Ethiopia: The Inviolability of International Law is Sacrosanct

As it was in the case of Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia, today it’s all about Syria- and the carefully scripted narratives have become a daily staple of the major news networks. This time, White House officials and their coterie in the media are telling the American public that it is about R2P-Responsibility to protect the lives of innocent civilians from President Assad’s government. Administration officials are saying that he is using chemical weapons “against his own people”-as if using it against others makes it any less reprehensible. Videos and pictures of dead and bloodied children are used for maximum effect-and judging from a conversation I overheard in a hospital elevator today-the pictures of dead children is effective propaganda-it is  influencing ordinary Americans to support the Administration’s claims on Syria-not because they understand the myriad of issues-but by evoking an emotional attitude towards Assad.

The narrative on Syria took shape over the last few weeks when the Administration decided to narrow the accusations to two issues-one legal and the other, moral. The legal arguments centered around the violations of the Conventions on the use of Chemical Weapons, respecting and defending international “norms”, and the “gassing” of civilians,  which Secretary of State John Kerry said, “Neither our country, nor our conscience can bear the costs of inaction”.

International security relies on measures taken by nations and international organizations, such as the United Nations, to ensure mutual survival and safety. These measures include agreements such as treaties and conventions. In the case of Syria today, the Obama Administration is calling for respect for “international norms” on the use of chemical weapons. In working out a plan of action, President Barack Obama said that “any agreement must verify that the Assad regime keeps its commitments”. I suppose he is referring to Russia and others to serve as guarantors and witnesses… If only the United States reacted the same way to other legal and moral violations by states-Ex. Ethiopia, its staunch ally in the Horn of Africa.

I am reserving my judgment on the various narratives on Syria until a clearer picture evolves. For today, I want to limit my piece and focus on the one issue that I believe is central to international relations-respect for agreements signed.  In my humble opinion, cherry picking norms to enforce is not the way to go-especially for a country like the United States. US role as honest peace broker and its credibility, integrity and reputation as a world leader are at stake. It’s not about Assad, Mubarak, Zenawi etc. It has everything to do with respect for international law and pacta sunt servanda…the Latin term for the understanding that treaties are binding on the parties signing, and that they are to be held in good faith by the consenting states. It is also the basic principle of international law, an understanding expressly stated in Article 2(2) of the United Nations Charter.

If respect for international norms is something that the United States believes in, why then is it reluctant to enforce international law when it comes to Ethiopia? Peace, stability and security in the turbulent Horn of Africa region has been compromised because of Ethiopia’s continued violations of international law, the belligerent regime’s disregard for agreements it signs in its domestic and international affairs, its aggressive wars of invasion and occupation, its destruction of vital infrastructures in states it invades and occupies and the creation of disastrous humanitarian emergencies in the region.  The myopic appeasement policy of the US-led West has emboldened it to persist.

The Algiers Agreement[1] was signed in 2000 in Algeria by H.E. President Isaias Afwerki for Eritrea and by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for Ethiopia and witnessed and guaranteed by high level world leaders. The Pan African News Agency reported the following shortly after the signing:

“…To underscore its importance, the signing of the latest Algiers accord was witnessed by World leaders including Bouteflika, President Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, the UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, his OAU counterpart Salim Ahmed Salim and the US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, among others… The Algiers accord has been globally hailed, with the OAU chairman President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo expressing the hope that it would “serve as an example to other parts of the continent where there is conflict” and boost Africa’s capacity to manage, prevent conflicts and maintain peace… Obasanjo called on other conflict-ridden African States, like Sierra Leone, Somalia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, to emulate the Ethiopia-Eritrea example… Salim called the signing of the peace agreement a “memorable” event not only for the two countries but the entire continent…

African leaders also hailed the Agreement and Thabo Mbeki of South Africa said:

“…This peace agreement is in the immediate and long-term interest of the two countries, the region and the continent as a whole and shows the commitment of the two leaders and their countries to create stability and in the interest of their people…”

The Algiers Agreements called for the establishment of three Commissions-a Boundary Commission, a Claims Commission and a Commission to investigate the origins of the conflict. Article 4.2 of the Algiers Agreement said:

