Impotence of the United Nations and Ethiopia’s Impunity

Impotence of the United Nations and Ethiopia’s Impunity

April 13th will mark the 16th anniversary of the Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s (EEBC) final and binding decision on the Eritrea Ethiopia border. There is not much that can be said about the historical decision that has not been said before, but it would not hurt to re-iterate some facts:

1. Ethiopia’s rejection of the EEBC’s ruling and the 16-year long occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories remains an obstacle to peace in the region and prospects for any normalization of relations.

2. By refusing to take any punitive actions, the UN Security Council, long considered to be the vanguard of international peace and security, has emboldened the minority regime in Ethiopia to flout international law and continue to violate the rights of the Eritrean people to live in peace and security within their own internationally recognized borders.

3. It is the responsibility of the UN Security Council to enforce the EEBC’s final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions.

When the Eritrea Ethiopia border conflict of 1998-2000 ended and the Algiers Agreements were finally signed in December 2000, the whole world sighed with relief. It was a bloody war that left thousands dead and injured. The humanitarian disaster created by Ethiopia’s aggressive war of expansion and occupation left vital infrastructures totally destroyed, millions displaced from their homes and villages, over 80,000 Eritreans and Ethiopians of Eritrean descent deported from Ethiopia and their belongings confiscated. So no doubt, it was a welcome event, cheered by millions and said to have the blessings of the international community which helped broker the deal.

In its Presidential Statement, the Security Council said:

“…The Security Council, reiterating its strong support for the Agreement of Cessation of Hostilities signed by the parties in Algiers on 18 June 2000 (S/2000/601), strongly welcomes and supports the subsequent Peace Agreement between the Government of the State of Eritrea and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (S/2000/1183) signed in Algiers on 12 December 2000 (“Algiers Agreemen”). It commends the efforts of the Organization of African Unity, the President of Algeria and his Special Envoy, as well as the United States of America and the European Union for their role in achieving the Algiers Agreement…”

The Algiers Agreements were signed by President Isaias Afwerki for Eritrea and by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi for Ethiopia and witnessed and guaranteed by Secretary General Kofi Annan representing the United Nations, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of the Democratic Republic of Algeria, President Obasanjo of Nigeria, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright representing the United States, Secretary General, Salim Ahmed Salim representing the OAU [now AU], and Senator Renato Serri representing the European Union.

Article 4 of the Algiers Agreements stated the following:

“…The parties agree that a neutral Boundary Commission composed of five members shall be established with a mandate to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law…The Commission shall not have the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono… Upon reaching a final decision regarding delimitation of the borders, the Commission shall transmit its decision to the parties and Secretaries General of the OAU and the United Nations for publication, and the Commission shall arrange for expeditious demarcation….The parties agree that the delimitation and demarcation determinations of the Commission shall be final and binding. Each party shall respect the border so determined, as well as territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party….”

On 13 April 2002 the EEBC, established pursuant to the Algiers Agreements, delivered its final and binding delimitation decision on the Eritrea Ethiopia border issue. On that same day, the UN Security Council in its Press Release said:

“…Members of the Security Council express their satisfaction that a final legal settlement of the border issues between Ethiopia and Eritrea has been completed in accordance with the Comprehensive Peace Agreement signed by the parties in Algiers in December 2000… Members of the Security Council welcome the decision by the Boundary Commission, announced in The Hague on 13 April 2002, which is Final and Binding…”

The African Union (AU), European Union (EU), United Nations (UN), and the United States (US), through their respective Press Statements and Releases officially endorsed and confirmed that the Border Commission’s decision was final and binding, and the UN Security Council adapted and endorsed it as such. In addition to Eritrea and Ethiopia, the witnesses and guarantors were not there just for some photo opportunity-they also had moral and legal responsibilities under the Algiers Agreements.

Eritrea accepted the EEBC ruling and Ethiopia rejected it. For the next five years, Ethiopia presented several gimmicks and ploys to amend, reverse, and revisit the decision that awarded Badme, the casus belli for the border conflict, to Eritrea. Ethiopia repeatedly challenged the EEBC’s ruling and created obstacles to prevent the EEBC from fulfilling its mandate to demarcate the Eritrea Ethiopia border. The UN Security Council (UNSC) adopted over a dozen resolutions calling on Ethiopia to abide by its treaty obligations, but took no punitive actions against the belligerent regime. Suffice it to mention a few of them:

  • In 2004, the UN Security • Council expressed its concern about ‘Ethiopia’s ongoing rejection of significant parts of the Boundary Commission’s decision, and its lack of cooperation with the Boundary Commission’- (Resolution 1560)


  • In 2005, the UNSC • demanded that ‘Ethiopia accept fully and without further delay the final and binding decision of the Eritrea- Ethiopia Boundary Commission and take immediately concrete steps to enable, without preconditions, the Commission to demarcate the border completely and promptly’ (Resolution 1640)


  • In 2007 repeated its call for • Ethiopia to accept ‘fully and without delay the final and binding decision of the Eritrea- Ethiopia Boundary Commission and take immediately concrete steps to enable, without preconditions, the Commission to demarcate the border completely and promptly’ (Resolution 1741)

