By: Adem Berhan
July 1, 2004
UN Secretary General Kofi Annan has visited Darfur in the Sudan in an attempt to avert the evolvement into a full-blown stage of what many people are referring to as a genocide-in-process in the country. Annan's visit to the Sudan has coincided with that of USA's Secretary of State, Colin Powell. Both officials are reported to have threatened the Sudanese government with sanctions if it fails to disarm the Arab militias who are spearheading the alleged atrocities in Darfur. The visits as well as the strong messages of Annan and Powell are timely and necessary. But, without overt steps I think that these would remain meaningless.
Eritrea and Ethiopia, both Sudan's neighbors, are on Annan's itinerary. It is unknown whether Powell will visit these countries as well. Eritrea and Ethiopia had fought a deadly border war during 1998-2000 during which hundreds of thousands troops and civilians were either killed or disabled. Furthermore, tens of thousands of people have been deported or displaced and after six or so years many of them still live in make-shift camps under extremely harsh conditions.
Secretary General Kofi Annan was personally present both as a witness and guarantor representing the world body at a signing ceremony held in December 2000 in Algiers, Algeria, when the leaders of Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a peace agreement thereby formally ending the war and beginning the process of a peaceful and legal resolution of the conflict. After much had since been accomplished on the agreement including the delimitation of the border between the two countries by a panel of an independent border commission the Ethiopian government had sent a letter in September last year to Annan expressly indicating its intent to breach the agreement.
Under normal circumstances one would expect the world body to react by asking the soon-to-be breaching party to retract its anticipatory breach and if that fails then it would impose its sanctions on the party. But, none of these measures have been taken by the UN despite their obligations provided for in the agreement and Eritrea's continued calls for administration of justice as the non-breaching party. The non-breaching party has a right to request an acceleration of the agreement and recovery of damages.
The United Nations along with the other guarantors have failed to discharge their legal and moral obligations under the provisions of the Algiers' agreement. I sincerely hope that Mr. Annan will seize this opportunity to impress upon the Ethiopian leaders the fact that they could no longer defy the rule of law and that their continued defiances carry consequences. The time to take concrete steps is way overdue.