“The parties agree that a neutral Boundary Commission composed of five members shall be established with a mandate to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law. The Commission shall not have the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono”

Article 4.15 of the Algiers Agreements also said:

“…The parties agree that the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission shall be final and binding. Each party shall respect the border so determined, as well as the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party…”

Pursuant to the 12 December 2000 Algiers Agreement between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) was established. The EEBC, whose members include Sir Elihu Lauterpacht CBE QC (President), Prince Bola Ajibola SAN KBE CFR, Professor Michael Reisman, Judge Stephen M. Schwebel, and Sir Arthur Watts KCMG QC, delivered the Final and Binding decision on 13 April 2002. It “unequivocally” awarded Badme, the casus belli for the conflict, to Eritrea.

While Eritrea accepted the EEBC’s delimitation decision, the regime in Ethiopia rejected the decision and set out to have the decision overturned.

Ethiopia’s attempts to amend, revisit, revise the EEBC’s decisions 

On 13 May 2002 barely a month after the EEBC delivered the 13 April 2002 Final and Binding decision, the Commission received from the Government of Ethiopia the 21-page submission entitled “Request for Interpretation, Correction and Consultation”. Even though this document was filled with similar and repetitive hollow legal arguments that were previously presented by the multimillion dollar Ethiopian legal team to the Commission before the 13 April 2002 decision was delivered, it clearly was the first attempt by the minority regime in Ethiopia to amend, revise, appeal and re-visit the Final and Binding decision of the EEBC.

Encouraged by the reluctance of the international community to enforce the Security Council endorsed Final and Binding EEBC decision the Tigrayan clique continued its attempt to amend, revisit, change the decision:

On 24 January 2003 and 1 May 2003 respectively, the minority regime in Ethiopia in continuation of its harassment and intimidation of the Commissioners, and attempting to sway Ethiopian public opinion distributed to the public and submitted to the EEBC two incoherent and legally hollow documents, a 141 page document under the title “Comments filed by Ethiopia” and a 36-page “Comment to the Eritrea Ethiopia Border Commission”

Unable to intimidate and wear out the distinguished and internationally respected Commissioners with its constant barrages of legal documents, but intent on pressing on with his fruitless attempts to revise, appeal, amend and change the Final and Binding EEBC decision, the street smart, flip-flopping Meles Zenawi, Prime Minister of Ethiopia, upon the advice of his handlers and exposing the deceptive gimmicks and intrigues that would follow, appealed to the Security Council through a 19 September 2003 letter to his friend and advisor, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. Officially rejecting the Final and Binding EEBC decision Meles wrote:

  • “… I am writing to you to seek your assistance to help us overcome the challenge that the peace process between Ethiopia and Eritrea is facing. Despite the veneer of normalcy in the work of the Boundary Commission, I am afraid the work of the Commission is in terminal crisis…”
  • “… The key to the crisis of the work of the Commission is its totally illegal, unjust, and irresponsible decision on Badme and parts of the Central Sector… The Commission’s decision which was allegedly based on state practice also ended up splitting a single village and even a single homestead between the two countries. Its decisions in some parts of the central sector are equally illegal, unjust and irresponsible…”
  • “… It is unimaginable for the Ethiopian people to accept such a blatant miscarriage of justice. The decision is thus a recipe for continued instability, and even recurring wars…”
  • “… Nothing worthwhile can therefore be expected from the Commission to salvage the peace process. Indeed, the Commission seems to be determined to continue its disastrous stance whatever the consequence to the peace of the region…”
  • “… In this regard, I believe it is crucial that the Security Council set up an alternative mechanism to demarcate the contested parts of the boundary in a just and legal manner so as to ensure lasting peace in the region. The alternative mechanism could be composed of the guarantors and witnesses of the Algiers Agreement and representatives of the two parties. Ethiopia is ready to address the problem through such a mechanism…”

 As if its redundant , repetitive, hollow statements, interviews and analysis were not enough, the minority regime in Ethiopia with the help of its expatriate “experts”, “analysts”, “advisors” and using American and European taxpayers’ funds, produced a Video/DVD show entitled “Borders are About People”. This staged sensational, distorted, propaganda ploy designed to garner sympathy from the international community, was widely distributed to the diplomatic community and the Western press. The deceptive and hypocritical regime which conducted an internationally financed 2-million people resettlement program throughout Ethiopia, by presenting the Video/DVD show, was shamelessly trying to show that demarcation in accordance with the EEBC decision would bring suffering and dislocation of people.

