US Statements on the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Issue
By: Sophia Tesfamariam
December 24, 2004

Meles Zenawi’s minority regime in Ethiopia has taken Uncle Tomism to an embarrassing height. As if Ethiopia lacked educated, well read, fluent and able individuals to represent their national interests, adding insult to injury, the regime which has in the past relied on prominent self-serving personalities, religious leaders, “experts”, “unnamed diplomats”, “senior officials” “experts” and even Addis based Ambassadors to make its case, has once again decided to let Ethiophiles, instead of Ethiopians, do its bidding. According to the BBC report on 19 Dec 2004 entitled “Ethiopia concerned by US silence on peace plan with Eritrea” the flip-flopping Prime Minister sent his envoy to Washington:

“…to explain about the issue and solicit support. The delegation headed by Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin is accompanied by British experts who sympathize with Ethiopia's position, with diplomatic experience gained from the British Foreign Office…”

Ketema Yifru, Kifle Wodajo, Mekonnen Habte Wold and Crown Prince Teferri Mekonnen (better known as Ethiopia’s Emperor Haile Selassie), past luminaries of Ethiopia’s diplomatic institution created in 1907 under Emperor Menelik, proud Ethiopians who had enjoyed national and international renown, must be turning in their graves as Seyoum Mesfin and his ilk make a mockery of Ethiopian diplomacy.

The minority regime in Ethiopia, which has been riding on the coattails of these and other alumni of the Ethiopian diplomatic institution until today, having used up that “diplomatic capital”, has been stripped bear, its ignominy, lies and deceptions exposed. The tantrums and “teary eyed” pleadings might convince rock stars and talk show hosts to save its people from hunger and disease, but it will not absolve it of its responsibilities and obligations under international law. Seyoum Mesfin and the minority regime in Ethiopia and its hired “experts” will have a hard time finding in Washington, any self respecting, law abiding lawmaker that would today risk his or her own reputation, credibility and integrity to vouch for, or sympathize with Ethiopia’s illegal, irrational, flip-flopping and dangerous position.

True to the deceptive self-serving nature of Meles, I would not be surprised if the “British experts” have more to do with cleaning up Meles Zenawi’s image, than anything else related to Ethiopia’s national interests. His reputation is cause for concern for the British who will be directly affected, as he is one of the Commissioners appointed by the British Prime Minister Tony Blair to serve on the PM’s Commission for Africa, which is already being criticized as “a diversionary tactic designed to draw attention away from thirty years of broken promises on Africa”.  The presence of Meles Zenawi, who has defied international law, makes the already dubious grouping, even more questionable and recommendations coming from them even less likely to be accepted by Africans.

The minority regime in Ethiopia is finding out the hard way that the rule of law does not allow for double standards, nor does it need diplomatic finesse. It is also finding out that international law, a combination of treaties and customs, which regulates the conduct of states amongst themselves, is interpreted the same way no matter where one is. It applies equally to all, whether you are in Mozambique or in Australia or Timbuktu. Washington is probably also realizing that the flip flopping street smart Prime Minister of Ethiopia, who is incapable of respecting Agreements he himself willingly and consciously signed, cannot be reliable ally in the quest for international peace and security when Ethiopia is itself the instigator of conflicts and tension in strategic Horn of Africa region.

I think Seyoum Mesfin picked the wrong city to “explain about the issue and solicit support”. There is nothing about Ethiopia’s issue that warrants sympathy; rather it behooves all to act with prudence and in accordance with international law if there is going to be peace and security in this world.  Seyoum Mesfin, who must have followed the 2004 US Presidential elections closely, must know that this administration abhors flip floppers. It is no secret that he and Ethiopians living in the US had campaigned rigorously, and had high hopes for Senator Kerry in his quest for the White House, but even if he had won, as a lawyer, I believe that he would have respected the rule of law and asked Ethiopia to do the same.

The current US administration says what it means and means what it says. Seyoum Mesfin ought to know that President Bush believes that you're only as good as your word”, and knowing that Meles was incapable of abiding by the agreement-air moratorium-which was personally brokered by the then President Clinton himself, and that Meles again is reneging on his treaty obligations by rejecting the Algiers Agreement he personally willingly and consciously signed, it is going to require a lot more than just sympathizing “experts”, and “diplomatic experience” to make him throw out the rule of law and support Meles’ sham of a proposal.

Personally I believe that Meles Zenawi, the spoilt child of the West, is not concerned about the US silence; but is concerned that they are not flip flopping right along with him on this issue as they have in the past. But just for the record, and to assure the Prime Minister of Ethiopia that Washington has made several statements on the Eritrea Ethiopia border issue, I will remind him once again of their consistent, unified voice on the supremacy of the rule of law and the importance of adherence to it in international relations. The 21 January 2004 US State Department statement was short and to the point. It clearly said:

•  The Algiers agreement must be respected without qualification[emphasis mine]

•  The Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission's decision is final and binding

•  The United States expects both government to uphold their commitments

•  The US urged both parties to implement the EEBC decision without delay

Several prominent American lawmakers have also issued statements on the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commissions final and binding verdict, and Ethiopia’s continued obstruction of the Border Commission’s work. It should be recalled that on 16 October 2003 the Hon. Ed Royce, Chairman of the Subcommittee on Africa said:

“…Most immediately, the international effort to demarcate their common border has been jeopardized by what almost everyone recognizes to be Ethiopian intransigence…The Ethiopian government has essentially rejected the work of the
Boundary Commission that was established by the Algiers Agreement in 2000,following 2 years of bloody fighting that cost an estimated 100,000 Ethiopian and Eritrean lives and cost $2 billion…Indeed, the U.N. Security Council has written the Ethiopian government conveying their deep regret at the intention of the government of Ethiopia not to accept the entirety of the delimitation and demarcation decision as decided by the Boundary Commission…Demarcation, I recognize, is difficult. It always is. In this case, blood has been spilt and feelings are raw, yet the Ethiopian leadership is doing nothing to prepare Ethiopians to accept the commission's decision. Instead, it is whipping up anti-commission sentiment, manipulating nationalism for its own gain and, I believe, playing with fire…”

On that same day, the Hon. Don Payne, Ranking Member of the Subcommittee on Africa, said:

“…In April of 2002, the independent Boundary Commission in The Hague issued its ruling on the disputed border as called for in the December peace agreement. Both sides initially accepted the Border Commission's decision, although Ethiopia now rejects the commission's decision on Badme, the town that triggered the conflict in the first place… Both Ethiopia and Eritrea were given the opportunity to submit their reservations on the commission's decision. After careful review, the commission replied in writing to both governments, but Ethiopian authorities continue to obstruct, delay, and frustrate implementation of the Border Commission's decision… this kind of behavior is unacceptable and could once again plunge these countries into a bloody conflict… The international community cannot be expected to keep funding a peacekeeping force indefinitely or allow innocent people to die unnecessarily. The message is clear: implement the decision of the commission and begin to rebuild your community and countries…”

In addition, there is the statement that was released by Congressman Dan Burton (R-IN-5) Chairman of House Government Reform Subcommittee on Human Right and Wellness on 18 February 2004 in which he said:

“Since the commission announced its findings in April 2002, the work of demarcating the border has yet to be accomplished in large part because Ethiopia refuses to cooperate, contrary to its previous commitments and obligations. I believe that in the interest of democracy and freedom, the U.S. and our international allies must insist that the border demarcation be implemented according to the commission's recommendations. It is absolutely essential for border security to be established, as only then can we truly begin the process of healing, reconciliation, and building a better future for all people of goodwill in the region.”

I believe it was on 1 July 2004, in a letter to Secretary General Kofi Annan that three

Members of the U.S. Congress, Representatives Dan Burton (R-Indiana), Betty McCollum (D- Minnesota), and Gregory Meeks (D-New York) admonished the United Nations for its failure to settle the “lingering border dispute” between Eritrea and
Ethiopia and urged the Secretary General to work more effectively “to close the matter”.

So you see, the US has not been silent and its lawmakers have been consistently calling for full compliance of the Algiers Agreement and the EEBC ‘s final and binding decision. They have also stated that lasting peace can only happen with the expeditious and full demarcation of the Eritrea Ethiopia border in accordance with that decision and the Border Commission’s demarcation directives, orders and procedures. They also agree with the independent Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission and its 7 October 2003 succinct assessment of the issue:

“There is no “crisis”, terminal or otherwise, which cannot be cured by Ethiopia’s compliance with its obligation under the Algiers Agreement, in particular its obligations to treat the Commission’s delimitation determination as “final and binding”(Article 4.15) and “to cooperate with the Commission, its experts and other staff in all respects during the process of demarcation” (Article 4.14)”

Eritrea has consistently called on the UN Security Council under Article 14 of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities as well as Articles 41 and 42 of the UN Charter to use all available legal and other instruments available to it, to enforce the Algiers Agreement and the Border Commission’s decision. Article 14 of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities signed by Eritrea and Ethiopia on 18 June 2000 in Algiers says: 

“The OAU and the United Nations commit themselves to guarantee the respect for this commitment of the two Parties until the determination of the common border on the basis of pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international law…This guarantee shall be comprised of…measures to be taken by the international community should one or both of the Parties violate this commitment, including appropriate measures to be taken under Chapter VII of the United Nations Charter by the UN Security Council;”


And Article 41 of the UN Charter states:

“The Security Council may decide what measures not involving the use of armed force are to be employed to give effect to its decisions, and it may call upon the Members of the United Nations to apply such measures. These may include complete or partial interruption of economic relations and of rail, sea, air, postal, telegraphic, radio, and other means of communication, and the severance of diplomatic relations”

The UN Security Council issued another statement on 21 December 2004 calling on Eritrea and Ethiopia to cooperate with the Boundary Commission. While it is welcomed, its reluctance to take punitive actions against Ethiopia is creating a dangerous situation, which could unravel the entire peace process and send a once heralded successful UN peacekeeping mission home in failure. At the risk of repeating myself, I am again appealing to the Security Council, which has an obligation to enforce the Algiers Agreement and the EEBC’s final and binding decision to do so. As I have previously stated, under international law, the UN Security Council does not have the option of non-action; it cannot shirk off its responsibilities and just wash its hands off like Pontius Pilate, it too has legal obligations to fulfill, not doing so will result in another disastrous situation in the Horn of Africa.

I hope the New Year brings the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia peace and prosperity.

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