EEBC accuses Ethiopia of not complying with Algiers Agreement - UN Security Council continues its toothless call on Ethiopia
By: Dr. Ahmed Hassan Dahli
September 28, 2005

Five years have elapsed since the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war ended. It is also three years now since the EEBC ruling was announced and two years since the Ethiopian government officially rejected it. Had it not been for the TPLF regime's adventurist and expansionist nature, and its sinister strategy of advancing its ambitions of hegemony in the Horn of Africa, a single difference regarding border issue could not have developed in the first place into a bloody, destructive and large-scale war. From the outset, the Government of Eritrea had exerted unremitting political and diplomatic efforts to resolve the border crisis, for which the Ethiopian regime is responsible. In pursuit of its policy of peace, the Eritrean government dispatched a number of delegations to Ethiopia for talks with Ethiopian officials so as to normalize the situation. However, these initiatives did not produce any outcome. Moreover, President Isaias Afwerki sent two messages on the 16th and 27th of August 1997 to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi with a view to preventing the outbreak of unwanted and unnecessary war. The President called on the Ethiopian Premier to take urgent and decisive measures towards resolving the crisis. But the TPLF leadership paid deaf ear to the call, and when Ethiopia hastily declared war against Eritrea on 13 May 1998, the Eritrean Cabinet of Ministers held an emergency meeting aimed at resolving the issue in a responsible manner. It also adopted a five-point proposal as outlined below:

1-     "Differences and misunderstandings that may arise regarding border issue could only be resolved through peaceful and legal means and not force. Hence, the Eritrean government condemns the logic of force."

2-     "On the basis of the salient points just cited, each side should provide accurate information to the people of the two countries and the international community about the territory which both parties claim to be part of their sovereignty along with concrete maps and documents. Furthermore, the Eritrean Cabinet expressed conviction that the problem could only be solved through peaceful and legal means and not force."

3-     "Any dialogue between the two sides should involve a third party as observer."

4-    "In the meantime, the contested territories should be free from the military presence of either party, and this to be guaranteed through a third party."

5-     "In the event such a satisfactory solution could not be reached through a third party, the issue should be referred to arbitration."

However, the Ethiopian leadership, believing it had the might, could not subdue its dangerous war appetite. But in the wake of its failure to achieve its war objectives thanks to the firm steadfastness of the Eritrean Defense Forces, the Ethiopian regime was compelled to sit around the conference table. Accordingly, it signed the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement on 18 June 2000 in Algiers and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement on 12 December 2000. On behalf of the international community, the comprehensive peace agreement between the two countries was signed by UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, the then Chairman of the former OAU, President Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika of Algeria, the Secretary General of the former OAU, Dr. Salim Ahmed Salim, Italian Senator Serri Reno representing the Chairman of the European Union, and the then US Secretary of State Madeline Albright.

Provisions of the Algiers Agreement

1-     Putting an end to the war between the two countries.

2-     Establishing an international commission on border demarcation.

3-     This commission shall draw a border map of the two countries and undertake the demarcation task on the basis of the colonial treaties of 1900, 1902, 1908 as well as related international law, and not on the basis of an agreement between the two parties.

4-     The Boundary Commission's ruling is final and binding, and as such it is not subject to debate and appeal.

5-     In the event one or both of the parties fail to abide by the EEBC ruling, the Security Council in line with Chapter 7 of the UN Charter shall take the necessary political, diplomatic, economic and military measures.

When the EEBC issued its border delimitation decision on 13 April 2002, the Ethiopian Council of Ministers immediately issued the following statement:

  1. "Ethiopia has secured all the territory it claimed in the Central Sector on the basis of the 1900 treaty."
  2.  "As for the western sector, the court has ruled all the areas around Badme to be sovereign Ethiopian territory." Moreover, the Ethiopian authorities asserted: "We have managed to secure unclaimed additional Eritrean territory thanks to the competence of our Lawyers."