On 24 November 2004, while continuing to militarily occupy sovereign Eritrean territories, the minority regime’s advisors and lobbyists came up with another time-buying political and diplomatic gimmick. Meles Zenawi latest gimmick was baptized “The New Ethio-Eritrean Peace Initiative”, and became known as the 5-Point Peace Proposal (5PPP). This dead on arrival (DoA) declaration was the latest in a series of futile attempts to present himself and his minority regime as law abiding, peace loving, and dialogue-seeking bunch. His sugarcoated “Proposal” turned out to be nothing more than another deceptive attempt to revise, revisit, amend and appeal the Final and Binding decision of the EEBC.

Legally and morally compelled to respond to the minority regime’s incessant calls for revision, amendment, and outright reversal of the EEBC’s Final and Binding decision, and considering the US led international community’s reluctance to take any punitive actions against Meles’ belligerent minority regime in Ethiopia was not going to enforce its Decision, re-iterating the Final and Binding status of the decision, the Commission in its 16 Report to the United Nations Security Council, delivered on 24 February 2005, said:

  • “… On 4 February 2005 the Commission invited the Parties to meet with it in London on 22 February 2005. Eritrea accepted the invitation. Ethiopia declined it, saying the meeting would be “premature . . . would be unproductive and could have an adverse impact on the demarcation process…”
  • “… Ethiopia is not prepared to allow demarcation to continue in the manner laid down in the Demarcation Directions and in accordance with the timeline set by the Commission. It now insists on prior “dialogue” but has rejected the opportunity for such “dialogue” within the framework of the demarcation process provided by the Commission’s proposal to meet with the Parties on 22 February. This is the latest in a series of obstructive actions taken since the summer of 2002 and belies the frequently professed acceptance by Ethiopia of the Delimitation Decision…”
  • “… The Commission shall not have the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono.” In the proceedings leading to the Delimitation Decision, neither Party contended that the Commission should depart from the boundaries that it would objectively determine were laid down in the stated treaties…”
  • “… Nothing in the language used could reasonably be read as suggesting that the Commission intended that the locations themselves would be varied during the demarcation. It was to be a technical exercise not involving any substantive alteration in the boundary. Nothing was said in the Decision to suggest that the line was provisional…”
  • “… When the Delimitation Decision was rendered, both Parties accepted it and its delimitation of the boundary, as indeed they were bound by the Algiers Agreement to do. The acceptance by each Party was unqualified and publicly announced…”
  • “… The Parties were consulted and their views were taken into account in the formulation of the Demarcation Directions which were promulgated on 8 July 2002. At that stage, neither Party suggested that the Commission had, or should have, a power to vary the boundary in the course of demarcation or that there was any need for more than limited technical discussion between them before the demarcation could begin and be carried to a conclusion…”
  • “… The Commission would note that what is relevant here is governmental and not private activity. The references to Ethiopian governmental control of Badme and its environs were insufficient to persuade the Commission that an Ethiopian presence west of the line from Points 6 to 9 would support a departure from the line that had crystallized by 1935. This conclusion followed from the inadequacy of Ethiopia’s evidence…”
  • “… the Commission is taking immediate steps to close down its Field Offices. These can be reactivated (though subject to some months of lead time) if Ethiopia abandons its present insistence on preconditions for the implementation of the demarcation…”
  • “… The Commission must conclude by recalling that the line of the boundary was legally and finally determined by its Delimitation Decision of 13 April 2002. Though undemarcated, this line is binding upon both Parties, subject only to the minor qualifications expressed in the Delimitation Decision, unless they agree otherwise. Conduct inconsistent with this boundary line is unlawful…”

Fortunately, the EEBC was able to fulfill its legal and moral obligations in accordance with the Algiers Agreements. Despite Ethiopia’s attempts to take away the EEBC’s sole mandate to demarcate the border by refusing to allow it to place markers on the ground, in 2007, the EEBC demarcated the Eritrea Ethiopia border using coordinates on maps-virtual demarcation.

