Justice before Dialogue- The only way for peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia
By: Sofia Tesfamariam
November 18, 2003

When the issue is justice, there can be no dialogue with those who are defying justice. The Eritrea-Ethiopia border conflict began in 1997 when the expansionist minority regime in Ethiopia invaded sovereign Eritrean territories and occupied Adi Murug by dismantling its administration. In violation of international law it unilaterally produced the map of Greater Tigray (home to the regime’s Prime Minister, Foreign Minister, Chief of Police, Chief of Security, Chief of Staff etc.). 

This illegal map incorporated swatches of sovereign Eritrean territories (by the way, this map also takes chunks of land from the Gondar and Wollo provinces of Ethiopia- an internal matter for Ethiopians to handle). In spite of this flagrant violation of international law and blatant aggression, the Government of Eritrea promoted prudence and has been calling for a peaceful resolution of the conflict.

President Isaias Afworki (PIA) believed that the border issue was something that could be resolved bilaterally and without bringing undue disturbance in the lives of the two peoples, Eritreans and Ethiopians. Insisting on the peaceful resolution of the issues, he wrote two letters to Prime Minister Melles Zenawi, and these letters are matters of public record.

On August 16th, 1997 PIA wrote a letter protesting the forcible occupation of Adi Murug in Bada by the Ethiopian army. Here is the English translation of that letter:

“I have been compelled to write to you today because of the preoccupying situation prevailing in the areas around Bada.

It cannot be said that the border between our two countries is demarcated clearly although it is known traditionally. And we had not given the issue much attention in view of our present and future ties. Moreover, I do not believe that this will be a cause of much concern and controversy even in the future.

Be this as it may, there have been intermittent disputes in the border areas arising from different and minor causes. Local officials have been striving to defuse and solve these problems amicably.  However, the forcible occupation of Adi-Murug by your army in the past few days is truly saddening.

There was no justification for resorting to force as it would not have been at all difficult to settle the matter amicably even if it was deemed important and warranting immediate attention. It would also be possible to quietly, and without haste, demarcate the boundaries in case that this is felt to be necessary.

I, therefore, urge you to personally take the necessary prudent action so that the measure that has been taken will not trigger unnecessary conflict.”

On August 25, 1997 PIA again wrote to Melles Zenawi (material on other bilateral business contained in the letter are not translated here):

“ Regarding the situation in the border areas, my information establishes that the measures taken at Adi-Murug were not in areas that are disputed but in our own areas and by expelling our officials and dismantling the existing administration. Concerning the Ougugume (Afar opposition), your action (in Adi-Murug) came as our Defense was preparing to cooperate on the basis of the request from your Army. Moreover, similar measures have been taken in the Badme area.

As I had indicated to you, these measures are unjustified. In order to expediently check any further deterioration and pave the way for a final solution, we have assigned on our part three officials Defense Minister Sebhat Ephrem, PFDJ Head of Political Affairs, Yemane Ghebreab, and National Security Advisor Abraha Kassa. I suggest that you also similarly (or on ways you think best) assign officials so that both sides can meet as soon as possible to look into these matters. I await your thoughts”.

The above two letters clearly show PIA’s insistence on dialogue and a peaceful resolution to the border issues, but the minority regime in Addis instead chose to resolve the conflict by the use of force. On May 6th 1998 it tried to do what it did in Adi Murug in 1997; it tried to occupy another sovereign Eritrean territory. This is when the Eritrean forces said checkmate.

Eritrea, still not loosing hope in the peaceful resolution of the conflict, insisted on dialogue. Instead of responding positively to Eritrea’s calls, the minority regime in Addis officially declared war though its rubberstamp parliament and the expansionist regime using unsuspecting Ethiopians as cannon fodders and minesweepers, launched massive and successive offensives against Eritrea, costing the lives of 120,000 innocent Ethiopians

·      In December of 2000, in Algiers, the two leaders agreed to resolve the conflict legally and the decision to be final and binding.

·      5 prominent legal personalities were elected to make up the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC)

·      After assessing the documents presented by the lawyers representing the two parties, the Commissioners unanimously delivered their final and binding decision on April 13th, 2002.

·      Both the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia officially accepted the final and binding EEBC decision that was endorsed by the UNSC. In fact, the Ethiopia government carried a mass rally celebrating its “legal victory” and went on to praise the EEBC saying:

“…The Government of Ethiopia would like to take this opportunity to extend its regards to the Boundary Commission for discharging its duties with a sense of responsibility and great care.”

Therefore, what remains today is not dialogue, but the technical matter of placing border markers on the ground. The Eritrea-Ethiopia border commission has provided both sides with its clear and unambiguous directives for the expeditious demarcation of the common border

·      The Tigrayan regime in Ethiopia has not only refused to follow the directives of the commission, it has rejected the final and binding decision of the Commission.

·      As if it does not understand the meaning of final and binding, it is constantly attempting to revise, amend, appeal or revisit the decision. In fact the Tigrayan Prime Minister of Ethiopia is officially requesting dialogue with Eritrea in order to get Badme. What a childish trick, and an arrogant demand! The decision is final and binding.

Where on earth have we seen two parties going through a legal deliberation and request to go back to dialogue, after the verdict is handled? In particular when the verdict is final and binding? Only in Ethiopia! Even that is only by the minority regime in Addis which believes in the law of the jungle, and which adheres to the principle of might is right.

If it weren’t for the fact that the minority regime was seeking “dialogue” to reverse the EEBC decision and to delay the implementation of the demarcation, by taking jurisdiction away from the EEBC, Eritrea would have no issues with dialogue. But today, the myopic Tigrayan regime is trying every tactic in the field of diplomacy to reverse the final and binding decision of the Border Commission. Those who are asking for dialogue between the two parties are not only making a historical mistake, but they are appeasing an arrogant regime that is defying the rule of law.

Dialogue for normalization of relations can begin only:

·      When the entire border has been demarcated in accordance with the final and binding EEBC decision.

·      When justice prevails over injustice, and the rule of law prevails over the rule of the jungle

Full implementation of the EEBC decision and the acceptance of these principles by Melles Zenawi and the apartheid regime in Addis will definitely lead to meaningful dialogue for normalization of relations between the two countries and peoples. The EEBC has the schedule of demarcation in place and Ethiopia must allow its implementation with no further delay. If the regime continues with its belligerence and intransigence, the international community must take all necessary punitive measures. The Algiers Agreement spells out clearly what must be done by the UN Security Council if any of the two parties refuse to comply. Article 14 of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement states:

"…the OAU and the UN Commit themselves to guarantee the respect for this commitment of the parties. This guarantee shall be comprised of measures to be taken by the international community should one or both parties violate this commitment, including appropriate measures to be taken under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations by the Security Council".

Ethiopia, with 65% of its national budget dependent on foreign aid, 15 million of its people starving from famine and drought, and over 15% of its people affected by HIV-Aids, should not be allowed to hold justice, economic development of the countries in the region, and UN peacekeeping forces hostage. Not acting swiftly against Ethiopia’s defiance of international law will spawn more belligerent acts, which could spiral into another war and humanitarian disaster.

The minority regime in Ethiopia has been and remains in material breach of several UNSC resolutions, bringing to question their efficacy and seriousness. The UNSC must act now before it is too late.

The rule of law must prevail over the rule of the jungle!