The Independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission vs. the Ethiopian Regime
Ghidewon Abay Asmerom
April 30, 2003

The LIE:

The boundary commission had unequivocally confirmed Badme to be the sovereign territory of Ethiopia.” — Ethiopia's Foreign Minister, Seyoum Mesfin

Badme village lay on what was found to be the Eritrean side of the treaty line. ” —The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission
How often have you thought you were pronouncing a simple word and yet you get asked to repeat yourself again and again? At the beginning you think the problem is yours and you keep repeating the same word politely. You even try to explain yourself by using a synonym or an equivalent phrase, but all of it to no avail. In fact the more iterations of pronunciation you try to put across your word, the more you are asked to repeat it again. It is a frustrating experience. The truth is that most of the time the problem is not even yours. Most of it is because the people who are giving you hard time don't want to make the effort to understand you. Be that as it may there is always one trick that seems to do the magic: spelling-out the word in question. Sure those who never thought you would spell your word would now complain you are being rude to them. But there was no other option. Unlike the pronunciation ping-pong they were hoping to draw you into this time they cannot ask you to repeat yourself. You can tell them "read it for yourselves". In short, communicating with people who have already made up their mind not to understand even the clearest of pronunciations is next to impossible.

This is exactly what had happened to the independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) in the past 12 months. On April 13, 2002 the EEBC had spoken, loud and clear, where the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia should be. That is also what the entire world understood. But in spite of its public pronouncement that it has won a 100% of what it claimed and that it has accepted the ruling to be final and binding, the Minority Regime that is holding Ethiopia hostage keeps on asking the Boundary Commission to repeat itself. Out of professional courtesy the Commission had repeated itself not once, or twice, but four times.

Three Repetitions in Six Months: Strikes #2-4

  • The first one came on June 24, 2002. It was in the form of "Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission: Decision Regarding the 'Request for Interpretation, Correction, and Consultation' Submitted by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia on 13 May 2002". Here is part of what that repetition said:
    "The Ethiopian request appears to be founded on a misapprehension regarding the scope and effect of Articles 28 and 29 of the Commission’s Rules of Procedure. The concept of interpretation does not open up the possibility of appeal against a decision or the reopening of matters clearly settled by a decision. The Commission, through its President, has already stated 'that the provisions of Articles 28 and 29 of the Rules of Procedure neither allow substantive amendment nor affect the binding quality of the Decision as rendered on 13 April 2002. Re-argument of the case is not permitted.' The Commission does not find, in any of the items that appear in Section II of the Ethiopian request, anything that identifies an uncertainty in the Decision that could be resolved by interpretation at this time.... The Commission concludes that the Ethiopian request is inadmissible and no further action will be taken upon it." § 16-18;

  • The second one came July 17, 2002. It was in the form of an "Order of the Commission: (Made Pursuant to Article 20 and Article 27(1) of the Commission's Rules of Procedure)". This Order came in response to Eritrea's complaint against Ethiopia's act of building new (post April 2002) settlements in territory that was upheld to be Eritrean by the April 13 Decision. The Commission sent an investigating team "to determine by examination on the ground and from the air the exact location of the various places." The places whose "exact locations" were determined were: 1) Badme and its environs, 2) Dembe Gedamu, 3) Dembe Mengul, and 4) Hadish Adi. The team filed its findings with the Commission and the Commission "immediately communicated" the findings of the team to the Parties. Based on the findings it had from its investigating team the Commission told Eritrea and Ethiopia, clearly and using coordinates, where these four places are. If one reads the language of the order carefully, except for the fourth village, Hadish Adi, the other three villages were found to be on the Eritrean side of the International border that was upheld by the April 13, 2002 Decision. The Commission also found Ethiopia's act to be in violation of the Algiers Agreement and the final and binding Demarcation Directives. As a result it ordered Ethiopia "to remove from Eritrean territory persons of Ethiopian origin who have moved into that territory subsequent to the date of the Delimitation Decision no later than 30 September 2002." This Order was also backed on August 14, 2002 by UN Security Council Resolution 1430 (2002). The Resolution ordered the parties (read Ethiopia) “to cooperate fully and promptly with the Boundary Commission, including by implementing without conditions its binding Demarcation Directions, by abiding promptly by all its Orders including the two issued on 17 July 2002".

