The Workings of the UN, the Eritrean Case and More
By: Asmerom Kidane
September 21, 2004
This article briefly discusses the working of the United Nations since its establishment in 1945. An attempt will be made to show the self contradicting roles that the UN played with regards to issues such the Iraqi war, with regards to the independence movements in Africa and last but not least - with regards to the Eritrean case (1946-present). We will try to highlight the latter.
2. UN and the Super power (s)
Since its establishment in 1945 in San Francisco the UN seems to have achieved a lot in meeting basic human needs through its independent agencies such as FAO, WHO, UNESCO, ILO UNICEF and others. Many developing countries seem to be beneficiaries of these agencies.
On the other hand when it comes to resolving political and security issues, the balance sheet seems to be tilted towards the interests of the super powers. This was so until the crumbling of the Soviet empire. This time there is only one super power – The United States. On several occasions the UN seems to have been marginalized by the United States and others. Its meetings, deliberations and resolutions are no more based rational and sober discourse, but on vested interests - not on advice and consent but on the political whishes and whims of the United States. A major case in point is the Iraq war where, despite the protest of many member states and the Security Council - the US went its way - alone. All the other “coalition forces” including those from the United Kingdom constituted less than 20% of the total. The “coalition countries” are not coalition as such. They are simply satellites…blind followers of the super power. The current administration in Washington have openly told many friendly and other countries that they are “ether with the US or against US” The American leadership has openly characterized the UN as irrelevant. Those of us who watched the Republican National Convention that was recently held in the doorsteps of the UN headquarters (New York City) were able to witness the bashing of the UN by prominent Republicans; we heard them saying that as long as the wishes of the US are not accorded “the priority they deserve” at the UN – then this international organization can go into oblivion. At face value this attitude may seem to be unfortunate, sad and scary; but when one peruses over the activities of the UN since 1945, one may conclude that the UN problems are the result of its own making. It had exhibited a high degree of indifference to international political issues and was only able to address some of them when it was/is too late. In other words the UN seems to be at the whims and wishes of the super powers. It may be high time that this world body undertakes some soul searching.
3. UN and African Liberation Movements
Until mid to late 1950’s the UN general assembly in general and its Security Council in particular did not give any importance to the various independent movements within the African continent. Two of three independent African countries of the time – Ethiopia and Liberia were working hands in gloves with countries such the US, with major European colonial powers and with apartheid South Africa. Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie was not only indifferent towards African liberation movements but he openly declared that Ethiopians are not Africans!!! After a series of debilitating wars and after many African liberation movements reached the highest peak in their liberation struggle and when independence was imminent the UN turned 180 degrees and passed “resolutions” endorsing the African freedom movements, recognized the newly independent nations and “happily” invited them to be members of the world body. Emperor Haile Selassie was declared as the champion of African independence movement!!!. Before and after 1960 many Western countries were openly defending the apartheid system of South Africa. When the system began to crumble from within, and when the rights of the majority South Africans (Black South Africans) was about to be realized, the US, Britain and other powers began to admire the African National Congress (ANC) and to revere its leader- Mr. Nelson Mandela. These countries did not take any action when this famous son of Africa was isolated behind the bars for more than a quarter of a century.
4. UN and Eritrea 1945-1991
Since 1946 the Eritrean case was “deliberated upon” by the UN general Assembly and Security Council - time and again. Many articles have been written regarding the Eritrea’s cry for independence and their plea for fair play. Eritrean plea for fair treatment and objective assessment of their case went unanswered until 1990 when, as a result of 30 year protracted war the defeat of the Ethiopian colonial forces was in sight and independence was forthcoming. The following few sentences may help highlight some of the glaring negligence of the Eritrean case by the UN body during the thirty struggle for independence;
· Refusal to address the wishes and aspirations of the Eritrean people when they were clamoring for independence in 1946. Instead treating the case as a colonial question-as they did for Somalia and Libya-they tried to merge the country with another African colonial power (Ethiopia) or break this sovereign state into two –the highlands to Ethiopia and the lowlands to Britain (Sudan’s colonial power).
· Distorting facts such as the wrong notion that a large percentage of the Eritreans favour union with an African colonial power – Ethiopia. (1947-1949)
· Condoning atrocities committed by Ethiopian agents against genuine sons and daughters of Eritrea (1946-1951)
· Imposing a federation of Eritrea with Ethiopia – against the wishes of the majority (1952)
· Staying indifference and at times condoning systematic abrogation the federal charter such as the imposition of Amharic as a national language, introducing curriculum that are alien to the Eritrean school children, arresting of prominent Eritrean nationals for their political views etc. (1952-1962)
· Witnessing and possibly blessing the abrogation of the federation and forced annexation of Eritrea by Ethiopia. (1962) This incidence happened when the UN was “welcoming” newly independent African countries Because of the mistreatment of the Eritrean people by the African colonial power and United Nations, the former had no choice but to undertake a protracted liberation struggle – similar to that of other African countries such as Algeria, Kenya, SWAPO and many others. The struggle lasted almost thirty years. During this time the UN was indifferent when
· Ethiopian colonial forces bombarded and gassed many Eritreans, burned villages en masse; destroyed roads, highways schools and clinics; massacred Eritreans with bayonets in broad day light
· Eritreans were being forced to out migrate in tens of thousands – similar to if not worse than Southern and Western Sudan (Darfur)
· Ethiopian colonial army were depopulating Eritrean cities, towns and villages
· The Ethiopian government was committing an outright genocide against the defenseless Eritreans
It makes one sick to the stomach to recount the atrocities of the Ethiopian colonial army against the Eritrean people. It is more sickening and nauseating to note that the UN did nothing to protect the innocent people of Eritrea.
