Updates

Commentary: Securing the Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia

16 Apr 2018

 

 

 

 

Commentary: Securing the Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia

Part 1. General Introduction, released 10.04.2018 (PDF version available)

 

Part 2. The Delimitation of the Boundary, released 16.04.2018 (PDF version available)

 

Part 3. Virtual Demarcation of the Boundary, (coming soon)

 

Part 4. Imperative of Durable Peace (coming soon)

 

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Part 1: Published 10 April 2018 

(Part 1: PDF version)

 

The recent assertion of the new prime minister of Ethiopia, Dr. Abiy Ahmed, of his readiness to engage in peace talks to resolve the “no peace, no war” situation and normalise bilateral relations with Eritrea has drawn renewed international attention on the frozen conflict and spurred a flurry of discussions in the social media. Furthermore, it has rekindled fresh diplomatic initiatives to explore and widen a possible window of opportunity, encourage the parties to reengage, and facilitate a resolution of the Ethio-Eritrean conflict. This commentary, essentially a reproduction of Chapter 17: Securing the Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia of Ambassador Andebrhan Welde Giorgis’ book, Eritrea at a Crossroads: A Narrative of Triumph, Betrayal and Hope (link), seeks to enrich the ongoing discussion, shed light on the underlying cause of the war and the stalled peace process, and contribute to a durable resolution of the unfinished boundary conflict as a crucial step towards the normalisation of bilateral relations.

 

Eri-Platform serialises the book’s Chapter 17 in four successive weekly parts: 1. General Introduction; 2. The Delimitation of the Boundary; 3. Virtual Demarcation of the Boundary; and 4. Imperative of Durable Peace. In order to put the still pending boundary conflict in context, the expanded General Introduction presents a brief overview of the boundary issue in Africa; a general background of the Ethio-Eritrean boundary dispute; and includes the Chapter’s original Introductory Remarks on the two peace agreements that brought the war to an end but have, to date, failed to secure the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia.

 

  1. General Introduction

 

The state system and the associated notion of a delimited, stable and internationally recognised boundary in contemporary Africa are essentially a product of the European partition, conquest and colonisation of the continent. So are Eritrea and Ethiopia in their modern geopolitical formations and the international boundary separating them. The colonial system carved up new territorial entities that shaped the present political configuration of Africa.

 

The Organisation of African Unity (OAU) Charter (1963) adopted, the First OAU Summit of Heads of State and Government (1964) resolved, and the African Union (AU) Constitutive Act (2002) upheld, the principle of uti possidetis juris, the sanctity of colonial borders inherited at the attainment of independence among the independent states of Africa. In deciding to maintain the colonial borders, the Charter, the Summit and the Constitutive Act enshrined territorial integrity within the colonial border as a cardinal principle of the organised community of African states. The three landmarks of the premier pan-African organisation underlie the basic consideration that “border problems constitute a grave and permanent factor of dissention”, that “the borders of African States, on the day of their independence, constitute a tangible reality”, and that Member States “respect the borders existing on their achievement of national independence” (Resolution AHG/Res. 16(1) on Border Dispute among African States, Cairo, July 1964).

 

Eritrea and Ethiopia, like most contemporary states in Africa, owe their constructions, present geopolitical formations and respective international boundaries to imperial division, conquest and partition of territory in Africa. The international boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia was delineated by three treaties signed between Italy and Ethiopia in 1900, between Italy, Ethiopia and Great Britain in 1902 and between Italy, Ethiopia and France in 1908. The three colonial treaties define the entire 1,000 Km-long Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary making use of explicit natural and geometric limitations, marking it as one of the most clearly defined boundaries anywhere in Africa. Delimited by these colonial treaties, Eritrea became, respectively, an Italian colony (1890-1941), an occupied enemy territory under British military administration (1941-52), federated with Ethiopia (1952-1962), and annexed by Ethiopia (1962-1991).

 

Eritrea retained the structure of its territory and the configuration of its boundary as defined by the three colonial treaties. The boundary retained formal international status during the periods of Italian colonial rule, British military occupation and federation with Ethiopia while it became a stable internal border during the period of Ethiopian annexation in 1962 and Eritrea’s liberation in 1991. Eritrea gained de facto independence in 1991 and de jure independence in 1993. The colonially delimited boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia remained fixed, stable and locally as well as internationally recognised until four more years after the formal independence of Eritrea in 1993. It had remained remarkably stable in all three treaty sectors of the common border from the signing of the colonial treaties until Ethiopia’s issuance of a new map in 1997 unilaterally redrawing the common international border.  

