Ethiopia is in “Material Breach” of United Nations Security Council Resolutions
Tekie Fessehatzion

March 13, 2003

In recent meetings with my Special Representative, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi of Ethiopia and Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin expressed their serious concerns regarding the Boundary Commission’s demarcation of the border. While emphasizing Ethiopia’s commitment to peace and to the Algiers Agreements, the Prime Minister noted that if its concerns were not properly addressed, Ethiopia might eventually reject the demarcation-related decisions of the Commission” -- Progress Report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea, 6 March 2003

Notwithstanding the clarity with which the Commission has stated the limits upon its authority, Ethiopia has continued to seek variations to the boundary line delimited in the April Decision, and has done so in terms that appear, despite protestations to the contrary, to undermine not only the April Decision but also the peace process as a whole.” -- Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, President, Border Commission, Annex 1, Eighth Report of the Eritrea-Ethiopian Boundary Commission, 21 February 21 2003

United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan's report to the Security Council accompanying Sir Elihu Lauterpacht's progress report on the implementation of the Border Commission's April 2002 decision carried a startling disclosure of Ethiopia's intentions to unilaterally abrogate the Final and Binding border decision. With an uncommon clarity couched in masterful judicial understatement Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, President of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Commission has laid bare to the Security Council the consequences of Ethiopia's non-compliance with the terms of the December 2000 Agreement on which the April 2002 Border decision was made.

The non-compliance with the implementation of the decision started early, soon after the decision was announced and the government of Prime Minister Meles expressed its elation with the outcome since it said it gave Ethiopia everything it had asked for, and then some. Yet the public acceptance was soon followed by a series of measure designed to delay and frustrate the implementation process. The following were some of the measures taken to frustrate the process: Tigrayan peasants were settled in sovereign Eritrean territory currently under Ethiopian occupation to create facts on the ground about settled Ethiopian community, whose eventual displacement as required by the Algiers Agreement would create an unacceptable humanitarian crisis to justify the redrawing of the boundary line in Ethiopia’s favor. While the wholesale population movement into sovereign Eritrean territory started before the war, often preceded by the deportation of Eritrean citizens from their fields and villages, the movement was accelerated during and after the war.

To this effect, an undetermined number of Tigrayan peasants were moved to Dembe Mengul, west of the boundary line, after the April 2002 decision. From Sir Lauterpacht's report it appears, Ethiopia's justification for demanding revision of the April 2002 decision was, according to Ethiopia, that demarcation based on the Commission's decision would leave a significant number of Ethiopian communities west of the line, in Eritrea. It would only be fair, goes the Ethiopian argument, to move the line some kilometers west of the mandated border to leave Badme and its environs of several villages under Ethiopian control for humanitarian purposes, an amusing and newly cultivated sensitivity to human rights given Ethiopia's record of deporting thousands of Eritrean residents of Ethiopia and Ethiopian citizens of Eritrean ancestry.

The Commission rejected the Ethiopian argument and ordered that Dembe Mengul is a sovereign Eritrean territory and Ethiopia had no right to move people there and they should be removed immediately. Ethiopia's response was to challenge the Commission's authority to tell Ethiopia what to do. Arguing that the Border Commission's mandate ceased with the rendering of the Decision, the Ethiopian government thought it could leave implementation in a limbo which would give enough time to move its population into Eritrean territory under its control to force the eventual redrawing of the line to accommodate the needs of Tigrayan communities who prefer to remain in Ethiopian territory. The purpose of the exercise was to delay the process to give Ethiopia enough time to change the demography of the border areas.

The Ethiopian government sought to frustrate the demarcation process through other ways. Recent reports have indicated that several mines were planted in the border areas, which according to UNMEE were planted to destabilize the government of Eritrea. The Woyane government has made no secret of its intention to destabilize Eritrea either by working with groups opposed to the government of Eritrea, or by coordinating destabilizing measures with leaders of some of the neighboring countries. The purpose for destabilizing Eritrea is the belief that a new government that seizes power with the help of Addis Ababa/Mekele would be more amenable to redraw the boundary to suit Tigray's needs. But from the Commission's point of view the most worrisome aspect of the destabilization program was that the fresh mines would pose an unacceptable risk to the Commission's personnel on the field who would then be forced to leave the area, without implementing the Commission's demarcation decision, which of course is the Ethiopian government's principal objective of its sponsorship of terrorism against Eritrea.

