THE PRECARIOUS IROBLAND ISSUE & THE UNITED NATIONS-LED BORDER DEMARCATION AT GUNPOINT:
Failure of Arbitration or Miscarriage of Justice?
By the Reverend Abba Tesfamariam Baraki
An Irob-Ethiopian-American Citizen
Washington, D.C., USA
14 July 2003
"… However, incursions across the southern boundary of the Temporary Security Zone could have a serious destabilizing effect and therefore can have considerable implications for the peace process …"
(Mr. Kofi A. Annan, UN Secretary-General, 6 March 2003)
"The absence of political contacts between the two countries
since the negotiation of the Algiers Agreements has undoubtedly hindered
the normalization of bilateral relations -- a vital element of any
(UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Progress report on Ethiopia and Eritrea, 23 June 2003)
"We will not accept the decision of the Boundary
Commission, we will die in our land; unless we all perish, our land will
not be given away."
(The Irob people, The Ethiopian Reporter (Amharic), 23 June 2003: the English version of the quotation by Dr. G. Araia)
Prelude: Words of Wisdom for Reflection
"Let us say, in accordance with the truth and the counsel of Aristotle in Politics, Bk. 3, ch. 6, that the legislator, or the primary and proper efficient cause of the law, is
the people or the whole body of citizens, or the weightier part
thereof, by its choice or will expressed orally in a general gathering
of the citizens, commanding or determining certain things to be done
or omitted with regard to man’s civil actions, under threat of temporal
penalty or punishment. I say weightier part, taking into
consideration both the number of persons and their quality in the
community for which the law is enacted."
Marsilius of Padua: Defensor Pacis, 1, 12, 3. (14th cent.)
"The human legislator must attain to that balance, that keen sense
of moral responsibility, without which it is easy to mistake the
boundary between the legitimate use and the abuse of power. Thus only
will his decisions have internal consistency, noble dignity and
religious sanction, and be immune from selfishness and passion."
Pope Pius XII: Summi Pontificatus. (October 20, 1939)
"Now, the welfare and safety of a multitude formed into a society is the preservation of its unity, which is called peace,
and which, if taken away, the benefit of social life is lost and
moreover the multitude in its disagreement becomes a burden to itself. The chief concern of the ruler of a multitude, therefore, should be to procure the unity of peace."
St. Thomas Aquinas: The Government of Rulers, I, 2. (13th cent.)
"Justice … is the virtue that gives to each his due."
St. Augustine of Hippo: On Freewill, I, 27.
"Let justice be done though the world perish."
St. Augustine of Hippo
"The rule of justice is plain, namely, that a good man ought not to
swerve from the truth, not to inflict any unjust loss on anyone, nor to
act in any way deceitfully or fraudulently."
St. Ambrose: On the Duties of the Clergy, I, 127. (4th cent.)
"Justice is a certain certitude of mind whereby a man does what he ought to do in the circumstances confronting him."
St. Thomas Aquinas: Summa Theologica, 61. (13th cent.)
"Peace is more important than all justice: and peace was not made for the sake of justice, but justice for the sake of peace."
"You will not be unjust in administering justice. You will
neither be partial to the poor nor be overawed by the great, but will
administer justice to your fellow-citizen justly."
Leviticus 19:15 (NJB)
"How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the orphan; maintain the right of the lowly and the destitute."
Psalm 82:2 (NRSV)
"Every time there arises from the depth of a human heart the
childish cry which Christ himself could not restrain, ‘Why am I being
hurt?’ then there is certainly injustice."
"Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Martin Luther King Jr.
"Decisions made by people who have a respect for persons,
reverence for life, and compassion for the suffering are likely to be
good decisions, whereas decisions made by people who are insensitive and lack empathy are likely to be morally bad, no matter how much knowledge and skill they might possess."
Ashley & O’Rourke, Ethics of Health Care, 2002: p. 3.
Introductory Statement and the Irob People’s Reaction
As the Eritrean-Ethiopian boundary demarcation quickly approaches, I
feel that I have a moral responsibility to raise global consciousness
concerning the possibility of another conflict that could develop soon
in the contested border areas of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Such an tragic
development could easily lead to another untold bloodshed between the
two peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Unfortunately, the international community has totally failed so
far in their attempt to bring mutual reconciliation and improvement of
bilateral relations for the two countries. As a matter of fact, the
independent Boundary Commission and the United Nations have failed to
arrive at a just settlement of those contested boundaries. In terms of
an equitable distribution of territories, the very existence of ethnic
minority groups has been threatened in those regions.