 

The 1900 treaty delimits the central sector of the boundary by tracing it along the Mereb, Belesa, and Muna rivers, continues beyond the junction of the Muna and Endeli rivers at Massolae onwards to Rendacoma, veering slightly southeast to the Salt Lake. The 1902 treaty delimits the western sector of the boundary by tracing it from the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers along a south-westerly line to the junction between the Setit and Mai Tenné rivers (the point where the borders of Eritrea and the former Ethiopian provinces of Tigray and Begemdir meet), leaving Mount Ala Takura and all the Kunama lands within Eritrea; from there, the boundary continues along the Setit River to its confluence with the Khor Om Hajer at the point where the borders of Eritrea, Ethiopia and the Sudan meet. The 1908 treaty delimits the eastern sector of the boundary by tracing it from Rendacoma at a distance of 60 Km parallel to the Red Sea coast in a south-easterly direction all the way to Mount Mussa Ali at the point where the borders of Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti meet (Welde Giorgis, 2014, 570-582).

 

Thus delimited, the international frontier separating Eritrea and Ethiopia held unchanged for nearly an entire century. Indeed, the historical colonial treaty border between the two countries had remained remarkably stable until Ethiopia’s unilateral redrawing of the boundary in 1997, whence it became a subject of precipitous interstate dispute. Otherwise, Eritrea had retained the integral structure of its territory and the configuration of its boundary as defined by the colonial treaties. This boundary enjoyed formal international status, both de jure and de facto, during the periods of Eritrea’s Italian colonial rule, British military occupation, and federation with Ethiopia. Even when it became de facto an internal border during the period between Ethiopian annexation in 1962 and Eritrean liberation in 1991, it retained its de jure international status.  

 

The stable international status of the border, as established by the three colonial treaties during the European scramble for Africa, was sanctioned by the UN Federal Resolution 390 (1950) and Eritrea’s declaration of sovereign independence (1993). Formal Ethiopian contestation of the boundary happened only after the independence of Eritrea (Welde Giorgis, 2014, 510-512). Hence, the boundary conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, apart from that of South Sudan and Sudan, is quite unique of its kind in Africa in that it arises from state succession. The de facto dissolution of the Ethiopian Empire State in 1991 resulted in the separation of Eritrea and Ethiopia and Eritrea’s subsequent formal accession to de jure independence in 1993.

 

The genesis of the boundary conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia lies in the Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) Manifesto 1976 whose declared final objective is secession from Ethiopia and the establishment of an independent Republic of Tigray that incorporates large swathes of territory from adjacent regions of Ethiopia and Eritrea. Accordingly, the administrative reorganisation of Ethiopia into a Federal Democratic Republic of regional states based on ethnic and/or linguistic factors in 1995 resulted in a significant enlargement of Tigray. Furthermore, Ethiopia issued an official map of Tigray Regional State in 1997, subsequently embossed in its new currency notes, incorporating large chunks of Eritrean territory in all three treaty sectors. The unilateral redrawing of the common border constituted a clear transgression of the colonial treaty boundary and a flagrant violation of Eritrea’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.

 

In July and August 1997, Ethiopia went beyond laying claims on paper to forcible occupation of hitherto uncontested Eritrean territories in the Bada and Badme areas, dismantling local Eritrean administration, and dispossessing and evicting Eritreans from the newly occupied localities. All this, in effect, constituted a declaration of war. Yet, the Government of Eritrea failed not only to defend the integrity of the national territory and protect the people but also to lodge either a formal protest or a diplomatic demarche, thereby missing opportunities to peacefully resolve the new contestation and avoid an unnecessary war (see Chapter 15: An Avoidable War in ‘Eritrea at a Crossroads’). Furthermore, the government turned a deaf ear to the pleas and petitions for protection of the evicted populations and kept the Eritrean people at large, the Central Council of the ruling People’s Front for Democracy and Justice (PFDJ), the cabinet of ministers, the ambassadors, and the Eritrean National Assembly in the dark concerning the trouble brewing in the borderlands.

 

Map 1: Tigray region before expansion.

