Urge to Demarcate the Eritrea–Ethiopia Boundary
By: Gebre Hiwet Tesfagiorgis
February 13, 2006

Demarcation in accordance with the delimitation decision of the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) is the only just and lasting solution to the boundary dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

In 1998, the world witnessed with sadness the eruption of war between Eritrea and Ethiopia over a border dispute, which resulted in the loss of precious human lives and diversion of scarce resources to wasteful war efforts. When the two countries signed an agreement in Algiers in December 2000 to peacefully settle the border dispute, the peoples of the two countries and all peace-loving people rejoiced. The Algiers Agreement called for the establishment of a neutral Boundary Commission, and stipulated that the dispute will be resolved on the basis of pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international law. Eritrea and Ethiopia agreed that the decision of the Commission was to be final and binding on them. The Agreement was hailed as the best process for securing a lasting peace between the brotherly peoples of the two countries and ensuring stability of the Horn region of Africa.

The Boundary Commission was duly composed of five internationally known, honorable jurists with impeccable legal credentials. The Commission announced its delimitation decision in April 2002, reiterating that the parties had agreed that its decision “shall be final and binding." The decision was reached following principles of customary international law, properly granting the two parties their “day in court” in an adversary proceeding, and soundly applying the terms and conditions outlined in the Algiers Agreement. The United Nations Security Council and African Union rightly endorsed the decision. The two parties themselves, Eritrea and Ethiopia, announced their acceptance of the delimitation decision and expressed their readiness to cooperate with the Commission to demarcate the border. The peace process had all the signs of becoming an exemplary process for settling future border disputes in Africa and elsewhere. Following the decision announcement, the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia had high hopes that peace was finally at hand. Unfortunately, Ethiopia's later pronouncements proved otherwise.

Ethiopia's later repudiation of its initial acceptance of the decision, and its current continued refusal to demarcation, is as puzzling as it is dangerous. Logic, international law, and normal conduct of international relations would have required compliance with the terms and conditions of the Algiers Agreement to which the parties entered willingly and in good faith. Regrettably, Ethiopia continues to defy international law and world opinion.

Equally regrettable is the ineptness of the international community, in the face of Ethiopia’s defiance of international law, especially the guarantors of the Peace Agreement, namely, the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the United States of America. National and geopolitical interests, rather than rule of law and justice, seem to be guiding their policies. And this is not the first time Eritrea has been a victim of such policies. History is indeed repeating itself.

Lasting peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia can be achieved only through the implementation of the Boundary Commission’s decision in its entirety. Justice and international law requires that the United States and the said international and regional organizations exert full pressure, including threats of sanctions on the non-compliant party, Ethiopia, to unconditionally accept the Commission’s decision and immediately cooperate to demarcate of the boundary. At stake is the peace and security of the whole Horn region of Africa.