UN Secretary General's Report on Eritrea-Ethiopia Lacks Objectivity
By: Sophia Tesfamariam
July 16, 2004

I read with concern UN Secretary General Kofi Annan’s Progress report on Ethiopia and Eritrea dated 7 July 2004. Concern because this report to the UN Security Council, compiled and prepared by his Ethiopianist support and technical staff, was replete with half-truths, deliberate omissions and devoid of the neutrality expected of the Secretary Generals’ high office. The technical staff’s covert and overt attack on Eritrea’s sovereignty and their futile and embarrassing attempts to undermine Eritrea’s legal and moral high ground cannot and will not be left unchallenged by Eritrea’s informal diplomats, her sons and daughters.


The UN Secretary General’s office may very well deem my observations as “rhetoric”, “media attack” etc. but for the record, and for truth’s sake, I would like to once again enumerate the factual inconsistencies included in the Secretary General’s 7 July 2004 report.


    I.     On the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)


This is an issue UNSG Kofi Annan keeps mentioning in all of his dozen or so reports. The Secretary General is perfectly aware that even though Eritrea has not signed the SOFA, it is fully respecting the letter and spirit of the agreement. He is also aware that it is the issue of HIV-AIDS testing that has prevented Eritrea from signing the SOFA. The UNSG is keenly aware of the HIV-AIDS problem ravaging Africa today and Eritrea considering this a sensitive and serious issue, is in the forefront in the fight against this deadly scourge. Prevention being the major component in combating the spread of HIV-AIDS infection in the country, the Government of Eritrea (GoE) has introduced testing mechanism all over the country and in particular in the Armed Forces. UNMEE has refused to agree to this basic requirement.


In the spirit of transparency, the UNSG should have included in his report the reason why Eritrea has not signed the agreement. In fact, as a person who is championing the fight against HIV-AIDS that is ravaging the world and Africa in particular, he should have commended Eritrea’s vision and action. How can the UN talk about fighting HIV-AIDS and humanitarian issues related to it when it cannot even fulfill this basic and simple request by the Government of Eritrea for the protection of its citizens who are in constant contact with UNMEE personnel?


By the way, HIV-AIDS infection in Eritrea at 2.5% is the lowest in Africa and the GoE has launched major programs to bring it down to a zero level. Seems to me, it is UNMEE and the UNSG that are holding this agreement hostage.


      II.     On Ethiopia’s rejection of the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission Decision:


Once again, instead of calling a spade a spade by clearly stating that it is Ethiopia that is obstructing the speedy demarcation of the border, and instead of pressuring the minority regime in Addis to abide by the rule of law, as if the defiant regime needed a mouthpiece to echo his hollow and baseless arguments that have been clearly and consistently answered by the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission (EEBC), several times, the report goes on to say:


“ …Ethiopia continues to express its opposition to the demarcation process in conformity with the final and binding decision of the Boundary Commission…the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs reiterated its position that the current demarcation line would disrupt the lives of border communities and lead to future conflict, describing the demarcation process as flawed…”


Meles and the UNSG know that the demarcation decision and directives are indivisible. Therefore, saying that Ethiopia has rejected “significant parts” is tantamount to appeasing Ethiopia, and challenging the Border Commission’s response to the Ethiopian regime. It should be recalled that in its October 7th, 2003 letter to the Secretary General, in response to Meles Zenawi’s letter to UNSG, the Commission had said:


“…Ethiopia’s reference to “the contested boundary” can only be understood as a reference to those parts of the boundary to which it alone and unilaterally takes exception: no part of the boundary is “contested” by both parties.”


The endless deceptive, time buying, illegitimate and insincere demands and requests being made by the minority regime in Ethiopia should not be mentioned by UNSG Kofi Annan, let alone be presented as issues of concern to the UN Security Council in his lopsided progress reports. This issue has been addressed several times by the UN Security Council and there is no need for UNSG to present Ethiopia’s arrogant stance for PR consumption.