 

Map 2: Tigray region after expansion.

 

Map 3: Tigray expansion into Eritrea

 

Meanwhile, Ethiopia continued to move deeper into Eritrean territory, bringing under occupation the territories incorporated into its 1997 map and demanding that Eritreans living in these areas acquire Ethiopian nationality or leave. Then a fateful incident happened in the Badme area on 6 May 1998: Ethiopian forces attacked an Eritrean platoon on patrol, killing five officers of the Eritrean Defence Forces (EDF). This incident, which could and should have been easily contained through statesmanship, was blown out of proportion through brinkmanship. Eritrea retaliated in force and Ethiopia declared war feigning aggression. Once joined, an unnecessary, bloody and destructive war was fought for two years (May 1998-June 2000) to mutual exhaustion of the two erstwhile allied armies. 

 

Eighteen years after the formal end of hostilities, sixteen years after the arbitral delimitation of the boundary, and twelve years after the virtual demarcation of the boundary, there appear to be two ways forward. The first would be a return to the status quo ante of 1993, the time of Eritrea’s achievement of national independence, in line with the principle of uti possidetis juris enshrined in the Charter of the OAU, the resolution of the First OAU Summit, and the Constitutive Act of the AU. This way forward would respect the historical colonial treaty border in adherence to the treaties and in consultation with the local population in the borderlands regarding the actual location of the boundary and restore the fraternal relations across a soft border. The second path forward would be to implement the Algiers Agreements between Eritrea and Ethiopia without further delay.

 

The following section is the Introductory Remarks reproduced from Chapter 17 which recounts the attempt to implement the Algiers Agreements.

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Chapter 17: Securing the Peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia

 

War is the decision to go for victory [rather] than resolution. Peacemaking is an attempt to resolve the sources of the conflict and restore a situation of balance, thereby eliminating the need for victory and defeat. – Jim Wallis

 

The Peace Agreement of 12 December 2000 was the continuation of the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities of 18 June 2000. This chapter notes the key provisions of the Algiers Agreements, summarises the final damage awards by the Claims Commission, and illustrates the territorial significance of the delimitation decision of the Boundary Commission. It highlights the efforts of the Boundary Commission to demarcate the boundary on the basis of the delimitation decision, appraises the respect or defiance of the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments of their obligations under the peace treaty, and describes the virtual demarcation of the boundary. It also assesses the role of the guarantors and witnesses of the Algiers accords in fulfilling or failing to meet their commitments under the agreements.

 

The objective here is not to put blame or to heap praise on any party. Rather, it is to portray the salient events as they happened and consider concrete positions as they unfolded in terms of the actions, or failures to act, of the concerned parties with a view to pointing the way forward to the resolution of this seemingly intractable problem.       

 

The comprehensive peace accord reinforced the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities and laid a framework for a lasting solution to the boundary issue and the restoration of durable peace and normal relations between Ethiopia and Eritrea. It provided for the permanent termination of hostilities between the two countries and the renunciation of the threat or use of force against each other. It stipulated the immediate release and repatriation of all prisoners of war (POWs) and other persons detained because of the war as well as the humane treatment of each other’s nationals and persons of each other’s national origin within their respective territories. In addition, the accord committed the two states to the peaceful settlement of disputes and respect for each other’s sovereignty and territorial integrity. Further, it provided for the establishment of three impartial and independent commissions, namely, an enquiry commission, a boundary commission and a claims commission.

 

Article 3 of the Agreement mandated the Enquiry Commission to conduct an investigation on the incidents of 6 May 1998 and the incidents of July and August 1997 in order to determine the origins of the conflict. It provided for the appointment of the Commission by the Secretary General of the OAU, in consultation with the Secretary General of the UN and the two parties. The Commission was required to “submit its report to the Secretary General of the OAU in a timely fashion”. However, no Enquiry Commission was established, no attempt made to conduct an investigation on the incidents of July and August 1997 and May 1998 and, therefore, no determination rendered of the origins of the conflict. The omission represented the first violation of the comprehensive peace agreement prejudicial to Eritrea’s case.

 

Article 4 of the Agreement mandated the Boundary Commission to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border based on the colonial treaties of 1900, 1902, and 1908 and applicable international law. It expressly denied the Commission the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono. It provided for the establishment of the Boundary Commission by the parties, seated in The Hague under the auspices of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) and the UN Cartographer to serve as the Secretary of the Commission. In addition, it stipulated that the Commission start work within fifteen days after its constitution and decide the delimitation of the border within six months of its first meeting.