  • The third came in the form of the Commission's Determinations of November 7, 2002. After Ethiopia got the July 17, 2002 Order, it decided to challenge "the scope of the Commission’s jurisdiction and powers". It said the Commission doesn't have the mandate to pass the Order of July 17, 2002. The Commission in its part reminded Ethiopia that the Algiers Agreement that it has signed gives the Commission the mandate "to delimit and demarcate the border between the Parties", that “the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission shall be final and binding” and that “[e]ach party shall respect the border so determined, as well as the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party”. Furthermore, "the jurisdiction and powers of the Commission extend to its taking cognizance of, and where necessary making appropriate decisions on, any matter it finds necessary for the performance of its mandate to delimit and demarcate the boundary". The Commission added that its Order has the backing of the UN Security Council, and that Ethiopia, "has not complied with its obligations".

These are the three public statements/repetitions by the Commission in response to Ethiopia's request/actions. But we are also certain that the Commission had been repeating itself every time it met with the parties. It is in spite of all these repetitions that we are hearing all the recent fuss from the Tigrean Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister. All these make it clear that the problem from the very beginning was not the Commission's language but the Ethiopian Regime's unwillingness to listen.

The Request that Tested the Commission's Patience

Though the Commission had repeated itself, publicly, three times, it was asked again by the TPLF Regime to repeat itself for the fourth time. This time with a 141-page request that came on January 23, 2003. The Commission must have had it enough. It decided to spell-out its April 13 Decision. And it did it bluntly and without any ambiguity. This was done through its Observations of March 21, 2003. The phrase the Tigrean rulers of Ethiopia were faking not to hear clearly for 12 months was finally spelled out distinctly. It read: “BADME VILLAGE IS ON THE ERITREAN SIDE OF THE TREATY LINE.” Now that the dreaded phrase is spelled out clearly, the Minority Regime in Ethiopia is blaming the Commission of being rude and unfair to Ethiopia. Imagine any Commission in the EEBC's shoe; wouldn't it have done the same? In fact the EEBC was way too patient and diplomatic in its handling of the matter until its 8th report to the Secretary General of the UN. As that report reveals it, the Commission's efforts were being frustrated by Ethiopia's action beyond any limit. Here is how the President of the Commission put it:

"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." - EEBC 8th Report § 5

Not only this, Paragraph 14 of the same report has even more shocking revelation:

"Having read the Order, the Ethiopian representative stated that “it would seem to be inconsistent with Foreign Minister’s letter [of 28 January 2003] to the Commission”. In response, the President of the Commission stated that the remarks made on behalf of Ethiopia did not affect the validity or binding quality of the Order. The Commission takes the view that it is not open to one party unilaterally to control the work of the Commission."
As the Commission's President words made it clear Ethiopia thought it could control the work of the Commission. It must have thought the Boundary Commission was like the Organization of African Unity, OAU. An organization that lived to serve Ethiopian and Ethiopian interest alone. The newly baptized African Union, AU, is also the same old rug cut from that worn out and useless cloth called the OAU. Africa can have no hope from the AU. If the AU had any credibility where is it now? How come it is not speaking out against Ethiopia? One would expect it to tell Ethiopia to abide by the Algiers Agreement that it sponsored.

In thinking they can have their way with the Boundary Commission the Tigrean leaders miscalculated big time. The Commission is now telling them "you can neither control us nor order us." In a layman's language it is telling them "get lost." What a humiliating experience.

Thus these statements together with the Observations of March 21, 2003 are the Commission's letter by letter spelling out of what is going on and its take on them. However, despite all these clear deliberations and Observations the Tigrean Minority Regime wouldn’t stop from asking yet for another explanation. In fact this is exactly what the Tigrean Foreign Minister indicated in his Press Conference of April 12, 2003.