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission has ignored the persistent
pleas and outcries of the Irob minority ethnic group in the Central
Sector of the Endeli Projection. The Commission has continued to rebuff
and humiliate them with its unwavering and resolute ill-fated "Decisions
" of 13 April 2002 and its subsequent "Determinations
" of 7 November 2002 and "Observations
of 21 March 2003 issued at The Hague. As a matter of fact, the Hague’s
verdict threatens the very existence of the Irob minorities. It violates
fundamental human rights which guarantees that people can live as a
cohesive ethnic community and freely choose which country to belong to
as citizens. It prevents them from living in unison, undivided and/or
not-separated from their ancestral families, relatives, and communities
tied to by birth/origin, culture, and language.
Hence, this treatise is not meant to be a scholarly debate, but
rather a voice of plea on behalf of the voiceless people of Irob, who
lack full knowledge and understanding of what is happening in the
international arena regarding the fate of their native-lands and their
sociopolitical future. It is a condemnation of the complicity of the
EEBC, U.N., and those relevant parties who are determined to split apart
the Irob peoples.
Regrettably, their very existence as an ethnic community is
seriously endangered by the same international body that would defend
and protect their rights under the international law of justice. The
United Nations Security Council appears determined to expeditiously
implement the Commission’s boundary delimitation and demarcation
decisions despite major controversy. The inhabitants of the border
regions have voiced clearly their determined resolution to reject the
Commission’s ruling and the United Nations’ interference. As a matter of
fact, Dr. Ghelawdewos Araia in his article, which appeared recently on
various websites, says, "As reported by the Ethiopian Reporter (May 5
and June 23, 2003), the Irob have told the world in no uncertain terms: We
will not accept the decision of the Boundary Commission, we will die in
our land; unless we all perish, our land will not be given away".
In order to substantiate the title of this article, the writer
invites your reading the following direct quotations taken from the
reports of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission and the UN
Secretary-General and submitted as recommendations to the UN Security
The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s Position:
"A further problem relates to the security of all Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission personnel in the field – both the field office staff and, in due course, the construction personnel. It has become evident that in
certain locations they may be confronted by the hostility of local
inhabitants due, for example, to the fact that the boundary line may be
perceived as dividing communities or separating them from their
cultivated fields … The Commission is pleased to record that …
both parties have assured the Commission that they each will provide
fully adequate security in this respect" (EEBC’s Eighth Report, Part Four, no. 21, 21 February 2003).
"The Commission therefore hopes that consideration can be given to the possible enlargement of UNMEE’s authority so that its forces may accompany all Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission personnel and thereby deter or react to any threat to their security" (Ibid., no. 21).
"In sum, the Commission expresses the hope that the Security Council will:
a. Call upon the parties to cooperate promptly and fully with the Commission to enable it fulfill the mandate conferred upon it by the parties of expeditiously delimiting and demarcating the boundary; …
b. Authorize and arrange
for provision of security by UNMEE to all Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary
Commission personnel in the field and for the protection of pillar sites after mine clearance and during the construction phase, with authority to use as may be necessary for this purpose" (Ibid., Part Five, parag. no. 24).
c. "Security of construction personnel in the field. The
question of security for Field Office staff and contractors’ personnel
continues to be of great importance. Having taken note that Security Council resolution 1466 of 14 March 2003 ‘urges
both Ethiopia and Eritrea … to take all steps necessary to provide the
necessary security on the ground for the staff of the Commission when
operating in territories under their control’, the Commission and
its staff are currently engaged in exploring the modalities for
security and obtaining the appropriate assurances from the parties." (Ninth report of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, parag. no. 8(e), 9 June 2003
The United Nation’s Position:
"With regard to the provision of security for all Boundary Commission personnel in the field
– both the field office staff and, in due course, the contractors –
UNMEE remains of the view that this is the basic responsibility of the
two sovereign Governments in their respective territories, a
responsibility that the Governments have accepted. …Under the
rules of engagement given to the UNMEE’s peacekeepers for the
implementation of this mandate, they are entitled to use force only in
self-protection, and in order to save the lives of international
civilians under threat. However, UNMEE is able … to intervene in extreme cases for the protection of human lives … " (Progress report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea, III, no.16, 6 March 2003)
"By the same logic, UNMEE is fully prepared to monitor
the pillar sites so that they are not tampered with after mine
clearance has been completed and during the construction phase; the responsibility for ensuring security at these sites obviously remains with the parties. UNMEE
is also amenable to monitor pillar sites for a limited period following
the emplacement of pillars, with the full understanding on the part of
all concerned that physical protection of the pillars is the sole responsibility of the parties" (Ibid., parag. no. 17).