 

Further, the agreement committed the two governments to respect the inviolability of the colonial borders inherited at independence, as sanctioned by the OAU resolution adopted in the 1964 Cairo Summit. Most crucially, the parties agreed the decision of the Boundary Commission to be final and binding, to accept the border so determined, and to respect each other’s territorial integrity and sovereignty. They also agreed to fully cooperate with the Commission and facilitate its work during the process of delimitation and demarcation. On their part, the UN and the OAU pledged, as per the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities, to guarantee the respect of the parties to their commitments under the agreement. In addition, the agreement provided for the UN to facilitate, upon request by the parties, resolution of issues that may arise due to the transfer of territorial control because of the delimitation and demarcation process.

 

Article 5 of the Agreement mandated the Claims Commission to decide, through binding arbitration, all reciprocal claims for loss, damage or injury by the two governments and their nationals, whether natural or juridical persons, against the other resulting from violations of international humanitarian law in connection with the border conflict. The mandate excluded consideration of claims arising from actual military operations or use of force. Like the decision of the Boundary Commission, the decisions and awards of the Claims Commission would be final and binding (as res judicata). Again, like the Boundary Commission, the Claims Commission lacked the power to make decisions ex aequo et bono. Fulfilment of the decisions and awards of the Commission aimed to help Eritrea and Ethiopia address the negative socioeconomic effects of the conflict on the civilian population, including deportees.

 

Unlike the Enquiry Commission, which never saw the light of day, the Boundary Commission and the Claims Commission were, duly established under the auspices of the Permanent Court of Arbitration (PCJ) seated in The Hague. The PCJ served as a base and as a registry for the two commissions.[1] Both commissions fulfilled their mandate and disbanded.

 

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission (EECC) conducted extensive briefings and hearings, examined the claims of each party against the other, and ruled on the merits of the rival claims. Eritrea and Ethiopia filed an enormous variety of claims for compensation in damages related to the war. In addressing these claims, the Eritrea- Ethiopia Claims Commission considered several categories of issues. Such issues included the lawfulness of the initial resort to force, the treatment of prisoners of war and civilian internees, the legality of means and methods of warfare used in various localities, the treatment of diplomatic premises and personnel, the seizure and destruction of private property, and the treatment by each side of the nationals of the other.

 

The Claims Commission rendered its decision on fifteen partial and final awards on liability between 1 July 2003 and 19 December 2005 and its decision on the final damage awards for the global losses suffered in the war on 17 August 2009. While Eritrea and Ethiopia filed claims for about US$6 billion and US$14.3 billion, respectively, the EECC awarded Ethiopia a total of US$174,036,520 and Eritrea a total of US$163,520,865, including $2,065,865 to individual Eritreans.[2] Although awarded US$10,515,655 more than Eritrea, Ethiopia expressed dismay at the amount of its assessed compensation in light of the Commission’s earlier rulings on relative liability while Eritrea accepted the decision without complaint. In concluding its decision on the two Final Awards, the Claims Commission expressed confidence that Eritrea and Ethiopia “will ensure that the compensation awarded will be paid promptly, and that funds received in respect of their claims will be used to provide relief to their civilian populations injured in the war”.[3]  

 

Part 2 will deal with the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s Delimitation Decision

Endnotes for Part 1:

[1] The Boundary Commission consisted of Bola Ajibola, Elihu Lauterpacht (the President), Michael Reisman, Stephen Schwebel and Arthur Watts; the Claims Commission consisted of George Aldrich, John Crook, Hans van Houette (the President), James Paul and Lucy Reed.

[2] Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission Final Award: Eritrea’s Damages Claims and Ethiopia’s Damages Claims between The Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and The State of Eritrea, The Hague, 17 August 2009.

[3] Final Award: Eritrea’s Damages Claims, (Erit.-Eth.), at § IX (Aug. 17, 2009); Final Award: Ethiopia’s Damages Claims, (Erit.-Eth.), at § XII (Aug. 17, 2009).