April 13 Decision On Badme was as Clear as any Legal Decision Could be: Strike #1

To the casual reader the Commission's Decision it might look as if the Commission was not clear enough in its April 13 Decision as to which side of the Treaty line Badme, the village, was found. In effect this was the conclusion of some uninformed journalists as well. A Female BBC reporter stationed in Addis and the Amhara reporters for AFP and AP being the others. But that was not the case. The fate of Badme was sealed the moment the Commission upheld the Eritrean claim line in the western sector. The Commission, in 28-pages, 95 paragraphs, plus 5 more pages in the appendix, had explained itself how it interpreted the 1902 treaty and why it did so. The Commission revealed that it had referred to more maps on this sector of the border than the other two. Anyone interested should read Paragraphs 5.83-5.95 of the April 13 Decision. It was very clear that Badme had remained Eritrean. This was also the conclusion reached by another BBC Journalist (Martin Plaut) and an International Boundary expert (Martin Pratt) within days of the Decision. But there are those Ethiopian journalists and the female BBC reporter who kept on misleading the world and they are still doing it.

In any case here is a synopsis of the key paragraphs of the April 13 Decision on the western sector. All emphases are mine.

  1. The explicit object and purpose of the 1902 Treaty was [not setting a river Maieteb/Maiten as a boundary but] the assignment to Eritrea of the Cunama tribe. That was the intention and common will of the Parties; § 5.83

  2. The territory of the Cunama extended far to the east and southeast of the Ethiopian claim line. The Commission is satisfied that the negotiators did not have in mind as the boundary the Ethiopian claim line; § 5.83, § 5.84

  3. The line from the Setit to the Mareb was yet to be delimited, thus evidencing the uncertainty of the negotiators regarding the limits to be attributed to the Cunama. § 5.86

  4. The Commission considers that it must produce a final delimitation of the whole border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. In carrying out this task, the Commission has had regard to the colonial treaties and factors that are relevant according to applicable international law. § 5.87

  5. The Commission has taken into account the many maps presented to it in evidence, but has only given weight in relation to this sector to maps produced by the Parties themselves in the period prior to 1935.
    1. It has noted that three early Italian maps show the Ethiopian claim line, as does one Ethiopian map of 1923.
    2. However, all the other relevant maps show the Eritrean claim line in accordance with what has, in the present proceedings, come to be called the classical” ortraditional signature characterized by a straight line from the confluence of the Tomsa with the Setit (Point 6) to Point 9 at an angle of about 28º from true north. § 5.88

  6. There is no record of any timely Ethiopian objection to these maps and there is, moreover, a consistent record of Ethiopian maps showing the same boundary. These maps amount to subsequent conduct or practice of the Parties evidencing their mutual acceptance of a boundary corresponding to the Eritrean claim line. § 5.88

  7. Another way of viewing the line so consistently shown on these maps is that it also serves to evidence the acceptance by the Parties of that line as the eastern limit of Cunama territory transferred to Eritrea by the 1902 Treaty. § 5.89

  8. The Commission determines that the eastern border of Cunama territory between the Setit and the Mareb coincides with the classical signature of the border as marked on the maps. There is no evidence sufficiently clear or cogent to lead the Commission to a different conclusion. § 5.83

  9. In short, the Commission concludes that as at 1935 the boundary between the Setit and the Mareb had crystallized and was binding on the Parties along the line from Point 6 to Point 9. § 5.90

  10. The Commission has examined the major elements in the course of events since 1935: the Italian invasion of Ethiopia; the outbreak of the Second World War; the British military occupation of Eritrea; the post-war developments including the treatment of the political future of Eritrea; the creation of the federation between Ethiopia and Eritrea; and the eventual termination of that federation. However, the Commission can perceive nothing in that chain of developments that has had the effect of altering the boundary between the Parties. The boundary of 1935 remains the boundary of today. § 5.91

  11. The places in which Ethiopia claimed to have exercised authority west of the Eritrean claim line are all, with two exceptions, clustered in the northeast corner of the disputed triangle of territory. The most westerly location is Shelalo. The Commission observes that the area of claimed Ethiopian administrative activity comprises, at the most, one-fifth of the disputed area. The area of claimed administration does not extend in any significant way towards the Ethiopian claim line. § 5.93