Even though virtual demarcation is accepted international practice, Ethiopia continues to reject the EEBC’s delimitation and demarcation decisions and the US-led international community continues to appease the belligerent regime. Emboldened by the diplomatic, financial, political and military support and shield it received from the US and its allies, 12 years later, in violation of the EEBC’s final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions, international law, the African Union and United Nations Charters, and numerous UN Security Council resolutions on the Eritrea Ethiopia border issue, Ethiopia continues to militarily occupy sovereign Eritrean territories, including Badme , to which the laws of occupation apply.

Ethiopia’s Violations of International Law

Belligerent occupation is governed by The Hague Regulations of 1907, as well as by the Fourth Geneva Convention of 1949, and the customary laws of belligerent occupation. Principle 1 of the Declaration on principles of international law concerning friendly relations and cooperation among States in accordance with the UN Charter states the following:

 “…Every State has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate the existing international boundaries of another State or as a means of solving international disputes, including territorial disputes and problems concerning frontiers of States…Every State likewise has the duty to refrain from the threat or use of force to violate international lines of demarcation, such as armistice lines, established by or pursuant to an international agreement to which it is a party or which it is otherwise bound to respect…”

Ethiopia’s occupation seeks acquisition of land by force, economic exploitation of the occupied territories, through unwarranted self-serving alterations of local law and in violation of human rights through the practice of collective punishment, and the creation of “de facto” annexation benefitting Ethiopia, at the expense of the local population-with the full knowledge and acquiescence of the US led international community.

Ethiopia also remains in violation of Article 49 of the Fourth Geneva Convention which states the following in paragraph 1[2]:

“…Individual or mass forcible transfers, as well as deportations of protected persons from occupied territory to the territory of the Occupying Power or to that of any other country, occupied or not, are prohibited, regardless of their motive…”

And paragraph 6, which says:

“…The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies…”

Right after the EEBC rendered its final and binding delimitation decisions that “unequivocally” awarded Badme to Eritrea, the regime in Ethiopia began transferring its national into the area. In a letter to the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission, Eritrea on 7 June 2002 requested:

 “…that the Commission adopt an interim order instructing Ethiopia that it must immediately cease the settlement of its nationals into territory that has been determined by the 13 April 2002 Decision to fall within Eritrean sovereignty…”

After conducting its investigations the EEBC decided[3] that:

“…Ethiopia shall: (i) forthwith arrange for the return to Ethiopian territory of those persons in Dembe Mengul who have gone there from Ethiopia pursuant to an Ethiopian resettlement program since 13 April 2002; and (ii) report to the Commission on the implementation of sub-paragraph (i) above no later than 30 September 2002. D. Each Party shall ensure that no further population resettlement takes place across the delimitation line established by the Decision of 13 April 2002…”

In March 2003, UN Security Council resolution 1466 called on both countries to “refrain from unilateral troop or population movements, including establishment of any new settlements in areas near the border until demarcation” was accomplished. Ethiopia ignored both the Security Council and the Boundary Commission.

The Sudan Tribune in its 29 October 2004 AFP report[4], “Ethiopian settlements in Badme: UN “aware of the situation”, said the following:

“…The United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) is “aware of the situation” concerning possible new Ethiopian settlements in Badme, a town attributed by an independent commission to Eritrea, an UNMEE spokeswoman told AFP on Thursday…Several diplomats in Asmara who asked not to be named told AFP that Ethiopia was indeed installing its citizens in the contested border town…”

The US led international community also remained silent as the regime in Ethiopia populated sovereign Eritrean territories with Ethiopians from the Tigray region.

