Global Policy Forum

UN’s Double Standard vis-à-vis Eritrea,


UN's Double Standard May Contribute to Renewed War between Eritrea and Ethiopia

By Yohannes Woldemariam

Sudan Tribune
December 16, 2005

The United Nations has applied a contradictory standard in deciding when and how to use its coercive tools in its peacekeeping mandate in Eritrea and Ethiopia. This double standard makes a diminishing sense and indeed almost a mockery of its intent, turning the UN into little more than "official observers" of a potential holocaust in the making in the Horn of Africa. The UN's latest unwarranted bravado against Eritrea has only turned it into another biased faction fighting for supremacy. Tragically, the UN, the EU and the US have failed to exert effective economic pressures on Ethiopia, for its rejection of the final and binding verdict by the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The European Commission and the member states of the European Union continue to oil the Zenawi war machine by contributing about $490m, and the U.S. provides the regime with a billion dollars of annual aid. A U.S., EU and U.N. willingness to impose effective economic sanctions would have forced the Ethiopian regime to comply; the dollar speaks louder than the gun.

Instead, what have the UN's actions and inactions in the face of Ethiopian intransigence accomplished? It has emboldened the regime to such an extent that it has no fear of any consequences for its defiance of the verdict, and openly makes contempt of the Ethiopian and Eritrean Border Commission's (EEBC) decision. We need to recall that Article 4(15) of the agreement between the two countries provides 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." The distinguished members of the Commission is composed of: Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, CBE QC (President), His Excellency Prince Bola Adesumbo Ajibola (appointed by Ethiopia), Professor W. Michael Reisman (appointed by Eritrea) Judge Stephen M. Schwebel (appointed by Eritrea) and Sir Arthur Watts, KCMG QC (appointed by Ethiopia). Koffi Annan and members of the Security Council gave their blessings and agreed to be witnesses and guarantors. Both Ethiopia and Eritrea were represented by their respective lawyers and the final verdict by the commission was unanimous.

The UN has a long history of a hypocritical approach when it comes to dealing with Eritrea. The UN has written off Eritrea before. About fifty three years ago, it helped Emperor Haile Sellassie to conquer Eritrea and reduce it into a non entity under a pretext of a bogus federation. It took thirty years of a devastating war for Eritrea to achieve its status as a nation state in 1993. There is one rule for Eritrea and another for Ethiopia, when it comes to UN Security Council resolutions. The current U.N. peacekeeping in Eritrea and Ethiopia is making things even worse. The U.N. action and inaction have combined to make it more, rather than less likely that Eritreans and Ethiopians will die from further violence. The UN has failed to use its capacity to exert economic and other pressures very effectively to save lives of Ethiopians and Eritreans.

The UN wants to impose an order based on Ethiopian hegemony and the question of what constitutes peace based on the ICJ verdict is never seriously engaged. The issue of constructing peace is framed by power politics. If ever there were an identifiable villain in this conflict, it is the Zenawi regime with its appalling record and continuing refusal to co-operate with the final and binding verdict of the ICJ. Yet, the UN Security Council is bending the rules and going after the victim Eritrea, while paying only lip service to the fundamental violations of the real villain, Ethiopia. The Resolution 1640 which threatens Eritrea with sanctions unless it reverses its decision to restrict the freedom of movement of UNMEE is another example of gross UN injustice against Eritrea. The UN has yet to utter the word sanctions against the primary culprit, Ethiopia. For reasons that have yet to be revealed, the Secretary General, Mr. Koffi Annan has not been an impartial and fair player in this dangerous conflict.

The following revealing quote is from a press conference by Koffi Annan on October 10, 2005:

...Then you have the conflict between Eritrea and Ethiopia, where the Boundary Commission came up with its findings. We have not been able to implement it. We have the peacekeepers on the ground. And this is something you cannot do unless the two parties cooperate. Eritrea insists that it should be implemented automatically. Ethiopia says we admit, we accept the Commission's findings, but we want to discuss before we implement it. So we have a sort of a stand-off, one is insisting on discussion before implementation, the other one is insisting on implementation before talks. And we've tried. I've sent in envoys to try and break it up. One side receives the envoy, and the other side refuses. And so we're going to try and see how down the line we'll find a way, what will break this impasse. And today you have a new political situation in Ethiopia. They had elections, the opposition did very well, and I think Parliament is supposed to open today or this week. And I think the dynamics in the Parliament and the issue of governance would also change, and I don't know what will be the attitude of the new Parliament and the Government on this issue, of the border.