 

 

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Part 2: Published 16 April 2018

(Part 2: PDF version )

 

Eri-Platform serialises the book’s Chapter 17 in four successive weekly parts: 1. General Introduction (released 10.04.2018); 2. The Delimitation of the Boundary (released 16.04.2018); 3. Virtual Demarcation of the Boundary; and 4. Imperative of Durable Peace.

 

Part 1 General Introduction presented a brief overview of the boundary issue in Africa and the boundary conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia and introduced the Algiers Treaty comprising the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities (18 June 2000) and the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (12 December 2000) whose expeditious implementation aimed to secure the peace between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Part 2 The Delimitation of the Boundary follows.

 

The following section is the second serialisation of Chapter 17 which recounts the attempt to implement the Algiers Agreements.

________________________

 [continued…]

17.1 The Delimitation of the Boundary

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), fully constituted on 20 February 2001, immediately set out to “delimit and demarcate” the Ethiopia-Eritrea border. It approached the delimitation of the boundary in the Western, Central, and Eastern sectors corresponding to three colonial treaties. It received and studied written submissions and oral arguments of treaty border claims by Eritrea and Ethiopia. After examining the merits of the territorial claims of each Party based on the colonial treaties of 1900, 1902, and 1908 and applicable international law, the EEBC delivered its Delimitation Decision on 13 April 2002. The Decision defined the salient features of the boundary line and identified the key coordinates connecting it.

 

Map 3 shows the 1902 Treaty Claim Lines of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Mereb-Setit section of the Western Sector of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary. The Ethiopian claim line stretched from the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers (Point 9) in the northeast to the confluence of the Setit and Maiteb rivers (Point 3) in the southwest. Eritrea initially argued that a straight line connecting the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers (Point 9) in the northeast to the confluence of the Setit and Maiten (Mai Tenné) rivers (Point 8) in the southwest delineated the colonial treaty border. Later, it submitted that the established boundary line ran from the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers (Point 9) to the confluence of the Setit and Tomsa rivers (Point 6). Moreover, in its final submissions, Eritrea gave two different locations (7A and 7B) as the southern terminus of the straight line connecting to the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers (Point 9). It also suggested that the original Treaty reference was actually to the confluence of the Setit and Sittona rivers (Point 4) linking to Point 9.[1]

 

Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission EEBC Map

Map 3: The Ethiopian and Eritrean Claim Lines in the Western Sector (EEBC Map 2)

 

The Boundary Commission examined the Ethiopian and Eritrean Claim Lines against the evidence. Its interpretation of the 1902 Treaty between Britain, Ethiopia and Italy established the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary in the Mereb-Setit section of the Western Sector as a straight line connecting the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers in the northeast (Point 9) with the confluence of the Setit and Maiten (Mai Tenné) rivers in the southwest (Point 8).[2] This straight line leaves Mount Tacura and the Cunama [Kunama] lands within Eritrea in accordance with the “Terms of the Treaty” as well as “The object and purpose of the Treaty”.[3] 

 

Further, the Boundary Commission examined the rival claim lines in terms of applicable international law, considered in the context of “developments subsequent to the Treaty”.[4] It found that Ethiopia’s “claim to have exercised administrative authority west of the Eritrean claim line” lacked “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]

 

The Boundary Commission’s interpretation of the 1902 trilateral treaty and consideration of applicable international law upheld the historical colonial treaty border in the Western Sector. Eritrea had however, submitted variable Treaty Claim Lines corresponding to different locations of the southwestern terminus at the junction of several rivers with the Setit River. The EEBC used Eritrea’s inconsistency as a pretext to decide the straight line connecting the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers (Point 9) with the confluence of the Setit and Tomsa Rivers (Point 6) as the international boundary in the Mereb-Setit section of the Western Sector. The submission of variable Treaty Claim Lines cost Eritrea the sliver of territory represented by the 9-6-8 triangle in Map 3, or the heavily shaded area in the Western Sector in Map 6.[6]

 

Map 4 shows the 1900 Treaty Claim Lines of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Central Sector of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary. This sector extends from the confluence of the Mereb and Mai Ambessa rivers in the west along the Mereb-Belesa-Muna line, continues beyond the junction of the Muna and Endeli rivers at Massolae (Point 27) to Rendacoma (Point 28), and veers slightly southeast to the Salt Lake (Point 31) in the east.