The reader may conclude that there is very little concern given to
the peoples adversely affected by the border demarcation process. It
appears that the EEBC and the U.N. are more anxious about the safety of
their own troops and personnel in the field and the protection of the
pillars of the boundary demarcation to be constructed along the 1000 km
(600 mile) border.
It is morally appalling that the Boundary Commission and the United
Nations openly demonstrate a greater commitment to the protection of
their own people and the inanimate symbolic pillars designed to divide
brotherly people permanently into two unfriendly nations. In the
process, would they even allow the use of military force
against those victimized border area peoples (such as the Irobs) who
would undoubtedly show civil disobedience as a means of airing their
frustration and desperation?
Undoubtedly, the voiceless villagers, like the Irobs and residents
of Badme and its environs, seem prepared (as we have been following
closely through the Internet media) to protest the demarcation and
disobey any authority threatening their civic and human rights.
Certainly, their reaction will be perceived as a dangerous move by the
international community. However, it should not be forgotten what the
Commission stated that "in certain locations they may be
confronted by the hostility of local inhabitants due, for example, to
the fact that the boundary line may be perceived as dividing communities
or separating them from their cultivated fields".
It is unbelievable that people, who were born and inhabited those
places in peace and harmony for centuries now could be considered as
dangerous criminals. It is tragic that human beings through
irresponsible and unjust human laws will attempt to override God-given
rights which entitle all peoples to live in sacrosanct birth-places and
countries of choice.
In my opinion, the voiceless villagers of the Irobland and other
similar regions should not be perceived nor treated as lawbreakers who
threaten the peace of the world. They are the victims of injustice. Hence,
if any conflict arises which leads to confrontation and bloodshed, the
EEBC, the United Nations, and relevant parties must be prepared to
assume full responsibility not only before the world but also before God.
After all, it is morally justifiable for victimized peoples to
defend their dignity and rights against any force that threatens their
existence or uproots them from their God-given places of birth. I
believe that what is at stake here is judicially flawed justice which
threatens disintegration of defenseless human societies.
Does the End Justify the Means? Should Injustice Be Justified and Legalized?
The reader is requested to reflect on the following quotations
taken from the Eighth report of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission
to the UN Secretary-General on the Ethio-Eritrea boundary issue:
"The Commission has always made it clear that it has not
been given the power to vary the boundary delimited in the April
Decision. In particular, the December 2000 Agreement expressly precluded the Commission from deciding matters ex aequo et bono: it did not confer on the Commission, as
it could have done and as has been done in the demarcation arrangements
for many other boundaries, the power to vary the boundary in the
process of demarcation for the purpose of meeting local human needs. The
Commission regrets that the boundary lines found by it to follow from
the Treaty provisions and international law which it is bound to apply
may at certain points result in physical divisions within communities
that may adversely affect the interests of the local inhabitants. The Commission has not been insensitive to certain likely problems; it expressly contemplated the possibility of variations to the line, but only at the request of and with the agreement,
nothing would preclude their doing so in the course of the demarcation,
even on a location-by-location basis." (EEBC, Eighth report of the
Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, Part One, par. 4, 21 February
"… It may be regrettable, but it is by no means unusual, for boundary delimitation and subsequent demarcation to divide communities. This
may require some movement of communities, some reconstruction of
community facilities and some understanding between the parties
regarding cross-boundary movement. But those are not matters to be
remedied by the Commission. Rather they are a concern of the United Nations, as a expressly laid down in Article 4.16 of the December 2000 Agreement" (Ibid., par. 7).