And then there is this subtly placed statement in Kofi Annan’s report:


“Ethiopia’s continued rejection of significant parts of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission decision”


It should also be recalled that Ethiopia, rejecting the final and binding EEBC decision, had sent several large documents to the EEBC demanding clarifications, changes and amendments. Its Tigrayan Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi also sent on September 19, 2003, an insulting and condescending letter to the Secretary General Kofi Annan rejecting the EEBC decision in its entirety, declaring it “illegal and unjust”, and requesting for an alternative mechanism and partial demarcation.


        III.     On UNMEE and Eritrea:


The UNSG writes about “recent deterioration in the relationship between UNMEE and the Eritrean authorities” and “about the public statements attacking the peacekeeping operation and its staff”. First of all, the Government of Eritrea has a responsibility to the people of Eritrea, to alert them on the serious crimes committed by UNMEE troops. In order to protect its citizens, it had no choice but to publicly address the many shameful and degrading activities of UNMEE personnel in Eritrea. These are not “statements attacking the peacekeeping operation and its staff”.


What is amazing to me is that these serious shameful and degrading activities by some UNMEE personnel are not mentioned in any of UN Secretary General’s quarterly reports. There has not been a single instance where the Secretary General has mentioned these shameful and degrading activities by some of its members in his reports. Supposedly these quarterly status reports are put together to give an accurate account of what is happening in the mission area. Why then have UNSG Kofi Annan’s reports avoided these shameful and immoral activities by UNMEE personnel?


Can the UNSG categorically deny that the Eritrean Governments allegations about UNMEE abuses such as pedophilia, human trafficking, and defamation of Eritrea’s national currency, production of pornographic films, unlawful acts and unacceptable social liaisons with Eritrean females are not true? These are not baseless accusations; UNMEE admits they are true and the Secretary General knows that they are true. As an Eritrean-American who has followed the situation very closely, I can assure you that the Government of Eritrea is not in the habit of making statements it cannot back up with facts. That, Mr. Kofi Annan, you can bank on.



        IV.     On National Military Service and UNMEE employment:


Eritrean nationals employed by UNMEE are subject to Eritrean national laws just as all Eritreans in Eritrea are. Nobody is exempt from national military service without approval from the appropriate authorities. UNMEE must respect Eritrean labor laws and institute employment practices that do not infringe on, and are in accordance with, requirements set by the Government of Eritrea. Again, it is UNMEE that is violating Eritrean labor laws and distorting the facts. Is his report saying that these Eritrean national who work for the UNMEE as local staff are above the law, and are better than the lawyers, doctors, nurses, engineers, farmers, carpenters, nomads etc. and other citizens who are fulfilling their national military service obligations all over Eritrea?


      V.     On Direct Flights:


Here again the UNSG tries to blame Eritrea for Ethiopia’s refusal to allow direct flights. Here is his distorted statement:


“Ethiopia had at some point implied that it might be prepared to allow for absolutely direct flights on which Eritrea insists”


What does he mean by “which Eritrea insists”? Is it not the UN that requested the direct flights, to which Eritrea agreed to allow and Ethiopia refused to allow? Instead of saying “Eritrea insists”, it should have said that the UN requested direct flights, Eritrea accepted and Ethiopia rejected. Unless this is amnesia, or a deliberate distortion and omission of the facts as we know them, UNSG Kofi Annan is aware that UNMEE has clearly identified Ethiopia as being the party that is denying access to direct flights. It should be recalled that in a statement released on January 17th, 2001 just two days after the commencement of direct flights, UNMEE had written:


“The Eritrean authorities have been willing to authorise UNMEE flights by the direct route between the two capitals used by commercial flights before hostilities began in 1998. The Ethiopian authorities have been willing to authorise UNMEE flights by a route requiring a diversion…The Ethiopian authorities remain unwilling to allow use of the direct route without diversion…”


So why can’t UNSG call a spade a spade and report that it is only Ethiopia that is preventing the direct flights, and that it is Ethiopia that is the cause of the additional costs to the mission, costs that he and Legwaila keep whining about.


