign territory”. This was part of Eritrea’s continued strategy to try and find a resolve to these actions through bilateral negotiations and discussions and through peaceful means.
However Ethiopia was on the offensive and began to expel all Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin from Ethiopia. Eritrea’s National Assembly publicly condemned this action and refused to retaliate, instead it resolved to ensure that all rights of Ethiopians in Eritrea would be protected and respected and that any institutions or individuals who took retaliatory action against Ethiopian citizens in Eritrea would be answerable in a court of law. It was at this time that Eritrea sought assistance from the USA and Rwanda. However their intervention further escalated the conflict. The matter was then referred to the OAU with a troika of leaders from Zimbabwe, Burkina Faso and Djibouti who led the first inception of the peace agreement – the Framework Agreement which Ethiopia would later violate in May 1999 to launch a second offensive.
The International Community and the Peace Agreements
All of the peace agreements were drawn up by the OAU and then the USA and the EU with explicit provisions for punitive actions by third parties including the UN Security Council as against the party in breach of the Agreements. However, no action was ever taken against Ethiopia for its continued and blatant breach and violations of the Agreements. There was a pattern emerging in Ethiopia’s conduct. Ethiopia would instigate action, agree to discussions, sign peace agreements to obtain diplomatic traction, whilst utilizing this time to prepare its military to violate the agreements.
The most commonly cited examples of the egregious violation by Ethiopia in the first instance were the following agreements:
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