In principle, the conflict resolution for the attainment of peace
between the two unfriendly countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia, which
fought one of the bloodiest wars of our times (1998-2000), is good and
desirable. Nevertheless, the approach and method employed by the EEBC
through its detrimental and harmful ruling of 13 April 2002 is flawed
because of its destructive nature and negative consequences. As a matter
of fact, the people of Irob who lived peacefully in their fatherland
for centuries are threatened by the damaging verdict which will coerce
their division into two nationalities. It will separate and uproot them
from their sacrosanct native-land despite their determination to remain
as Ethiopians, in their motherland Ethiopia.
Hence, we, particularly as Irob natives are forced to question the
motives and the moral justification of such a harmful decision. We are
compelled to dispute the irresponsible endorsement given by the United
Nations, the European Union, the African Union, and others to the
compulsory implementation of the boundary demarcation forced upon
peoples who are still categorically opposing it.
How can such prestigious international bodies justify the act of
dividing, separating, and disintegrating communities, families, and
friends, who existed peacefully for centuries for mere political
compromise and the satisfaction of political leaders? Can evil means
justify the relatively good end of illusive border settlement? Where is
the moral justification which allows sacrificing voiceless people in
such an unjust and contentious legal process? Will measures imposed
forcibly by the Commission and the United Nations on the Irob people
guarantee a peaceful resolution to the boundary conflicts between
Eritrea and Ethiopia?
In my opinion, the EEBC and the United Nations have failed the
peoples in the border areas by ignoring their outcries and aspirations.
They seem to be more interested in the ambitions of political leaders
than the protection of the voiceless peasants who will suffer the
consequences of their ill-fated decisions.
It is regrettable that, while there were some feasible solutions
suggested by concerned groups from the border areas, the international
community ignored their persistent call to be heard. For instance, the
people of Irob have argued that the recognized pre-war borders of 1998,
particularly in the Irob region, would have been the best solution for
political stability and peaceful coexistence. To our dismay, however,
the EEBC and the United Nations disregarded the Irob people’s advice and
have manifested a single-minded determination to adhere to their
controversial decision. As a matter of fact, they are determined to
demarcate those contested boundaries no matter what adverse outcomes
Sadly, since the eruption of hostility in 1998, the two countries
have never demonstrated any signs of reconciliation, normalization of
bilateral relations or any compromise toward avoiding further war. It is
well known that each government is supporting opposition groups in
order to overthrow each other’s regime. Both governments want to appear
committed to peace in that they are abiding by the ceasefire agreement
signed in Algiers, December 2000.
The EEBC and the United Nations realize that Eritrea and Ethiopia
are not in a position to settle the matters of their boundary and
related human rights issues concerning the minority populations (such as
in the Irobland and other areas). These international bodies are
placing pressure particularly on Ethiopia to accept the controversial
demarcation of the border scheduled to begin sometime in July 2003 or
shortly there after.
If this criticism is considered to be unfounded, then let the
concerned parties openly respond and disprove it. Otherwise, all
implicated parties must take full responsibility for the miscarriage of
justice particularly against the voiceless Irob ethnic minorities.
1. Bias against the Irob and their Land
Why do the EEBC and the United Nations avoid mentioning the
Irobland and the Irob People in their reports or documents? Why is it
that the Issue of the Irobland is not as significantly important as the
Issue of Badme to the relevant parties and the international community?
The United Nations–which should be protecting (see Universal Declaration of Human Rights
the rights of all individuals and societies around the globe–seems to
demonstrate bias against the Irob ethnic minorities of Ethiopia.
Although the Irob natives in diaspora as well as in urban Ethiopia
persistently voice their concern over the helpless and voiceless people
of Irob in the Irob Woreda, the international community continues to
ignore their outcries for justice and human rights. The United Nations
never condemned the Eritrean invasion and occupation of the Irobland
(1998-2000) and their mistreatments and human rights abuses against the
inhabitants. Now the UN would order the Irob people to be divided
between Eritrea and Ethiopia, in spite of the Irobs persistent
opposition and pleas
To the Irob people’s further dismay, after the issuance of the
Boundary Commission’s ruling in 2002, the EEBC and the United Nations
purposely avoided mentioning in their documents or reports the name of
"Irob" or the "Irobland", while "Badme" often has been the focal point
and the core of concern. The Irob people want to know why the
international community demonstrates such biases? As a matter of fact,
the Irob people are dismayed that even the Ethiopian Government
reluctantly admitted the invasion and abuses against the Irob people
perpatrated by Eritrea in late May of 1998.