Ethiopia's reneging

It is to be noted, however, that Ethiopia didn't take time to renege on the position it earlier announced. For instance:

  1. Regarding the decision of the Boundary Commission's demographic unit reached earlier stating that the demarcation process should start from the west, Ethiopia raised a technical question proposing that demarcation should instead start from the east. As far as Eritrea was concerned, it maintained that as long as the process ultimately leads to border demarcation, it did not matter whether the undertaking starts in the west or the east.
  2. According to the Algiers Agreement, Ethiopia was supposed to withdraw its army from sovereign Eritrean territory that the Boundary Commission had verified through its ruling. But Ethiopia did not fulfill this obligation.
  3. Three months after the announcement of the Commission's ruling Ethiopia began to establish new settlements in July 2002 in those areas which the Commission had verified to be sovereign Eritrean territory in accordance with colonial treaties and related international law. In doing so, the Ethiopian regime sought to create a new reality on the ground, and thereby advance the cynical argument that Ethiopians used to live in these areas and that Eritrean nationals 'are not living there.' However, this childish Ethiopian move could not mislead any ordinary person, let alone the Boundary Commission that after all possessed rich experience.
  4. Furthermore, on 7 November 2002, Ethiopia officially informed the UN Security Council that it will not heed calls for withdrawing its armed forces from Eritrean territory and put an end to the establishment of settlements as prescribed in Article 4 No.16 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement  reached in Algiers on 12 December 2001.
  5. In a message he sent to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on 19 September 2003, PM Meles Zenawi officially informed him that Ethiopia rejects the Boundary Commission's ruling. The contents of  the message are outlined below:

5.1.            "Ethiopia maintains that the Boundary Commission's ruling is illegal, unjust and irresponsible."

5.2.            "The EEBC ruling of 13 April 2002 will not promote peace and stability between the two countries but rather lead to new round of fighting."

5.3.            "The mission of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission had reached a dead-end."

5.4.            "Hence, for the reasons just cited, the UN Security Council should look for new mechanism in place of the EEBC."

6. Moreover, in a speech he delivered at the 59th session of the UN General Assembly on 28 September 2004, the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin, made the following remarks;

6.1 "The decision of the Boundary Commission should only be taken as an ordinary note."

6.2 "Ethiopia accepts 85% of the contents of this note."

6.3 "As for the remaining 15%, the issue could be resolved through open dialogue."

            6.4. "Ensuring peace and border demarcation is solely the responsibility of Ethiopia and Eritrea." Through this ploy, the Ethiopian regime tried to sideline the role of the international community believed to be the main partner in both the peace process and border demarcation mission.

7.  With a view to bypassing the EEBC ruling, Ethiopia presented on 24 November 2004 what it called five-point peace plan, the contents of which are the following:

7.1. "Resolving the conflict through peaceful dialogue in line with the principle of give and take."

7.2. "Tackle the root cause of the problem through dialogue, and thereby normalize relations between the two countries."

            7.3. "Ethiopia in principle accepts the EEBC ruling."

7.4. "Ethiopia agrees to pay its financial debt, and appoint a liaison officer entrusted with the responsibility of arranging a meeting in the field."

7.5. "As implementing the EEBC ruling as it is would expose both countries to more tension, Ethiopia's stance rests on two main factors, i.e. accepting the EEBC ruling in principle and proceed with the task of implementation on the basis of give and take".

8. On 16 December 2004, the United Nations Mission in Eritrea and Ethiopia (UNMEE) disclosed that Ethiopia had deployed 6 to 7 Army divisions along territory lying not far from 25 to 45 Kilometers. The UN Secretary General also affirmed this in a report he presented to the Security Council on 7 March 2005. It should be taken into account that this latest act of escalating tension was brought about by the Ethiopian side, a move that obviously runs counter to the Algiers Peace Agreement.

9.  Ethiopia rejected an invitation by the Boundary Commission to participate in a meeting that was scheduled to be held in London on 22 February 2005 to discuss the issue of border demarcation. Addis Ababa tried to justify its rejection in the following manner:

1. This is not the right time for dialogue.

2. It will not produce any outcome at the moment.

3. It will negatively affect the peace process.

4. It doesn't take into account the five-point peace plan that Ethiopia had put forth.

The Boundary Commission's reply to Ethiopia

In a detailed report he submitted to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan on 24 February 2005, the Chairman of the EEBC, Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, underlined that Ethiopia has been posing obstacles to the Commission in discharging its mandate, right from the day ever since it announced its decision on 13 April 2002. The Chairman further explained that he had been compelled to close down the EEBC Office with immediate effect.