 

Both Ethiopia and Eritrea agreed on the description of the boundary line in the 1900 Treaty as the “Mereb-Belesa- Muna” line, also depicted in a map annexed to the Treaty. They also agreed on the Treaty description of the Belesa River stretch but disputed the treaty location of its course. The task of the Commission in the Central Sector was thus, reduced to identifying the courses of the Mereb, Belesa, and Muna rivers as the delimitation line under the Treaty. Eritrea’s claim line corresponded with the courses of the rivers as represented “on the 1894 map that formed the basis of the Treaty map”[7] and subsequent maps of the historical colonial treaty border between the two countries.

Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission EEBC Map

Map 4: The Ethiopian and Eritrean Claim Lines in the Central Sector (EEBC Map 3)

 

As a bargaining chip, Ethiopia claimed title to large swathes of territory north of the 1900 Treaty border. It contended that the Commission’s task was not so much to interpret and apply the de jure geography of the Treaty’s Mereb-Belesa-Muna line as it was to determine the de facto administrative division between the Italian controlled Akele Guzai (Eritrea) and the Abyssinian controlled Agame (Tigray) districts at the time. It challenged the geographic accuracy of the depiction of the Belesa and Muna rivers on the 1900 Treaty map. Further, Ethiopia contested that, given variations in the local nomenclature for the rivers and their main branches, the Belesa and, in particular, the Muna describe relevant rivers in the region identifiable in 1900 as located on the 1900 Treaty map.[8]

 

The Commission reviewed the rival claims over the identity of the Belesa and Muna rivers in the framework of what it labelled as the Belesa Projection and the Endeli Projection. In dealing with the Eritrean and Ethiopian contention regarding the identity of the course of the Belesa River in the Belesa Projection, the Commission ignored the substance of the treaty and the evidence of the map accompanying it. Instead, it resorted to an interpretation of the original intention of the parties to the 1900 Treaty, namely, Italy and Ethiopia, and the significance of the omission of the names of certain tributaries of the Belesa in the Treaty’s text in order to identify the “intended” Treaty course of the Belesa River.[9]

 

The subsequent interpretation of original “intent” led the Commission to conclude that the parties “intended” the Tserona River, a tributary of the Belesa River flowing from the northeast, as the Treaty location of the Belesa River and that the omission of the tributary’s name in the Treaty’s text was deliberate rather than an oversight or a mistake. Such a speculative conclusion left “Fort Cadorna, Monoxeito, Guna Guna, and Tserona”, localities that Ethiopia’s written submission described as “undisputed Eritrean places”,[10] on the Ethiopian side of the Treaty line.

 

Ethiopia’s claim of the Belesa Projection conflicted with its official admission that several localities within that area indisputably belong to Eritrea. This conflict calls into serious question the validity of the Commission’s interpretation that the course of the Tserona River was the intended Treaty location of the Belesa section of the Mereb-Belesa-Muna line. It is very difficult to imagine that grasp of such an anomalous speculation escaped the learned, intelligent, and honourable commissioners of the EEBC.

 

Having so determined the identity of the Belesa River, the Commission proceeded to delineate the overland link between the headwaters of the Belesa (Point 19) and Muna (Point 20) rivers as the Treaty line. In addressing the Ethio-Eritrean contention with respect to the identity of the Muna River, the Commission established the Muna/Berbero Gado-Endeli-Ragali course as the Treaty line in the Endeli Projection (Irob). Cumulatively, therefore, the Boundary Commission’s interpretation of the 1900 Treaty Line established the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary in the Central Sector as the Mereb-Belesa (-Tserona)-Muna/Berbero Gado-Endeli-Ragali line continuing to its terminus at the Salt Lake in accordance with “The object and purpose of the Treaty”.[11]

 

In terms of applicable international law, considered in the context of “subsequent conduct”, the Commission addressed the claims of the Parties in relation to the exercise of sovereign authority in, the diplomatic record or official exchanges on, and maps of the Belesa Projection, the Endeli Projection, and the Bada region and made two qualifications:

 

1. It modified its contentious interpretation of the ‘intended’ Treaty line concerning the Belesa Projection to place the bulk of the eastern part of the Belesa Projection and the town of Tserona, the Akhran region, and Fort Cadorna in the western part of the Belesa Projection in Eritrean territory. It further modified the Treaty line in the eastern part of the Belesa Projection to place the town of Zalambesa in Ethiopian territory.