Now the United Nations wittingly is preparing to render a final
blow of death to the Irob ethnic minority for the sake of an illusive
peace settlement and for satisfaction of the two governments. (Ethiopian Government's Comment on Irob
2. The Issue of the Unaccounted Missing Irobs
Why are the United Nations and the relevant Parties in silence
regarding the abducted and missing civilian Irobs during the Eritrean
occupation of the Irobland? Does their behavior demonstrate good faith
in the peace process for the two countries?
The EEBC and United Nations have angered and humiliated the people
of Irob by ignoring their legitimate questions regarding the human
rights of those abducted Irob civilians (over 80) who disappeared during
the Eritrean aggression and occupation (1998-2000) in violation of the
Geneva Convention (IV) of 12 August 1949. (The reader is encouraged to visit the following website: Conventions
If the United Nations is truly and equally concerned about global
populations, then why is the UN ignoring the Irob people who never
stopped raising their voices for justice? Why is the issue of missing
Irobs not raised or discussed with responsible parties at the UN
level? Do their lives matter to the United Nations? If so, why are they
not addressing this humanitarian issue before any boundary settlement?
The Irob people are demanding an immediate response from the United
Nations as well as from their government regarding the humanitarian
condition of loved ones whose whereabouts during the past four years are
not known to the world.
In respect to its global responsibilities, the United Nations is
urged to investigate the matter of Irob abductees still unaccounted for.
As concerned Irob natives we beseech the United Nations to place
pressure on the Eritrean Government to settle this problem before any
borderline demarcation takes place. This is a matter of justice;
otherwise, as Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere."
Matters of Neutrality in the Peace Process
Are the EEBC and the United Nations acting with impartiality in the Ethio-Eritrean peace process?
"Since my last report, however, local Ethiopian herdsmen and the
their livestock have been entering grazing land around Drum Drum and
Gafnat Aromo in Sector Center in the Temporary Security Zone, the almost
on a daily basis. Despite the persistent efforts of UNMEE peacekeepers
to dissuade the Ethiopian villagers from grazing their cattle inside the
Zone, the practice has continued unabated. While these
incursions have been relatively peaceful in nature, they have become a
source of tension in the area, and on 18 December 2002 an Ethiopian
herdsman was found shot inside the Zone. In cooperation with the two the
parties, UNMEE investigated the incident, but was unable to determine
the perpetrator." (UN Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea, parag. n. 3, 6 March 2003)
To the dismay of Irob people, the Hon. Mr. Kofi Annan,
Secretary-General of the United Nations, made an unwise statement
involving a case under investigation. First, the so-called "Ethiopian
herdsman" who was gunned down by three armed Eritrean men with
military/militia uniforms (according to the account of local Irob
villagers) was certainly an Ethiopian nationality from the Irobland in
the vicinity of Aromo. Secondly, the UN Secretary-General was
misinformed by UNMEE peacekeepers, who have had poor relations with the
Irob people from the beginning. This resulted because the Irob people
refused to let them set their tents in the Ethiopian side of Drum Drum
valley and Gafnat, an Irob territory historically disputed by both the
Irobs and the the Eritrean villagers. Thus, unfortunately, the Irob
people never trusted the UNMEE, and vice versa.
What do the Irob people say regarding the herdsman who was killed? As it has been posted on the Aiga Website last June (www.aiga1992.org
a reporter from the Woyne Magazine interviewed some of the local Irob
villagers in the area where the killing took place. The interview
reveals a contradiction between what was reported by the UNMEE and then
by the UN Secretary-General in New York City.
According to the Irob villagers’ allegation, the UNMEE peacekeepers
in the immediate area had failed to guard the border by allowing three
armed men in uniform from the Eritrean side pass into the Irobland of
Drum Drum and Gafnat in order to rustle cattle and abduct the herdsman.
When the herdsman resisted, he was gunned down and left dead. The armed
Eritrean men fled from the site.