The following is an outline of the main points embodied in the Boundary Commission's reply to Ethiopia:

1.      "Mention is made here of the political developments to the current situation, particularly the factors impeding the Boundary Commission from undertaking its mission."

2.     "In accordance with the Algiers Agreement signed in December 2000, the mandate of the EEBC is to carry out border demarcation."

3.      "As provided in Article 4 No. 1 & 2 of the Algiers Agreement, the Boundary Commission's mission is to carry out border demarcation on the basis of the colonial treaties of 1900, 1902, 1908 and related international law. As such, it is not empowered to adopt resolutions arbitrarily and through mere guess."  Moreover, in line with the colonial treaties just mentioned, before the Commission adopted its decision on border delimitation, neither party presented complaint.

4.      "When the Commission announced its ruling, both parties accepted the verdict, for they were duty bound to honor the Algiers Peace Agreement. Furthermore, their declaration of acceptance was official."

5.      "In accordance with Eritrea's complaint of 17 July 2002 that Ethiopia is settling its nationals in the Eritrean territory of Dembe Amengul, the Commission issued an order calling on Ethiopia to put an end to such settlements. Besides, on 14 August 2002, the Security Council adopted Resolution No. 1430 demanding that in line with Article 4 No. 16 of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement, both parties should refrain from troop or people's movement, as well as establishing new settlements until the border demarcation process is finalized. However, as Ethiopia did not comply with this order, the EEBC presented a report to the Security Council on 7 November 2002 ascertaining Ethiopia's failure to fulfill its obligation. And to this very day, Ethiopia continues not to comply with the order."

6.      "In a message to the UN Secretary General on 19 September 2003, the Ethiopian regime claimed that the Boundary Commission's ruling regarding Badme and the Central Sector is illegal, unjust and irresponsible." In this connection, the Commission pointed out that Ethiopia's complaint is not about border demarcation but the actual placement of pillars and markers. The Commission underscored that Ethiopia's proposal asking the UN Security Council to look for another mechanism on demarcation is not only misleading but also one that emanates from wrong presumptions." In this respect, the EEBC gave detailed replies to all of Ethiopia's complaints. 

7.      Ethiopia does not want border demarcation to take place. In this regard, the Boundary Commission asserted: "In a bid to justify its stance, Ethiopia alleges that the border demarcation process is an obstacle, for it is not in conformity with both the spirit and provisions of the Algiers Agreement. In its 11th report to the UN Secretary General, the EEBC dismissed as completely false Ethiopia's allegation that the Commission's ruling is an obstacle. In addition, the EEBC underlined that Addis Ababa has no right at all to make such an allegation."

8.      The Commission invited both parties to attend the London meeting which it organized on 22 February 2005. While Eritrea accepted the invitation, Ethiopia did not, and this under the pretext that "the time is not ripe for holding such a meeting and that it will not bear fruit, besides negatively affecting the border demarcation process. Moreover, in an attempt to overcome what it terms an obstacle, Ethiopia suggested that both parties hold dialogue."

9.      "Ethiopia doesn't want the demarcation process to proceed in accordance with the timetable set by the Boundary Commission. It is also still persisting in its so-called 'dialogue first' ploy. Ethiopia rejected the Commission's proposal inviting both parties to hold a meeting on the 22nd of February, 2005 and hold discussions within the context of the demarcation process. This is one of Ethiopia's continuous acts of posing obstacles, and obviously this contradicts the Ethiopian regime's claim that it accepts border demarcation."

10.   "Under such circumstances, the EEBC decided to close down its office. It further announced that provided Ethiopia abandons within a month its preconditions regarding the implementation of border demarcation, it would once again open its office and proceed with the demarcation mission."

11.  "In conclusion, the Commission declared that although demarcation had not yet taken place, this task has been legally defined in the EEBC ruling of 13 April 2002. Moreover, in case one or both parties do not agree on this fundamental point, the ruling on border demarcation is, nonetheless, binding on the two parties. The Commission further stressed that any measure that doesn't conform to the demarcation line has no legal basis whatsoever."