The Commission went to the Security Council and obtained a confirmation of its mandate to do everything possible to implement its decision. Armed with UN Security Council Resolution 1430 (2002), the Commission, repeated its Order of 17 July 2002 in its determination of November 7, 2002 and demanded that the settlers move out of sovereign Eritrean territory. The Ethiopian government refused to comply with the Commission's order. In his February 21, 2003 report to the Secretary General, Sir Lauterpacht noted,

2. The Commission is accordingly entitled to take cognizance of any population movement across the boundary as determined in the Delimitation Decision and to make such orders as it finds necessary in relation to any such population movements, insofar as such movement may affect the process and implementation of demarcation;

3. Having regard to the Commission’s Order of 17 July 2002, Ethiopia, in failing to remove from Eritrean territory persons of Ethiopian origin who have moved into that territory subsequent to the date of the Delimitation Decision, has not complied with its obligations;

Other acts of defiance including the laying of fresh mines that put lives working or living in the border area at risk were of great concern to the Commission. In a chilling paragraph Sir Lauterpacht warned,

"It hardly needs saying that any assault on Boundary Commission personnel would likely lead to an immediate withdrawal of such personnel, the cessation of the demarcation process and the consequent frustration of the whole boundary demarcation process."

Sir Lauterpacht’s report can only be read one way: that the government of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is, for all intents and purposes, in material breach of UN Security Resolutions 1320 (2000) and 1430(2002), breaches that cannot be, or must not be ignored, that is, if another senseless carnage is to be avoided.

While professing commitment to peace and the Algiers Agreement, Prime Minister Meles and Foreign Minister Seyoum made clear that Ethiopia would reject the Border Commission’s decision unless Ethiopia got what it wanted in demarcation what it was not awarded by the Decision, without bothering to explain the contradiction between talking peace while slouching towards war. The Secretary General was perhaps jolted by the Ethiopian government’s prevarications, but for others it’s too familiar. In fact we have been through this route before. Saying something and doing something totally different is a hallmark of the way this Ethiopian government operates. Its commitment to a peaceful resolution of the border issue was never sincere, as it knew full well that the basis for its claim was legally weak. Right from the start it had decided on settling the issue by force although it skillfully masked its real intentions from a gullible international community. That was not all. It even used an unsuspecting international community pay for Ethiopia’s war.

The difference this time is the sheer audacity, the extremes to which Ethiopia’s rulers would go to acquire more land to benefit their ancestral province even if it means having to defy the will of the international community. In effect the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister told the UN Security Council through the Border Commission to “go and fly a kite,” demonstrating a level of impudence Saddam Hussein would probably envy.

It is not often that heads of governments openly defy Security Council decisions especially if they had given their word that they would abide by it, but then Ethiopia’s leaders are cut of a different cloth: they believe that the rules that apply to everybody else do not apply to them. Ordinarily defiance of Security Council resolutions carry grave consequences, and it’s unlikely Ethiopia’s leaders have not thought about the likely implications of their defiance. Unfortunately, their smug confidence is based on precedent. They defied the Council and bamboozled the European Union into financing massive military buildup before, and got away with it.

Protectively coddled by a parasitic NGO community that went to Ethiopia to do good, but overstayed because it’s doing well and a indulgent American Embassy staff in Addis Ababa bent on protecting Prime Minister Meles from his domestic opponents, the government of Prime Minister Meles cynically diverted relief assistance for the war against Eritrea. As night follows day, war followed calls for international relief to combat famine, with clockwork regularity. The current to combat the effects of the drought often characterized as the most serious since the 1983-1984 famine is eerily reminiscent of all the appeals for help that preceded military campaigns. It’s a game the government has played before, brilliantly one may add, and it believes it could play the same game again. The same cast of characters, the NGOs, the fawning international aid community, and the American Embassy in Addis are back into the act. They probably believe that they are engaged in a spirited campaign to raise funds to help Ethiopia combat famine, but in their heart they should know that they are helping to fill Ethiopia’s war chest, as they did in the past.