When the Eritrean liberation fighters finally defeated the Ethiopian colonial army, they were declared as heroes by non other by the then UN Secretary General. This is utter duplicity – the congratulation was too little and too late... The Eritrean referendum of 1993 was hailed as fair and free by the UN representative. The UN is simply one of the most flip flopping organizations of its kind. Its members ought to be ashamed of themselves.
Despite the new Eritrean government’s misgivings regarding past UN negligence and indifference, the relation between the two seemed to have returned to normalcy until 1997 when Ethiopia declared war on Eritrea.
5. UN and Ethiopia’s Invasion of Eritrea (1997-present)
When Ethiopia encroached into Eritrean territory before and after 1997, the UN did little to avert the crisis from going out of hand and out of proportions. It would have been incumbent upon the UN to send some fact finding delegation to study the root causes of the conflict. The UN may claim that the border conflict was being addressed by the OAU; still it could have played a constructive role by providing the feuding parties a combination of carrot and stick. The invasion reached a climax in 2000 when almost 100,000 Ethiopians perished in various battlefields – when a sovereign Eritrean territory was occupied by enemy forces and when thousands of Eritreans were displaced. After the highly devastating war, a peace agreement was signed in Algiers in December 2000. Many of us recall the Algiers ceremony when the two leaders of the feuding countries signed the agreement. More important one vividly remembers that the current Secretary General – Mr. Kofi Annan - signing as one of the guarantors of the peace agreement; the other guarantors included – the then US secretary of State – the then OAU as well as the European Union. Among other things, the agreement stipulated that the border issue will be decided at an international court, that the decision will be based on 1900, 1902 and 1908 agreements and relevant international laws. Most important the agreement states that
· The decision of the court will be final and binding
· Any party that fails to adhere to the court’s decision will be held responsible for non compliance; that non compliance will entail punitive measures by the UN, including sanctions
The agreement also stipulated the deployment of UN peace keeping forces along the border; the force will be staying in place until the border is demarcated. As the annual cost of the peace keeping is to be close to a quarter of a billion dollars, there would to be no need for the troops to stay more than the minimum possible time.
One year and four months later the International court gave its verdict. The regime in Ethiopia accepted the decision – then - it asked for clarification (which was given to it by the court) and then it rejected the decision. The Eritrean government accepted the decision without any ifs or buts.
The logical step would have been for the UN to work by the rules, that is, ask Ethiopia to let the cartographers demarcate the border. If not, implement the Algiers agreement to the letter, that is, penalize Ethiopia for non compliance. To the contrary, what we are observing is the standard practice meandering and flip flopping by the UN. Instead of putting pressure on Ethiopia to go by the rules and have the border demarcated so that displaced people will return to their place of residence, the UN seems to be engaged in embarrassingly tangential activities; these include,
· The illegal appointment of a new mediator by the UN Secretary General – long after the final and binding verdict was handed
· Condoning and at times lauding Ethiopia for a job well done.
· Coming with parochial, diversionary and irrelevant complaints such as the lack of cooperation from the Eritrean government vis-à-vis UNMEE’s patrolling activities;
· Being indifferent when 250 million dollars per year is being squandered for UNMEE’s activities. Had the border been demarcated in tim, this money would have been earmarked for alleviating the plight of the underprivileged in Eritrea, Ethiopia and elsewhere.
As of late the Secretary General seems to signal contradicting views. For example when he was in Eritrea recently and had audience with the Head of State he is believed to have concurred with the Eritrean government’s position that there will be no need for a mediator (he calls the mediator special envoy!). The Secretary General seems to have forgotten his recent pledge in Asmara. In his latest report to the Security Council (September 15, 2004) he urged Eritrea to meet his appointed mediator or special envoy.
The Security Council meets for THREE MINUTES and approves the Secretary General’s lengthy reports. I thought the Security Council was an important body where issues of vital importance are deliberated and discussed thoroughly. Instead, the members met, read the detailed report, discussed and voted on the matter ALL IN THREE MINUTES. This is nothing but a joke, a travesty of justice and utter contempt to the problem of poor countries. The members have the audacity to state that they will STAY ACTIVELY ENGAGED WITH THE ETHIO ERITREAN PROBLEM. How can the council members say that they will be actively engaged when they cannot even spend fifteen minutes discussing the issues. This is indeed pathetic. As a matter of fact one is not sure if the Secretary General ever reads the reports he sends to the Security Council. His reports are nothing but an outcome of “cut and paste” of material sent to him by his special envoy in Asmara. The reports are full of contradictions and innuendos.
Third world countries deserve more attention from the UN in general, the Security Council and the Secretary General in particular. Please give every problem the attention it deserves. We are not asking for preferential treatment or special favour. We are asking for a fair play. Let the UN charter be implemented as it is – fair and equal treatment of all members…large and small.