Etc. etc. •

John Bolton, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations addressed Ethiopia’s non-compliance. Speaking to the Press corps on 14 December 2005, Bolton hit the nail right on the head when he said:

“…One of the reasons we are in this dilemma is that the government of Ethiopia has never complied with its obligations under the 2000 agreement and the 2002 border demarcation… [And also because of] the council’s unwillingness or inability to confront Ethiopia’s three-year-long refusal to adhere to the very agreement it made in 2000. It is an example of what happens when the Security Council is not able to bring an international solution with a U.N. peacekeeping force to a prompt conclusion consistent with the wishes of the parties…”

Bolton understood that it was the responsibility of the UNSC to bring Ethiopia into compliance.

Malcolm N. Shaw, and in his 2007 article, “Title, Control, and Closure? The Experience of the Eritrea- Ethiopia Boundary Commission” said that the composition of the EEBC reflected “considerable judicial, arbitral and scholarly experience. The EEBC consisted of a former President of the International Court of Justice, a former Judge of the International Court, a former ad hoc Judge of the International Court, a former President of the Inter- American Commission on Human Rights and a former Legal Adviser to the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office. The EEBC’s credentials remain impeccable.

Malcolm N. Shaw also wrote about the international community’s responsibility:

“…The close and institutionalized involvement in the settlement of volatile boundary disputes by significant international players, particularly the United Nations… is likely to prove an important precedent. Although to date such involvement in the Eritrea-Ethiopia dispute has demonstrated impotence rather than success, in the longer term that may not necessarily remain so and the resolution of many boundary disputes could be given additional legitimacy and weight by such international underpinning, as well as ensuring a level of resource allocation to enable the boundary delimitation and demarcation processes to be completed and ensured. However, it is important to realize that any such international involvement implies responsibility for implementation…”

The international community, represented by the UN, AU, EU and USA, assumed the responsibility of implementing the EEBC’s decisions. So why are the guarantors shrugging off their responsibilities by leaving the implementation of the EEBC’s final and binding delimitation and demarcation decisions on the “two parties”? The US-led international community and specifically the guarantors and witnesses of the Algiers Agreements could have acted in accordance with Article 14 of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement adapted and endorsed by the United Nations Security Council which clearly tells them what to do when one or both parties refuse to abide by the Agreements signed. It said:

“….the OAU and the UN commit themselves to guarantee the respect for this commitment of the parties. This guarantee shall be comprised of measures to be taken by the international community should one or both parties violate this commitment, including appropriate measures to be taken under Chapter 7 of the Charter of the United Nations by the Security Council…”

The UN Security Council chooses instead, to appease the crying and lying regime in Ethiopia.

After 16 years, this author is reminded of a boisterous Statement released by the Ethiopian Foreign Ministry in 15 October 2003. It said:

“…There is no use for Eritrea to continue wishing that the Security Council would impose sanctions on Ethiopia and waiting for the prospect of drawing vicarious satisfaction from that. That is unlikely to happen. Not because Eritrea is not big enough to have its way, but because the idea is too crazy and too unrealistic…”

Such statements reflect the minority regime’s contempt for international law, but more importantly, it shows the impotence of the UN Security Council-and the regime in Ethiopia banks on it.

Ethiopia is one of the few countries that repeatedly violates UN Security Council resolutions and never suffers any consequence for doing so. Successive Ethiopian regimes have enjoyed diplomatic, political and military shield and support while flouting international law and violating Security Council resolutions …and the peoples of the region have paid dearly for the excesses and belligerence of Ethiopia’s myopic leaders. The double standards employed for the last 16 years has eroded the moral legitimacy of the international system and contributed to Ethiopia’s pernicious behavior.

Why is the UN Security Council refusing to enforce its own resolutions on the Eritrea Ethiopia border issue? Why is the Council allowing Ethiopia to feel that it can violate resolutions with impunity? It is NOT, as has been repeatedly stated by some quarters, up to the “two parties”, to enforce the EEBC’s decision. The Security Council itself – all the 15 – must take responsibility to respond to Ethiopia’s violations of its own resolutions, the EEBC’s decisions, UN Charter and international law. When will the Security Council shoulder its moral and legal obligations and end Ethiopia’s 16-year long occupation and restore Eritrea’s sovereignty and territorial integrity?

Today, in a bid to divert attention away from the domestic chaos, Ethiopia’s leaders want to talk about “Ethiopia-Eritrea relations”. Once again, this author is reminded of the words of the former Ethiopian Foreign Minister Seyoum Mesfin. When the EEBC delivered its final and binding delimitation decision, he said that Eritrea’s “transparency and predictability” in abiding by its treaty obligations would be the basis for any normalization of relations. Well! What is good for the goose is also good for the gander…Any future Eritrea relations with Ethiopia will also depend on the regime in Ethiopia abiding by its treaty obligations in full “transparency and predictability”- Unfortunately, Its history and record is bleak… Don’t hold your breath!