 

2. It revised the Muna/Berbero Gado section of the Treaty line to place the southerly and easterly parts of the Endeli Projection in Ethiopian territory.

 

Finally, the Commission maintained the Endeli-Ragali section of the Mereb-Belesa (-Tserona)-Muna/Berbero Gado-Endeli-Ragali line continuing to its terminus at the Salt Lake as the Treaty line, leaving Bada in Ethiopian territory.[12]

 

Map 6 shows the territorial consequence of the Boundary Commission’s modification of the 1900 Treaty line in the Central Sector for Eritrea and Ethiopia. The heavily shaded patches of territory in the western part of the Belesa Projection, around Zalambesa, in the eastern and southern parts of the Indeli Projection (Irob) and the Bada region, signify areas awarded to Ethiopia by the decision of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission.

 

Map 5 shows the 1908 Treaty Claim Lines of Ethiopia and Eritrea in the Eastern Sector of the Eritrea-Ethiopia boundary. The dispute in this Sector centred mainly on the Bada area, Bure, and three technical issues. First, locating the starting point at the most westerly end; second, deciding the proper way of drawing the Treaty line running parallel to the coast at a distance of sixty kilometres inland; and third, determining the eastern terminus of the boundary or the trilateral junction of the border between Eritrea, Ethiopia and Djibouti.

Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission EEBC Map

Map 5: Ethiopian and Eritrean Claim Lines in the Eastern Sector (EEBC Map 4)

 

In establishing the eastern terminus of the Central Sector at Point 31 at the northern edge of the Salt Lake, rather than at Rendacoma (point 28), the Commission had already decided the western terminus of the Eastern Sector. The Commission first resolved the method of drawing the inland line running parallel to the coast and determined the location of the eastern terminus atop Mount Mussa Ali. It then essentially confirmed the Treaty line with the proviso that it passes at a point, lying equidistant between the Eritrean and Ethiopian checkpoints, at Bure (Point 40) to the border with Djibouti (Point 41), as shown in Map 5.[13]

Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission EEBC Map

Map 6: New International Boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia (the EEBC’s Map 13; shades inserted by the author)

 

The Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC) delivered its decision on the delimitation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia on 13 April 2002.[14] Eritrea’s claim line generally corresponded with the historical colonial treaty border. On the other hand, Ethiopia’s claim line incorporated extensive tracts of territory on the Eritrean side of that border: the ‘Yirga Triangle’ in the Mereb-Setit section of the Western Sector, the ‘Belesa Projection’ and the ‘Endeli Projection’ in the Mereb-Belesa-Muna line in the Central Sector, and the Bada and Bure areas in the Eastern Sector. Clearly, Ethiopia claimed large areas that did not belong to it as a bargaining chip and ended up gaining about half of its claims at Eritrea’s expense.

 

Map 6 shows the new international boundary between the State of Eritrea and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, with the heavily shaded areas indicating the territorial effect of the delimitation decision of the Boundary Commission on the historical colonial treaty border. The decision of the Boundary Commission effectively modified the historical colonial treaty border between the two states in favour of Ethiopia. The map depicts that the delimitation decision of the Boundary Commission, as an arbitral determination of the boundary, essentially ceded to Ethiopia the red-shaded strips of land in the Western, Central, and Eastern sectors that the colonial treaties of 1900, 1902, and 1908 had placed in Eritrean territory.

 

Predictably, there was a marked contrast in the immediate public reaction of the two states to the eagerly awaited announcement of the Boundary Commission’s Delimitation Decision on 13 April 2002. In a swift response, the Ethiopian government declared victory and the state media in Addis Ababa exuded a celebratory mood. The Eritrean government issued no official statement on that notable day; the state media merely broke the news and, in a display of uncertainty as to the territorial significance of the ruling, the country’s television station kept on flashing the new delimitation line in the different sectors of the border without comment.

 

At the time, I was in Madrid, Spain, representing Eritrea at the Second World Assembly on Ageing. The event coincided with the beginning of my second tour of duty as ambassador to the EU and several EU Member States, including Spain. From my hotel room in Madrid, I called the Eritrean delegation that attended the Boundary Commission’s announcement ceremony in The Hague and asked for details of the Delimitation Decision. I also called the President’s Office in Asmera to get a feel of the official mood and find out what was happening and learned that the government was taking time to study the meaning of the Decision.