        VI.     On Freedom of movement and UNMEE’s mandate:


Closing the Asmara- Keren-Barentu road in no way restricts UNMEE’s mandate or its movements and UNMEE is allowed to go in and out of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ) to its areas of operation, as it wishes. If there is any inconvenience, it is that the alternative road is not yet asphalted. However, the alternative route is shorter and the road is well maintained and frequently used by Eritrean trucks, buses, private and commercial cars. So why is UNSG report trying to raise this minor technical issue while ignoring the numerous, more serious, violations of the Algiers Agreement by Ethiopia?


It is a matter of public record that Ethiopia has threatened to shoot down UNMEE helicopters, has fired live ammunition at UNMEE personnel, closed the Southern border of the TSZ, restricted the movement of UNMEE including its First Force Commander, Major General Patrick Cammaert, violated the TSZ on several occasions and yet Legwaila and UNSG want to continuously and incessantly harp about a road closure!


          VII.     Public Information


Again, the report attacks Eritrea for bringing out the truth and exposing the biased interviews, reports and statements by some UN officials and those by Legwaila Joseph Legwaila in particular. This obvious lack of neutrality and impartiality is again manifested in the current report. It says:


“UNMEE public information activities have continued against the backdrop of a

media environment that has become increasingly difficult, especially in Eritrea.

Since my last report, there have been frequent public attacks on the international community and, in more recent weeks, on UNMEE, accusing both of failing to put

pressure on Ethiopia to implement the Boundary Commission’s decision… UNMEE has used its weekly press briefings, press releases, radio and outreach activities to inform the people of the two countries about the conduct of this United Nations operation and to refute unfounded allegations.


First of all, why would UN officials and Legwaila in particular expect the Ethiopian government and Ethiopian media to challenge them when they have become mouthpieces, soundboards and have provided sound bites for the defiant Meles and the Tigrayan minority regime in Ethiopia?


Moreover, there have never been “frequent public attacks on the international community and, in more recent weeks, on UNMEE” by the Eritrean government. The Government of Eritrea and the informal diplomats-the sons and daughters of Eritrea- are simply stating the facts as they are and are only refuting the baseless and biased interviews, statements and reports, and are only re-iterating the spirit and letter of the Algiers Agreement, UN Security Council, and the Border Commissions observations and verdict. The Government of Eritrea and the sons and daughters of Eritrea have every right, duty and responsibility to refute and reject UNMEE’s and the Secretary General’s unfounded and biased statements and reports, and should continue to do so until the Secretary General and his subordinates call a spade a spade, justice is served and the rule of law is respected by Ethiopia.


I was however encouraged by something in the Secretary General’s latest report- calling a spade a spade and almost getting there, where it says:

“It is worth reminding the parties, and in particular Ethiopia, that the two Governments themselves entrusted the Boundary Commission with the entire demarcation process, drew up its mandate and selected its Commissioners. It would therefore be essential that Ethiopia unequivocally restate its acceptance of the Boundary Commission’s decision, appoint field liaison officers and pay its dues to and otherwise cooperate fully and expeditiously with the Commission”


As seasoned and experienced diplomats, the Secretary General and Legwaila know what the solution is to the so-called “deadlock”, “impasse” for the demarcation process. First of all, the Article 14 of the Algiers Agreement which clearly 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" has provided them with the means and capacity to enforce the EEBC decision.


Secondly, they both know that statements such as “it is up to the two parties to resolve the impasse” is a violation of international law and a recipe for another disastrous war that will have major regional and international implications. Under Article 42 of the UN Charter, the UN Security Councilmay take such action by air, sea, or land forces as may be necessary to maintain or restore international peace and security”


In the future, I hope that the Secretary General will endeavor to present a balanced and objective report and I hope that he would force Ethiopia to allow the EEBC to fulfill its mandate of demarcating the Eritrea Ethiopia border so that peace and stability can prevail in the Horn of Africa and the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia can utilize their meager resources for alleviating poverty.


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