  12. The Commission observes, secondly, that the dates of Ethiopian conduct relate to only a small part of the period that has elapsed since the 1902 Treaty. There are some references to sporadic friction in 19291932 at Acqua Morchiti. Apart from those, the material introduced by Ethiopia dates no further back than, at the earliest, 1951 – a grant of a local chieftaincy to an Ethiopian general. Even this grant, in specifying the places sought by the general, namely, Afra, Sheshebit, Shelalo, from Jerba up to Tokomlia, Dembe Dina and Dembe Guangul, described them as uninhabited places which the general wanted to develop. The evidence of collection of taxes is limited to 1958 and 1968. In 1969 there is a reference to a table of statistics about the Adiabo area, but of the places mentioned in the table only two appear to be marked on the Ethiopian illustrative figure of the claimed region. One item dating from 1970 refers to the destruction of incense trees. There is some evidence of policing activities in the Badme Wereda in 19721973 and of the evaluation of an elementary school at Badme town. There are, in addition, a few items dating from 1991 and 1994. § 5.94

  13. These references represent the bulk of the items adduced by Ethiopia in support of its claim to have exercised administrative authority west of the Eritrean claim line. The Commission does not find in them evidence of administration of the area sufficiently clear in location, substantial in scope or extensive in time to displace the title of Eritrea that had crystallized as of 1935. § 5.95
As can be seen above the ruling was as clear as it could be. However, the TPLF Regime which had unilaterally produced a Regional Map of Tigray that incorporated, in violation of International law, chunks of sovereign Eritrean territories in 1997 doesn't want to hear what the Commission had said in a clear language. The Regime also thought by playing deaf it could bring about change to the Decision. It didn’t happen and that is why it keeps on barking.

Status of Badme Spelled Out: Strike # 5

Finally here is the spelling of the April 13 Decision as it is found in the EEBC's Observations of March 21, 2003:

The Commission observes that its finding that the boundary under the 1902 Treaty had by 1935 crystallized along the line of the traditional signature means that the burden rested upon Ethiopia to substantiate any claimed departure from that line on the basis of conduct that would serve to show that Badme village (which lies close to the line) was subject to Ethiopian control. ... Maps submitted by Ethiopia were inconsistent as to the location of Badme village. Overall, the evidence was nothing like what might have been expected had Ethiopia’s presence there in the period before the case been as significant as Ethiopia now alleges. ... The references to Ethiopian governmental control of Badme and its environs were insufficient to persuade the Commission that an Ethiopian presence west of the line from Points 6 to 9 would support a departure from the line that had crystallized by 1935. § 17

This conclusion followed from the inadequacy of Ethiopia’s evidence. Since Badme village (as opposed to some other parts of the Badme region) lay on what was found to be the Eritrean side of the treaty line, there was no need for the Commission to consider any evidence of Eritrean governmental presence there, although Eritrea did in fact submit such evidence. Moreover, even some maps submitted by Ethiopia not only showed the distinctive straight line between the Setit and Mareb Rivers, but also marked Badme village as being on the Eritrean side of that line.§ 18

In summary the Commission has spoken clearly from day one, i.e., April 13, 2002, and now it has also written it in large print that Badme is a sovereign Eritrean territory and that the Decision is final and binding. The Minority Government in Ethiopia should stop its "yes" and "but" deceptions. It should also cease from telling more lies, like what Seyoum, the Tigrean Foreign Minister, tried to do a week ago at his press conference. Lord knows the Ethiopian public deserves better than what it is getting from these dishonest rulers. The Commission, according to the Algiers Agreement has said, time and again (1+3+1=5 times to be exact), that re-argument or re-opening of the Decision is not possible. It had also said that “final” is “final” and “binding” is “binding.” It is time that Meles and his clique tell their public "the whole truth, nothing but the truth". They need also to admit they don't have any chance of changing the Decision and their only option is implementing it promptly and without conditions. That is the only way to realize peace and move forward for the good of the people of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the region in general. It has been five strikes and thus the game is over.

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