Ethiopia continues to violate laws of military occupation as set out in the 1907 Hague Regulations  (Articles 42-56) during its occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories. Today in violation of Article 45, which forbids Ethiopia from compelling the inhabitants of occupied territory to swear allegiance to its hostile power, resident of Badme and other occupied territories are used to advance the regime’s agendas in its propaganda programs.

According to Article 47, pillage is formally forbidden, but as the Eritrea Ethiopia Claims Commission (EECC) decisions show, economic and social infrastructures such as schools, hospitals, clinics, and administrative structures in each and every Eritrean village occupied by Ethiopia during the 1998-2000 border conflict were damaged or destroyed. No doubt similar actions are taking place in the occupied territories today.

Here is but a short list of the major infrastructures looted and destroyed by Ethiopia[5] during the 1998-2000 border war, as recorded by the EECC:

  • Ethiopia deliberately damaged by placing explosives at its base, the Stela of Matara, an ancient monument in the Senafe sub zone. The Stela is a stone obelisk, perhaps 2,500 years old, carved with the symbol of the sun over the crescent moon and an inscription in Ge’ez
  • Ethiopia detonated and burned the Allighidir cotton factory and its cotton. It was one of the sites visited by this author in 2001. The Alighidir Agricultural Development Project was an extremely significant enterprise in the Gash-Barka region. The cotton section of the project was the largest industrial agricultural and handicraft employer in the country and the single largest contributor to the gross domestic product. In addition to cotton farming and processing, the project featured a briquetting factory and crops of sorghum and peanuts. Construction took place after independence in the 1990s, starting with the provision of small plots of farming land to demobilized fighters.
  • The Teseney Mother and Child Health Center and Zula Import/Export Facility and Gash Agriculture farm and destruction. Substantial stores of grain and feed and livestock at that facility were also destroyed
  • Looting of buildings and destruction of the police station in Tokombia Town, and the destruction of the nearby Rothman tobacco plant
  • Destroyed the privately-owned Gash Setit Hotel and Conference Center in Barentu.
  • The Disabled Fighters Bakery, or Sesona Bakery, in Barentu, funded by the Eritrean War Disabled Fighters’ Association was destroyed
  • Ethiopia also desecrated Patriots Cemeteries in Tserona, Tokombia and others.
  • Etc. etc.

In addition, the EECC found Ethiopia in violation of Article 49 of Geneva Convention IV, liable for forcible displacement of populations in Awgaro. The Commission concluded that at least 3,100 persons were wrongfully and forcibly expelled.

11 years later, the occupation of Badme and other sovereign Eritrean territories persist and Ethiopia’s deceptive overtures for “dialogue” remain a time-buying gimmick encouraged by its handlers and sponsors. Ethiopia’s calls for dialogue are transparent ploys long rejected by Eritrea as a futile time-buying gimmick designed to engage Eritrea in self serving tangent issues that have no relevance with the issue of occupation-the issue at hand.  On Ethiopia’s incessant calls for “dialogue”, the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission stated the following in its 16th Report to the UN Security Council[6]:

“…Ethiopia is not prepared to allow demarcation to continue in the manner laid down in the Demarcation Directions and in accordance with the timeline set by the Commission. It now insists on prior “dialogue” but has rejected the opportunity for such “dialogue” within the framework of the demarcation process provided by the Commission’s proposal to meet with the Parties on 22 February. This is the latest in a series of obstructive actions taken since the summer of 2002 and belies the frequently professed acceptance by Ethiopia of the Delimitation Decision…”

These continued attempts by Ethiopia and its handlers to distort the facts cannot mask the reality of violations of the human rights violations of the Eritreans in the occupied territories.

The international community, which so far has done little, and the US in particular which has prevented the UN Security Council from taking any punitive actions to exert all possible pressure on Ethiopia to end its occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories, must act on the Eritrea Ethiopia border issue if its wants to be taken seriously in its calls  for states to abide by acceptable norms of behavior and respect for international law…

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

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2 Responses to Ethiopia: The Inviolability of International Law is Sacrosanct

  1. The Eritrea Ethiopian Claims Commission found Eritrea culpable of starting the Border war how does the Eritrean Government explain this decision ?

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