Red shows Ethiopia’s occupation of Eritrean territory – (Image credit: Merhawi)
Border Dispute Between Eritrea and Ethiopia Has Been Resolved Conclusively
The Agreement signed in Algiers in December 2000, by the President of Eritrea and the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, to resolve the border dispute between the two countries is crystal clear. It was meticulously done with no ambiguity or loophole. It was guaranteed by the UN and the OAU/AU and witnessed by the U.S, E.U and Algeria.
As per the Algiers Agreement, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) was established in 2001 with the mandate to make Final and Binding Delimitation and Demarcation Decisions. The Commission was composed of five prominent and highly respected lawyers (two British, two American and one Nigerian).
The Commission fulfilled its mandate by unanimously delivering Final and Binding Delimitation and Demarcation Decisions in 2002 and 2007, respectively.
There is no longer contested or disputed border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. What we have is Ethiopia’s occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories.
The Government of Eritrea has been calling on the Guarantors and Witnesses of the Algiers Agreement to urge the Ethiopian Government to unconditionally withdraw from sovereign Eritrean territories, including the town of Badme.
Final and Binding Delimitation
After thoroughly considering the extensive arguments presented and the evidence submitted by the two Parties, the EEBC awarded its Final and Binding Delimitation Decision on 13 April 2002. The flashpoint of the dispute, Badme, was awarded to Eritrea. Eritrea fully accepted the Decision. The Decision was welcomed by the Guarantors and Witnesses of the Agreement.
Commencement of the Demarcation Process
The physical demarcation of the border, on the basis of the Delimitation Decision, was envisaged to be concluded in November 2003.
In consultation with the Parties, implementation and Demarcation Directives and rules of procedure were issued on 21 March and 22 August 2003 and adopted by the Parties. The Commission’s Field Offices were established in Asmara, Addis Ababa and Adigrat. A Chief Surveyor was appointed by the Commission and had taken his post in Asmara. Surveying staff were recruited to assist the chief Surveyor. Implementation and demarcation activity started in the Eastern Sector in March 2003.
Unfortunately, the Demarcation process was halted because of the obstructions and intransigence of the Ethiopian Government.
Ethiopian Government’s Obstructions of the Demarcation Process
The Ethiopian Government with clear objective of trying to change the Final and Binding Delimitation Decision of the Commission, kept on creating all kinds of excuses and pretexts to obstruct the Demarcation of the border. The actions of the Ethiopian Government were aided and abetted by some western powers, in particular the U.S. Administration.
The EEBC, even though frustrated by the behavior of the Ethiopian Government, deployed every means at its disposal to convince the Government to respect the rule of law and its international obligations.
But Ethiopia insisted on ‘dialogue’ as well as the ‘creation of an alternative mechanism’ and the introduction of ‘third party or a neutral body’ to demarcate the border. The Commission rejected Ethiopia’s requests. The legal view of the EEBC on Ethiopia’s diplomatic games was firm and left no room for ambiguity. The President of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, in a letter (quoted below), dated 27th November 2006, addressed to the then Foreign Minister of Ethiopia, debunked Ethiopia’s blame game and put squarely the responsibility of the problems encountered in the demarcation process on Ethiopia’s intransigence and obstructions.
“You place great emphasis on ‘the need for dialogue and support by neutral bodies to help the two Parties make progress in demarcation and normalization of their relations.’ Of course, ‘the normalization of relations’ is a desirable objective but that is a matter that falls outside the scope of the Commission’s mandate, which is solely to delimit and demarcate the border. The scope for ‘dialogue’ is limited to what is necessary between the Commission and the Parties to further the actual process of demarcation on the ground. There is no room within the framework of the Algiers Agreement for the introduction of ‘neutral bodies’ into the demarcation process.”
“Your letter seeks to blame the Commission for Ethiopia’s failure to meet its obligations under the Algiers Agreement. Such blame is entirely misplaced. The truth of the matter appears to be that Ethiopia is dissatisfied with the substance of the Commission’s Delimitation Decisions and has been seeking, ever since April 2002, to find ways of changing it. This is not an approach which the Commission was empowered to adopt and is not one to which the Commission can lend itself.”
Final and Binding Demarcation
After the Ethiopian Government failed to uphold its commitment under the Algiers Agreement and allow the placement of the pillars and markers on the ground, the EEBC was obliged to resort to another approach to fulfill its mandate of demarcating the border.
The EEBC, stating that “it evidently cannot remain in existence indefinitely,” adopted the internationally accepted and practiced procedure of demarcation by coordinates. Previous instances of demarcation by coordinates referred by the EEBC include the Beagle Channel Case, the Iraq-Kuwait Border Demarcation Commission’s (IKBDC) Decision of 1993, the Argentine-Chile frontier case (1966) and the manner in which the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea deals with the limits of maritime claims by states.
The EEBC, using modern techniques of image processing and terrain modeling in conjunction with the use of high resolution aerial photographs, identified boundary points both grid and geographical coordinates and demarcated the Eritrea-Ethiopia border. The Commission wrote letters to the two Parties and the Secretary General of the UN stating that: “The Commission hereby determines that the boundary will automatically stand as demarcated by the boundary pillars points listed in the Annex hereto and that the mandate of the Commission can then be regarded as fulfilled.”
On 30 November 2007, the EEBC sent to the Parties signed copies of 45 maps on a scale of 1:25,000 containing the demarcation of the boundary by coordinates. A copy was deposited with the United Nations. Another copy for public reference is retained in the Office of the U.N Cartographer.
Ethiopia Must Vacate Eritrean Territories
No matter what one Party to the Algiers Agreement may feel and say, the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia is Delimited and Demarcated in a Final and Binding Manner. What remains is for Ethiopia to immediately and unconditionally withdraw from the Eritrean territories it is occupying illegally.