 

Impatient with the lack of a clear explanation, I requested Foreign Minister Ali Said Abdella, at the head the Eritrean delegation in The Hague, to send me a copy of the substantive decision. Ali faxed me the Dispositif (Chapter VIII) of the Decision and we discussed, over the phone, its attendant territorial implications for Eritrea vis-à-vis the historical colonial treaty border. We agreed on the obvious need to inform forthwith the Eritrean people at home and abroad, made the more anxious by an Eritrean silence in the face of an Ethiopian declaration of victory.

 

In a statement issued in the name of the council of ministers,[15] Ethiopia declared that the EEBC’s decision has restored all ‘forcibly seized Ethiopian territories’ in the three Treaty sectors to Ethiopia. It reiterated its respect for the Boundary Commission for performing its task with fidelity and a high sense of responsibility, and affirmed its acceptance of the ‘just and legitimate’ Decision and readiness to implement it in accordance with the Algiers Agreement. Further, it expressed its desire for the expeditious physical demarcation of the boundary, strongly urging Eritrea to honour its obligation to cooperate with the effort to demarcate the border.

 

Upon studying the EEBC Decision, Eritrea stated its acceptance and declared victory, despite the obvious loss of territory. Nevertheless, the unequivocal initial acceptance of the Delimitation Decision by both Parties augured well for the expeditious demarcation of the border on the ground and the successful completion of the peace process. The following section highlights the EEBC’s work to demarcate the boundary.

 

Part 3 will deal with the Virtual Demarcation of the Boundary

 

Endnotes for Part 2:

[1] Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, Decision, 13 April 2002, p. 60.

[2] Given the nominal role of the foreign minister, Eritrea’s chief counsel dealt with the president, directly or via Yemane Gebremeskel (Charlie) and Yemane Gebreab (Monkey). There was no involvement of available national expertise in preparing the case. Eritrea’s later submission of a correct treaty-line map prepared by the Commission for Coordination with UNMEE in collaboration with the competent government agencies came too late to undo, in the eyes of the Boundary Commission, the damage done by its previous incorrect submissions.

[3] Ibid., p. 61-69.

[4] Ibid., p. 69-84.

[5] Ibid., p. 84.

[6] Map 6 (EEBC 13), reproduced by the author in June 2002 for use in a series of seminars presented to Eritrean communities in the diaspora in Frankfurt on 15 June 2002, Stuttgart on 16 June 2002, Köln on 6 July 2002, Paris on 14 September 2002, Brussels on 21 September 2002, etc. The shaded areas indicate the territorial significance of the delimitation decision of the Boundary Commission and show the new international boundary vis-à-vis the historical colonial treaty border. The shades in red signify Eritrea’s loss, or Ethiopia’s gain, of territory arising from the Boundary Commission’s revision of the historical colonial treaty map of the boundary between the two states.

[7] Ibid., p. 18.

[8] Ibid., p. 19.

[9] Ibid., p. 31-38.

[10] Ibid., p. 50.

[11] Ibid., p. 45-48. For the Commission’s interpretation of the 1900 Treaty Line, see Map 7 on page 47.

[12] Ibid., p. 49-56.

[13] Ibid., p. 101.

[14] Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission, DECISION Regarding Delimitation of the Border between The State of Eritrea and the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, The Hague, 13 April 2002.

[15] ከሚንስትሮች ምክር ቤት የተሰጠ መግለጫ (author’s paraphrasing from the original Amharic), Walta Information Center -Amharic, 13 April 2002. http://www.waltainfo.com/Boundary/Ethio_Eritrea/ Boundary/Amharic.htm

 

—————————End of Part 2—————————

Comments section Policy Guidelines

  1. Dear author,
    Could you provide a link to ” Tigray People’s Liberation Front’s (TPLF) Manifesto 1976″ please. PDF would be good.

    Thanks

  2. Thank you Dr Andebrhan for the detailed and helpful information.
    By now, it should be clear to every Eritrean what the ultimate goal of TPLF is when it comes to the boarder issue. They never had a plan to solve it peacefully and they will not have in the future. We have to be united regardless of our differences and increase our diplomatic efforts in fighting both TPLF and Iseyas. These two viruses are the enemies of our land, and of course of our people.
    Peace to Eritrea.
    Once again, thank you for your educational and timely article.

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