United Nation Security Council's Missed Opportunities
By: Ghidewon Abay-Asmerom
October 28, 2005

The UN Security Council (UNSC) had a first chance to take action three years ago when Ethiopia ignored the 17 July 2002 Order of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EBBC) and Security Council Resolution. By doing so the UNSC failed to dismantle Ethiopian settlements that were built on sovereign Eritrean territory subsequent to the April 13, 2002 Delimitation Decision.

The UN Security Council had a second chance to go beyond empty diplomatic talks and toothless resolutions after the Prime Minister of Ethiopia in his September 19, 2003 letter to Kofi Annan officially rejected the final and binding Decision of the EEBC Delimitation Decision calling it "totally illegal, unjust, and irresponsible" and told the UN Security Council to come up with an "alternative mechanism" for "nothing worthwhile can be expected from the Commission to salvage the peace process."

The UN Security Council had a third chance to force the Ethiopian government to allow the demarcation of the Eritrea Ethiopia border without further delay and preconditions when the EEBC had clearly articulated to the Security Council members that Ethiopia's "five-point peace plan" was hollow and a non-starter. The Commission had put it in no uncertain terms in its 16th report to the Secretary General when it said: "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 UN Security Council had also a fourth chance to act when Ethiopia obstructed the activities of the EEBC's by threatening to shoot at EEBC helicopters and ground surveying teams, thus preventing them from performing their Security Council mandated duty. The EEBC was forced to fold its mission and withdraw from the region only because the Security Council abandoned it and failed to give it proper security protection.

The list of UNSC missed opportunities is long and we can go on and on. But it suffices to say that due to all these past inactions the Ethiopian government knows fully well that the UN will take no action against it. No matter how long demarcation is delayed or postponed. In fact it was precisely this knowledge that made the Ethiopian Foreign Minister remind the Fifty-ninth session of the General Assembly (28 September 2004) that "Eritrea should be made to realize that that [the] Security Council imposing sanctions on Ethiopia is unlikely to happen; because the idea is too inappropriate and too unrealistic."

For these reasons the Security Council has no one to blame but itself. Instead of making sure Ethiopia lived up to its treaty obligation, it looked the other way and in the process has neglected its responsibility. It had forfeited its role and nations now know that the UNSC is nothing but a "paper-tiger". It was its responsibility to make sure international laws and UN Resolutions are never breached, but it squandered its many opportunities and in the process has helped seed the clouds of war that are hovering over the Horn of Africa. Unless it enforces its resolutions and forces Ethiopia to allow expeditious and unconditional demarcation it will be telling the parties they have to fight it out for themselves. Is that what it wants to do? We hope not.