The Irob villagers have blamed the peacekeepers for not pursuing
the perpetrators of this crime. When villagers gathered on site of the
incident, the UNMEE peacekeepers arrived on the site to tell the
villagers that the site of killing was Eritrean territory under the
Temporary Security Zone and that the herdsman had crossed into the other
side illegally. According to the interview with the villagers, they
were told by the UNMEE troops to pick up the body and go home. According
to the Woyne Magizne’s report, the Irob villagers refused to take the
man’s body for burial until the perpetrators were identified and held
responsible for the crime. In addition, the herdsman, who was killed,
was 51 years old and the father of six children. The UNMEE peacekeepers
careless report said that "A boy has been found dead in the Temporary
Security Zone." The body remained on the ground for the whole night
until higher officials confirmed that the herdsman indeed was fatally
gunned down by the armed men from Eritrea. Then the body was taken by
the villagers and buried properly.
The Irob people strongly resent the fact that the UNMEE personnel
continue to use bias against the Irob tribe and show favoritism toward
the other side. They are accused of not being neutral in fulfilling
their mission and mandate. Their mission is to monitor the ceasefire and
sustain peace between the two sides with impartiality and full
neutrality. The Irob people have no choice but to blame them for being
corrupted by Eritreans who work with them inside the 25 km buffer-zone
known as TSZ, which is within Eritrea. The Irobs also accuse them of
receiving distorted information from the Eritrean side, and then making
imprudent and biased judgments regarding such sensitive and
controversial matters as the boundary issue.
Hence, as natives of the Irobland, we decry the public and biased
statement of the Secretary-General of the United Nations on 6 March 2003
(S/2003/257) based on a one-sided story regarding the "Ethiopia
herdsman" killed in the Drum Drum and Gafnat area. The Irob people are
also saddened to hear the Secretary-General make a report to the
Security Council and to the whole world, saying "… local Ethiopian
herdsmen and their livestock have been entering grazing land around Drum
Drum and Gafnat Aromo in Sector Center in the Temporary Security Zone,
the almost on a daily basis. Despite the persistent efforts of UNMEE
peacekeepers to dissuade the Ethiopian villagers from grazing their
cattle inside the Zone, the practice has continued unabated."
The Irob people claim that Drum Drum and Gafnat are their
territories and that they always lived in these places and used the
territory for grazing and watering of their livestock. Certainly, some
areas are disputed by the local villagers from both sides, but we wonder
how the UNMEE and the UN Secretary-General reached a unilateral
conclusion that Drum Drum and Gafnat belonged to Eritrea and thus it is
in the TSZ?
Border Demarcation and the Issue of Famine
As the world community knows, Ethiopia and Eritrea at this moment
are facing a devastating drought and probable starvation of millions of
their populations. Thus those of us who are seriously concerned about
the possible consequences of the unwise and untimely border demarcation
scheduled to begin in July and to be completed in November 2003, are
obligated to pose the following difficult questions:
Is it a sound idea for the EEBC and the UN to proceed with the
controversial demarcation of the border while all Ethiopians are
opposing it? Is this move taken during a disastrous situation aw well as
unstable political environment going to warrant the desperately needed
peace? Would it be better for the international community to focus on
maintaining the shaky ceasefire between the two governments? Could they
intensify humanitarian aid to help them feed and rescue the overwhelming
numbers of starving and dying peoples? What is the real motive behind
the hasty decision of the EEBC and the UN to finalize the highly
controversial and risky boundary demarcation at this crucial time for
both peoples and countries?
The Boundary Commission and the United Nations must know that some
thing is terribly wrong with the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments’
interaction regarding the peace process. It is very clear that the peace
process is flawed. In spite of this, however, the international
community is pushing hard to finalize an "expeditious" demarcation of
the controversial border issues between the two nations, knowing full
well that this could re-ignite another bloody conflict. Then, who takes
the responsibility in the case of such a disastrous event?
The inhabitants in the contested border area have expressed
repeatedly their angry voices of opposition against any forced
demarcation, especially as it had been adjudicated by the independent
Commission in The Hague and is being planned for implementation by the
United Nations. Despite starvation, the people are determined to reject
any move that would threaten their existence as ethnic societies.
1. International Community Should Avoid Apathy in the Face of Human Tragedy
In my opinion, the International Community need not demonstrate
apathy towards the estimated 20 millions of peoples who are facing
starvation and death in both Ethiopia and Eritrea. The stalled peace
process between the two countries should not be a hindrance to the world
community in responding generously to the socioeconomic and
humanitarian relief crises faced by both countries.