Ethiopia must have felt that it could get away with a breach of Security Council Resolutions because with war against Iraq looming, the world community would not notice Addis Ababa’s transgressions; or that the UN Security council would not have the heart to impose economic sanctions on a country suffering massive draught. Indeed a cynical calculation, but this is one material breach of international law that is unlikely to avoid the imposition of sanctions, given the cost of doing nothing: the possibility of another destructive war in the Horn of Africa, a possibility the Security Council and the international community cannot permit. The implications of Ethiopia’s non-compliance are clear. For whatever reasons, Ethiopia has made a strategic decision to disrupt the Commission’s mandate, knowing full well non-compliance will ignite another round of war.

Through its non-compliance with the terms of the Algiers Agreements and the supporting UN Security Council Resolutions, the government of Ethiopia is daring the Security Council to take whatever steps necessary to force compliance. It’s an arrogant challenge, breathtaking in its reach and audacity. Through its brazen action, Ethiopia has joined another international outlaw, North Korea, as a habitual violator of international norm. Indeed Ethiopia must be viewed as Africa’s North Korea, to be sure one without nuclear bomb, and lacking the technical and scientific know-how to build chemical or biological weapons, Ethiopia’s current rulers, nevertheless, have their version of locally perfected and tested “weapon of mass destruction.”

The Woyane’s “weapon of mass destruction” is a peculiar mind set, a knee-jerk and mindless threat to unleash another destructive and pointless war over a population still suffering the ill effects of the last one, a population hugely incapacitated by the twin pandemics HIV/AIDS and famine is Ethiopia’s weapon of choice. This is not the type of weapon that requires scientific know-how or technical savvy, just a hard heart, a callous disregard for lives and a contempt for international law for which Ethiopia’s rulers have demonstrated great affinity. By escalating a simple border dispute into a massive war to renegotiate Eritrea’s independence has brought nothing but misery to Ethiopians and Eritreans

One of the charges President George W. Bush makes against Saddam Hussein is that the Iraqi leader gassed his own people for which the Iraqi leader would be made to pay dearly. Well, Prime Minister Meles has done something similar, although one may argue on a smaller scale. He used peasants as cannon fodder and human mine sweepers (fenjiregatch) in a mindless war of his making. It’s not clear how many have perished for Badme town, the place the Border Commission is now telling the Prime Minister was never his in the first place. In due course, Ethiopians will ask of the Prime Minister, "Why did you sacrifice so much for a piece of territory the world is telling us now is Eritrean?" Until they do, it’s time for the outside world and particularly the guarantors of the Algiers Agreement, the European Union, the United States of America and the African Union to live up to their promise that they would insure the fair implementation of the Agreement. Another war now, shorn of its fig leaf cover about maintaining territorial integrity, has no justification at all. The Border Commission has spoken which the parties have agreed in advance to accept as final and binding. There’s no rational for another destructive war. At least defense of Ethiopian territorial integrity cannot be presumed the cause.

The Security Council has to tell the Prime Minister in no uncertain terms that war is unacceptable, and that his government is in material breach of Security Council Resolutions and that sanctions must be imposed unless he stops interfering with the Border Commission’s mandate. Sanctions can be designed to minimize the impact on the poor and needy, but simultaneously restrict the governing elites' freedom of movement, block their foreign accounts, and most important of all put Addis Ababa off limits to foreign air carriers while denying Ethiopian Airlines landing rights. As a final measure, the government of Prime Minister Meles should be put on notice that if it does not comply with the wishes of the Security Council, all international agencies would be relocated outside of Ethiopia.

There’s precedent for selective sanction consisting of travel bans by targeted government leaders. Recently the European Union and the US banned Robert Mugabe imposing travel bans on him and 78 of his close associates for abusive human rights violations and interference with national elections. If one assumes that war is the very negation of human rights, then anyone who threatens war should be sanctioned more severely than one, say, who interferes with free elections. After all, one can’t talk about free elections in the absence of peace. Ethiopia’s current leaders are pushing the region into another senseless war. They must be stopped. A government that thinks it’s above the law should be made to understand that there’s price to pay for defiance of international law. The Ethiopian government is in material breach of Security Council Resolutions, and for the sake of peace, either it be forced to mend its ways, or be made to suffer the consequences of choosing the rule of the jungle over the rule of law, as Foreign Minister Seyoum once noted, not realizing his observation applied to his government’s approach to the law.

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