Final and Binding Decision
By: Habteab Gabriel
December 20, 2004

The Eritrea – Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) – decision and the delimitation of the border should be enforced and implemented without any delay by the United Nations Security Council. The latest Ethiopian Proposal is another hoax deliberately crafted to confuse the EEBC’s decision. The Eritrean Government has said it correctly that it is a ploy to buy time.

Ethiopia’s refusal to accept the determination of the EEBC is a ploy designed to require renegotiation of that commission’s “final and binding” conclusions. Eritrea has fulfilled all of its obligations in accepting the Delimitation Decision of the EEBC. Until Eritrea has taken action contrary to the agreement by which the EEBC was created or contrary to the EEBC’s decision, there is no legal rationale Eritrea should be required to have a dialogue with Ethiopia on the subject by the United Nations. Requiring such action undermines the rule of law as applied to international relations, creates inconsistent obligations for the parties, and – most importantly – would push the parties away from a diplomatic solution and towards a military one.

The international community accurately recognizes the significant social, economic, and political costs of the 1998 border war between Ethiopia and newly independent Eritrea. Indeed, the parties recognized that the only way to end the war was to allow a neutral group to decide the demarcation of the border shared by the nations. Reconciling the mutual distrust of the parties with the need to resolve this central issue, both Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed that a neutral commission should be appointed to resolve this dispute and that any decision of the EEBC would be “final and binding” on the parties and not subject to negotiation.

While it was doubtlessly difficult to leave resolution of this most important dispute in the hands of a neutral third-party, both sides seem to have recognized that the peace that would result from a final demarcation of the border was far more important than the risk of an unfavorable decision by the EEBC. Eritrea accepted this risk, paid its dues to the EEBC, and fully accepted its decision. Ethiopia has not only refused to accept the April 13, 2002 EEBC Delimitation Decision, it has engaged in saber-rattling designed to force a renegotiation of the very decision it previously stated it would accept as “final and binding.”

The Act sets forth multiple occasions over the last two-and-a-half years on which Ethiopia has publicly rejected the Delimitation Decision, as well as multiple occasions on which the United Nations has stated that Ethiopia agreed that the decision of the neutral EEBC be “final and binding.” However, rather than confront Ethiopia’s intransigence head-on, the United Nations appointed a special envoy to resolve the “impasse” between Ethiopia and Eritrea, notwithstanding that the impasse was created by, is maintained by, and can only be resolved by Ethiopia’s acceptance of the Delimitation Decision.

While the United Nations has stated that the appointment of the special envoy was not intended to reopen negotiation on the EEBC decision, it is not clear what reason could exist for such an appointment beyond renegotiation or the addition of new terms or conditions to the Delimitation Decision. The boundary decision is the single most pressing issue facing these two countries and should be resolved independently of any other concerns, as was agreed by the parties in 2000. Ethiopia’s attempt to extort concessions from Eritrea in exchange for recognizing a decision it pledged to abide by is gamesmanship that should not be countenanced by the United States, the United Nations, European Union or African Union.

Thus, while the finding and verdict seeks a valuable end through pressuring the parties to meet their obligations in accepting the EEBC’s decision, which Eritrea has done, it also falls prey to Ethiopia’s plan to integrate recognition of the boundary with either renegotiation of the Delimitation Decision or the addition of new terms and conditions to that agreement. Ethiopia must be held to the bargain it initially made. The single issue of demarcation can and should be resolved by immediate action by Ethiopia and not some protracted negotiations through which it seeks additional concessions for its compliance.

The many statements, as passed by the United States are also consistent in that they seek to hold Ethiopia to its commitments. On the other hand, unfortunately, the United Nations has appointed a mediator to require Eritrea to engage in dialogue aimed at renegotiating the Delimitation Decision. In essence then, the finding holds the EEBC’s determination is “final and binding” while condemning Eritrea for not engaging in actions that would make it preliminary and subject to change. Any law passed by the United Nations Security Council should not only require that Ethiopia meet its obligations, but should speak with a single purpose.

If the Delimitation Decision was truly “final and binding” as agreed by the parties, stated by the U.N., and adopted in the final judgment, there is no reason that Eritrea, or indeed, either party need take additional action. Nor should the United Nations, require Eritrea to take additional action which would eviscerate the EEBC’s decision.

By demanding that Eritrea take additional steps aimed at undermining the finality of the EEBC’s decision, the appointment of an envoy sets forth a case contrary to the primacy of the rule of law in international relations. Ethiopia’s repudiation of the Delimitation Decision tramples some of the most fundamental elements of the rule of law by ignoring customary international law, testing the resolve of the United Nations, and devaluing its own bilateral agreements. By demanding that Eritrea play into Ethiopia’s game, the United Nations, through the appointment of an envoy, would send a message that the rule of law will be disregarded if only a state is unruly enough.

Most importantly, the new proposal by Ethiopia to change the mechanism represents another step away from the peace promised by the “final and binding” arbitration by EEBC’s and toward renewed hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea. The 1998 border war ceased only when the parties agreed to resolve its cause. While war is a last resort waged only when no reasonable diplomatic solution exists, the diplomatic solution here – created by a neutral commission, guaranteed by the United Nations, United States, organization of African Unity, European Union, Algeria and agreed to by the parties – would be worth no more than the paper it is written upon should Eritrea be forced to renegotiate it. It is hard to imagine why the parties would not resume their hostilities if a legal solution cannot be enforced. And by giving in to Ethiopia’s demands that Eritrea engage in negotiations beyond simple implementation of the Delimitation Decision, the U.N. would only degrade the legal solution agreed by the parties. Eritrea has fully lived up to its responsibilities and will not and should not even entertain dialogue.

The renewal of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea would certainly have a tragic impact on the millions of lives in those countries and could also affect the lives of others. The Horn of Africa, home to Ethiopia and Eritrea, is a dangerous part of the globe; as recently as January 21st of this year, the State Department stated that stabilization and peace between Ethiopia and Eritrea was beneficial to both those nations and to the global war on terror. War-torn and destabilized governments are poor bulwarks against radicals and outsiders seeking refuge. Should war reignite in East Africa as a result of Ethiopia’s failure to own up to its responsibilities, the effects could be far-reaching and horrific.

In the end, it is vital that peace and prosperity reach Ethiopia and Eritrea. Peace can raise the living standards of each country’s citizens. Peace can allow needed political and economic reforms to occur. Peace, however, can only come when the most divisive issue – demarcation of the border – is resolved. Peace is in Ethiopia’s hands: it alone can chose to accept the EEBC’s decision, as it pledged to do in December 2000. Peace, however, will not come through intransigence or attempts to extort additional concessions from Eritrea.

Habteab Gabriel
Eternal Glory to our Martyrs
Awet Nhafash