Since when is a final and binding verdict open for negotiations? If the two governments were capable of settling matters by negotiation and discussion, why did they need to go to court? It is mind boggling why Annan is concerning himself with domestic election politics in Ethiopia and trying to relate it to the border issue. It is common knowledge that states enter into international treaties and agreements, regardless of what the citizenry wants or doesn't want. And where is the EEBC in all this? Didn't he authorize it to be the ultimate arbiter in this dispute? Why is he now relying on an "envoy" to settle a dispute that has already been settled by the EEBC, which he empowered and whose members he helped select? One wonders if this is the same Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Security Council who on 13 April, 2003 welcomed the Boundary Commission's ruling on the border delimitation between Ethiopia and Eritrea, hailing it as a "final legal settlement" of the long-standing dispute between the two countries. Welcoming the decision as "an important milestone in the peace process", and who lauded the parties for their "continued and consistent reaffirmation" that the ruling was final and binding, in accordance with the Algiers Peace Agreement of December 2000. Annan then called on Ethiopia and Eritrea to cooperate closely with the UN Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) in the implementation of the decision, and the need to ensure "an expeditious and orderly process for the benefit of all the people, and without unilateral actions."

Well, it has been three years since the EEBC verdict and since Ethiopia's defiance and attempt to revise or reverse its decisions. We have yet to hear the word "sanctions" uttered against Ethiopia. But a desperate Eritrean attempt at drawing attention to the verdict by restricting UNMEE movements was immediately threatened by sanctions in Security Council resolution 1640. If this is not the ultimate travesty of justice, then I don't know what it is. Annan is engaging in more sanctimonious newspeak and the EEBC is rarely mentioned in his statements. How much of this is due to Koffi Annan's dubious political maneuverings to help Zenawi is not entirely clear. Annan is reputed to operate in a highly entangled and complex system of patronage. For example, Annan's advisor for the UN Millennium project, the economist, Jeffrey Sachs is also a very strong supporter of Mr. Zenawi. Mr. Zenawi has powerful friends in the UN system and in Tony Blair who has been quick to condemn Musevini and Mugabe but is mum when it comes to Zenawi's domestic and international crimes. Could it be that such personalities have an undue influence on the Secretary General that he is willing to sacrifice the rule of law? Or is Annan under pressure from the State Department that he simply can't do the right thing? My hunch is that Annan, Blair and the State department are working like a hand and glove in trying to undermine an ICJ verdict that they do not like and trying to let Zenawi have his way. In addition to the hegemonic order that the U.S. wants to impose in the Horn of Africa, with its preferred client, Mr. Zenawi, there may also be an element of vendetta against Eritrea or more to the point, the Afeworki regime. The personal animosity between Annan and Afeworki is a matter of public record. Such factors may explain why Annan and the United States are balking from enforcing the ICJ verdict for which they are among the witnesses and guarantors. This double standard is the cause of the UN's recent troubles in Eritrea and Ethiopia, where its mission is in real danger of collapse. Even Eritreans with deep misgivings about Afeworki's domestic human rights crimes have now turned against the UN. And the UN is fast losing its reputation for impartiality and multilateral decision-taking. The latest statement by John Bolton, U.S. ambassador to the UN urges a refocus of the issue to the fundamental rejection of the verdict by Ethiopia. This is a very delayed but an encouraging development, but it would be naí¯ve to take it at face value, until we see concrete steps from the US government to force Zenawi to comply with the EEBC final and binding verdict.

Some argue that Annan is an easy target but not the right one. They claim that the secretary general has only as much power as he is given by the member states. This is true to an extent but Annan is also in his 2nd and last term in office and has no reason to doublespeak and appease the US and Britain. And if Bolton's latest statements are genuine, then it confirms the suspicion that Annan is independently twisting facts and engaging in doublespeak and not because of pressure from the superpowers.

Doublespeak and Annan's behind the scenes intrigue with the State Department and Zenawi will only result in unspeakable destruction and bloodshed between the two countries. Innocents from both countries will pay for the crimes of their rulers. To break the impasse, a serious political will is required. If there is no political will to subject defiant governments to international controls, the U.N. will never function. If there is a real determination to abandon the use of force and substitute the rule of law, then the United Nations will function. We need a system of effective sanctions against violators like Zenawi. Short of this, the intolerable conditions that prevail in Ethiopia and Eritrea will provoke further warfare.

The world is watching and UN action or inaction in this conflict will send a message to other present and future conflicts. It is up to the UN to decide what kind of message it wants to send. Until we set up a system that creates a more equitable system of justice, we'll never have peace. UN inaction against Ethiopian intransigence has the effect of undermining its legitimate international peacekeeping role elsewhere.

More Information on the Security Council
More Information on Ethiopia and Eritrea
More Information on Sanctions

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FAIR USE NOTICE: This page contains copyrighted material the use of which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. Global Policy Forum distributes this material without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. We believe this constitutes a fair use of any such copyrighted material as provided for in 17 U.S.C § 107. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.