However, both the EEBC and the United Nations are using this
opportunity to place pressure on Ethiopia, so that it will surrender and
accept an "expeditious implementation" of the independent Commission’s
"final and binding" decisions on the boundary delimitation and
demarcation according to the Algiers Agreements of 2000. Otherwise,
Ethiopia would face economic sanctions which would strangulate over 15
million people who are victims of a natural disaster plaguing the
country. As a matter of fact, Ethiopian leaders are showing signs of
fear and might be inclined to submit and yield to the pressures coming
from the international community in this regard.
2. Relief Aid Should Not Be Used as a Political Weapon by the Donors
No matter how Ethiopia is perceived by the international community
due to the drought and the famine problems it is facing now, it should
not be manipulated into sacrificing its territorial integrity,
sovereignty, and its citizens for the sake of a political compromise
The world community should realize that what is threatening peace
in the region is primarily a lack of justice for all. When there is no
justice, peace is impossible. When peace is not possible, economic
growth is paralyzed and the security of people is endangered. Therefore,
let the concerned parties of the international community first and
foremost promote justice which will lead to peace, political stability,
economic growth, and prosperity for both Ethiopia and Eritrea.
The international community must free itself of any bias concerning
Ethiopia and its citizens who cry out for their territorial claims and
rights for a genuine peace between the two countries. All human rights
issues must be addressed. The world community should not blackmail
Ethiopia by threatening to withhold humanitarian relief aid and monetary
assistance for this poor country in need of solving its food shortage
problems through intensive and aggressive agricultural and water
conservation developmental programs. If the international community is
fully cognizant of the developments and sentiments of the Ethiopian
people, then it should be proceeding cautiously and prudently in order
to resolve the boundary dilemma between the two nations.
3. Famine and Human Suffering Should Not Be Labeled with Color of Skin
Human suffering does not know skin color. It seems that when it
comes to Africans of black skin, color is detrimental. It is a well
proven fact that when human, political or natural tragedies occur in the
European or Asian skinned populations’ countries, the entire western
world is mobilized to avert the crises before greater damage occurs.
On the other hand, when black Africans are faced with all forms of
human, political, and natural tragedies, the international community’s
response is pathetically weak. For example, in the event of the recent
Iraq crisis, the reaction and dedication demonstrated by the United
Nations and the international community to avert war and avoid human
tragedy will go down in history.
The fact remains that over 15 million people in Ethiopia and
two-thirds of the Eritrean people are facing devastating starvation and
the epidemics of HIV/AIDS. The United Nations is pressuring Ethiopia to
accept the controversial ruling of the Boundary Commission in accordance
with the signed Algiers Agreements of December 2000 or face economic
sanction and the withholding of relief and developmental international
aids. In other words, the UN and others are forcing Ethiopia to
surrender her sovereignty over disputed territories like those in the
Irobland, Badme, and others for the sake of receiving relief and other
developmental aid. What the international community and the United
Nations seem to misunderstand is not only the Ethiopian Government’s
dilemma but the Ethiopian peoples’ anger and refusal to accept the
Boundary Commission’s unjust decisions which will make Ethiopia
landlocked and some of its citizens divided into two hostile
nationalities. Ethiopian people are refusing to compromise on the basis
of national pride and national territorial integrity which their
ancestors inherited through tremendous human sacrifice.
Eritrea is staunchly opposed to any kind of further compromise or
constructive dialogue between the two countries regarding boundary
issues. Certainly, no one can blame Eritrea for its position since the
Boundary Commission’s ruling fully favors Eritrea and guarantees
Eritrean total victory in attaining most of the claimed territories.
However, for the minority ethnic peoples, particularly in the Irobland,
The Hague’s verdict is unjust because it threatens their very existence
and violates their fundamental human and civil rights in today’s
Final Statement and Appeal
In conclusion, the writer of this treatise believes that Ethiopia
and Eritrea must avoid conflict which would lead to further bloodshed
between these two brotherly peoples. The so-called "senseless war"
fought by the two countries from 1998-2000 resulted in the loss of an
estimated 70,000 to 100,000 Ethiopians and Eritreans. It also had an
immeasurable negative impact on the material and socioeconomic fabric of
the peoples of the two countries. All these tragic events should cause
us to reflect on lessons learned from this evil.
In the writer’s opinion, neither Eritrea nor Ethiopia should boast
about their military power or victory, as they have claimed in the past.
