Suspension from an international organization is never a decision that is made lightly or without great introspection. The decision to suspend one’s membership indicates that a member state has been unable to express its needs adequately in the organization. In this situation, suspension serves as a last resort of the respective member state.
Eritrea officially informed, in writing, all members of IGAD through its Executive Secretary that it has suspended its membership effective 21 April 2007. In its official notice of suspension the Government of the State of Eritrea stated the following:
“…The Government of Eritrea officially notifies with regret, to the current chair of the IGAD Assembly of Heads of State and Government that Eritrea has temporarily suspended its membership in the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) effective 21st April 2007. The Government of the State of Eritrea took this difficult move in reaction to a number of resolutions passed pertaining to the worsening situation in Somalia, in the name of IGAD. The Eritrean Government is convinced that such resolutions go contrary to the core principles of IGAD in the promotion of peace and security in the region. Moreover, the resolutions taken recently are contrary to the previous IGAD & Security Council resolutions, in particular the non involvement of frontline countries in Somalia. Eritrea does not want to be part of this historical blunder, which is the main cause of anguish, destruction of property and loss of life of many innocent Somalis…”
In addition, the Eritrean Foreign Ministry re-iterated its concerns in its 26 April 2007 Press Release, which said:
“…Governments in the region that are wither condoning the invasion and domination of Somalia and the sufferings meted out to its people or that have chosen to keep silent, for reasons of narrow self-interest or due to lack of information cannot, ultimately, shrug their responsibilities…For its part, Eritrea is not willing to endorse invasion and domination under the umbrella of IGAD and be party to the atrocities perpetrated against the Somali people in contravention of justice and truth…”
Article 22 of the Establishing Agreement of IGAD states:
“…Any member state wishing to withdraw from the Authority shall give to the Chairman of the Assembly one year’s notice of its intentions to withdraw; and at the end of such year shall, if such notice is not withdrawn, cease to be a member state of the Authority…During the period of one year referred to in the preceding paragraph, a member state wishing to withdraw from the Authority shall nevertheless observe the provisions of this Agreement and shall remain liable for the discharge of its obligations under this Agreement…”
The legality of suspension under pertinent international law
The principle of suspension of the operation of a treaty under a silent instrument is enshrined in the Vienna Convention of the Law of Treaties of 1969 as well as in Article 60(2) (b) of the Law of Treaties between States and International Organizations and International Organizations of 1986. According to the said article, a state which is specifically affected by the decision is justified to suspend the operation of the treaty if the organization or one of state party is in material breach of the object and purpose of the constituent instrument.
IGAD was in breach of the object and purpose of Article 7(g) of the Establishing Agreement of IGAD (herein after is referred to as IGAD or the Authority) when it decided to endorse the Ethiopian invasion to Somalia. According to Article 7(g), the aims and objectives of the Authority shall be to:
“…Promote peace and stability in the sub-region and create mechanisms within the sub-region for the prevention, management and resolution of inter and intra-State conflicts through dialogue…”
This act was also in violation of other relevant legal obligations in force, inter alia, the UN Charter, AU Constituent Act and UN Security Council Resolution 1725/2006 in particular, which clearly prohibited military intervention by neighboring states.
Consequently, the Government of the State of Eritrea notified the Executive Secretary of its decision to suspend its membership for this reason.
Eritrea’s suspension is also justified by Article 60(2)(b) of the Law of Treaties between States and International Organizations and International Organizations of 1986 on Termination or suspension of the operation of a treaty as a consequence of its breach, which says:
“… A material breach of a multilateral treaty by one of the parties entitles:
(b) a party specially affected by the breach to invoke it as a ground for suspending the operation of the treaty in whole or in part in the relations between itself and the defaulting State or international organization…”
It was based on these legal and sound grounds that the State of Eritrea suspended its membership from IGAD until such time that it deemed appropriate to return and resume its work within the organization.
IGAD’s actions vis a vis Eritrea’s suspension
The Agreement Establishing the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development (IGAD) was signed in 1996 by the Heads of State and Government of Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda. According to the Agreement:
- All members are sovereign and equal;
- No member states has veto power or the right to prevent or block the participation of another member state in any IGAD organized;
- There is no clause that delegates or empowers the Council or the Assembly of Heads of State and Government, to prevent a member State from participating in any IGAD sponsored organized meetings;
- The Chairperson and the Executive Secretary do not have the mandate to take unilateral decision or action;
- There is no article or clause that restricts a member state from temporarily suspending or reactivating its membership.
Eritrea suspended its membership; it did not withdraw its membership. Therefore, since Eritrea is not a new member, or one seeking re-admission, it would not be subject to the rules and regulations governing new members or those seeking re-admission. IGAD’s continued engagement with Eritrea is further testament of this fact.
- On 14 June 2008, a year and five months after Eritrea’s notification of suspension of Eritrea from IGAD, at the 12th Summit of Heads of State and Government of IGAD in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, a decision was made to send a Ministerial Delegation to Eritrea. Subsequently, a delegation led by Moses Wetangula, Kenya’s Foreign Minister accompanied by Deng Alor, Sudans’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Mahboub Maalim, the Executive Secretary of IGAD visited Eritrea on 14-15 August 2008.
- On 16 August 2008, IGAD issued a Press Release stating the following:
“…President Afwerki briefed the delegation on the reasons that led to Eritrea’s decision to suspend its membership in IGAD. He re-iterated Eritrea’s continued commitment to the integration of the region. He emphasized the point that IGAD must be restructured so that it can be a strong vehicle for integration. He further re-iterated Eritrea’s commitment to continue being engaged with IGAD. He thus designated Hon. Arafaine Berhe Minister of Agriculture of Eritrea, to be the focal person to deal with IGAD matters…”
- IGAD’s Report on the meeting with H.E. President Isaias Afwerki stated the following:
“…Minister Wetangula expressed to President Isaias that IGAD is not whole without Eritrea. The healing process had begun and he hoped that Eritrea will return back to the fold. He also observed that the suspension of Eritrea’s membership did not mean withdrawal…”
- The Secretariat had officially invited Eritrea to participate in a technical meeting organized by IGAD and WMO to introduce and discuss the IGAD-HYCOs implementation that was scheduled to take place in Nairobi, Kenya from 23-24 August 2011.
Eritrea decided to re-activate its membership effective 25th July 2011.
In his 28 July 2011 letter addressed to H.E. Osman Saleh, Eritrea’s Foreign Minister, Mahboub Maalim, the Executive Secretary of IGAD hailed Eritrea’s decision. Here is an excerpt from that 28 July 2011 letter:
“…I acknowledge with great pleasure receipt of your historic letter dated 25 July 2011 concerning Eritrea’s commendable decision to reactivate its membership of IGAD with immediate effect. On behalf of the staff of the IGAD Secretariat and on my own behalf, I wish to express my happiness with the bold decision of Eritrea to rejoin the IGAD family…Soon after receiving your communication, Mr. Minister, I broke the good news to the rest of the IGAD member states by forwarding copies of your letter to them. I am confident that the IGAD member states, the IGAD development partners and all IGAD stakeholders will be delighted to see Eritrea back in the IGAD family fold…”
Eritrea’s temporary suspension was never a renunciation of Eritrea’s membership in IGAD; it was rather, a considered decision made in protest of IGAD’s endorsement of Ethiopia’s invasion and occupation of Somalia in violation of UN Security Council resolutions as well as IGAD’s own resolution on Somalia. Eritrea is not the first, nor will Eritrea be the last country to suspend its membership from an international or regional organization.
Finally, any attempt by any member state to deny Eritrea the right to full membership in IGAD is a violation of IGAD’s own rules.