Two Misconceptions about Demarcation
Abraham Haile
March 15, 2003

Ethiopia’s recent statements – that it will withdraw its acceptance of the April 13 Decision unless there are “adjustments” so that it is guaranteed Badme – have confused the general public, which had assumed that the Decision was supposed to be “final and binding.” Especially considering that Ethiopia endorsed the April 13 Decision on the ground that it had been given everything it asked for, people don’t understand how Ethiopia can now be withdrawing its acceptance. There are two fundamental misconceptions at stake, both fostered by Ethiopia’s propaganda over the last eleven months.

The first misconception is that the legal authority of the Decision depends somehow on Ethiopia having “accepted” it. There is no legal requirement that Ethiopia approve of the Decision when it is announced, any more than there is a legal requirement that Eritrea approve of it. The two States had already committed themselves, in the Algiers Agreements, to respect the conclusions reached by the Boundary Commission whether they liked them or not. Ethiopia was not given a veto power and legally it is wholly irrelevant whether Ethiopia endorses the Boundary Commission’s conclusions.

The second misconception is that it was somehow unclear, under the April 13 Decision, which side had been awarded Badme. Ethiopia is now acting as though the question is still indeterminate, as though the result cannot be certain until the last boundary pillar is in the ground. In demanding that the Boundary Commission now award Badme to Ethiopia, Ethiopia acts as though the Boundary Commission has the flexibility to do so. To the contrary, as it has said on numerous occasions since the Decision was announced, the Boundary Commission has no power to vary the April 13 line. The line announced on April 13 is truly “final and binding.”

Moreover, there was never any doubt that the April 13 Decision awarded Badme town to Eritrea. The Decision itself mentioned Badme only once, when it rejected Ethiopia’s claims to have historically administered the town. But the Decision explicitly stated what the coordinates would be for the two endpoints of the Mereb Setit portion of the boundary, with allowances to be made only for variations of a few meters one way or the other to correct for imprecision in the satellite maps that the Commission was then using. Any schoolchild knows that two points uniquely determine a straight line; Badme is either to the east of this line, or to the west. The coordinates for Badme town are well known – the southeast corner of the town is at 37 degrees, 48 minutes, 16 seconds East and 14 degrees, 43 minutes, 26 seconds North -- and simple arithmetic confirms that Badme is Eritrean. Ethiopia knows this as well as Eritrea does.

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