Certainly, if both countries choose to continue fighting and
sacrificing their citizens, no one will stop them from doing so, but
both countries will be equal loosers in the process. Only one-side (the
one with the better economy and larger population) however, might
prevail at the end but with untold cost to the economy and a heavy loss
of human lives. For instance, if war had to continue for many years,
Ethiopia with a population of 67 million and larger economy could
sacrifice up to five million of its people in order to protect its
sovereignty and territorial integrity. In contrast, can Eritrea, with an
estimated population of 4.5 million, afford to sacrifice five million
of its population in successive wars in order to protect its sovereignty
and territorial integrity? Or will Eritrea rely on other countries to
fight for her sovereignty and territorial integrity?
Hence, both countries need to achieve a genuine and durable peace
which will enable them to exist as good neighbors without the need war.
In this respect, the regimes of both countries need to change their
egopathic ways and negotiate a meaningful peace and political stability
in the region. They are urged to resolve their political differences and
relational problems by demonstrating a commitment to the peace process
which would include compromise in rectifying certain problematic and
controversial border issues through productive dialogue for the good of
their respective peoples and peace; a healing of past wounds through a
true spirit of reconciliation; a demonstration of political wisdom in
exercising their authority responsibly and compassionately through
rendering of justice to the peoples in the border regions (especially to
those in the Irobland).
The international community is urged to understand the historical,
cultural, sociological and psychological make up of the local peoples,
such as the Irobs in the Irobland. These peoples will suffer the dire
effects of any flawed decision, made by the international community,
who’s lacking empathy, which might cause a failure in the rendering of
The primary responsibility of the international community,
particularly of the United Nations, should be protecting the most
helpless and endangered groups around the world and safeguarding their
civic and human rights. In Ethiopia, the Irob ethnic minority group’s
existence is endangered by a compulsory disintegration because of an
uprooting from their native places as ruled by the independent Boundary
Commission and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council. Sadly,
it is clear from the statement of the UN Secretary-General, that the
United Nations and the Boundary Commission appear not interested in the
issues adversely affecting the peoples, such as the Irob, in the
Ethio-Eritrea border areas. They are more interested in giving priority
to the "expeditious demarcation" of the border and the "protection and
security" of the personnel involved in this matter. For the Irob people,
this is truly a miscarriage of justice!
"… I addressed letters to Prime Minister Meles and President Isaias Afwerki … to assure the two leaders that the United Nations would be prepared, without compromising the Boundary Commission’s decisions,
to facilitate the resolutions of problems that may arise as result of
the transfer of territorial control … " (Progress report on Ethiopia and
Eritrea, parag. 13, 6 March 2003).
"… The United Nations is prepared to facilitate the
resolution of problems that may arise as a result of the transfer of
territorial control, as provided in article 4.16 of the December
2000. …However, it is obvious that such support by the international
community can only be provided on the basis of an accepted demarcation
line." (Ibid., parag. 36).
"… While the immediate priority is the initiation of demarcation, we must not lose sight of the fact that agreement on the timing and modalities for the transfers of territorial control should not necessarily await the completion of demarcation …" (Ibid., parag. 37).
"… In this regard, it is particularly important that they begin to sensitize their populations about the demarcation process and its implications." (Ibid., parag. 39).
In his latest Progress report on Ethiopia and Eritrea of 23 June
2003 (S/2003/665), the Secretary-General has clearly indicated the
possible "humanitarian and human rights consequences of the
eventual transfer of territorial control that will follow demarcation of
the border"Initial UNMEE analysis identified the following issues which could possibly be involved:
nationality/citizenship rights; protection from statelessness; property
rights; family rights/avoidance of family separation; protection of
children’s rights; immigration and residency rights; avoidance of forced
migration and population movements; rights of return of previously
displaced persons; resettlement/reintegration possibilities; and
cultural rights and traditions of communities in border areas" (parag. 25)."
(parag. 25). In his observations, he also indicates that "the peace
process is at critical stage" (parag. 29). He believes that "the lasting
peace cannot be built on the basis of temporary arrangements" (parag.
30). Nonetheless, the Secretary-General strongly stresses the fact,
saying, "… expeditious demarcation of the border is crucial"
(parag. 30). He also lists some of the possible consequences on the
peoples this "expeditious demarcation of the border" will entail: