PERMANENT MISSION OF ERITREA TO THE UNITED NATIONS
STATEMENT BY H.E. MR. ALI SAID ABDELLA
MINISTER OF FOREIGN AFFAIRS OF THE STATE OF ERITREA
AT THE FIFTY-EIGHTH SESSION OF THE UNITED NATIONS GENERAL ASSEMBLY
NEW YORK, 2 OCTOBER 2003
Let me begin by extending to you, Mr. President, sincere congratulations on your election to the Presidency of the fifty-eighth (58th) session of the General Assembly. The Eritrean delegation is convinced that, under your wise guidance, this session will address the challenging issues that confront the world with vision and courage.
My delegation also wishes to take this opportunity to express appreciation and thanks to your esteemed predecessor, Mr. Jan Kavan, President of the fifty-seventh (57th) session, for the wisdom and skill he displayed in leading the session to a successful conclusion.
We also pay tribute to Secretary General Kofi Annan for his steadfast commitment to the cause of peace and development, the twin pillars of the United Nations Charter.
Eritrea salutes and thanks the facilitators and guarantors, the United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) and its partners, the troop and observer contributing countries as well as donor countries for the assistance they have generously extended to ensure the success of the peace process. It also urges them not to be discouraged by the recent negative developments and to continue with their assistance because it is essential for the achievement of lasting peace and security in our region.
Eritrea would like to bring to the Assembly's attention the dangerous developments that are threatening to destroy the peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Ethiopia has, in a message communicated to Secretary General Kofi Annan on 19 September 2003, officially rejected the decision of the Boundary Commission and has threatened to unleash another war of aggression against Eritrea, if the terms and conditions it has set are not met.
It is to be recalled that Ethiopia declared war on Eritrea in 1998 because it claimed ownership of the sovereign Eritrean town of Badme. At the time, we exerted all possible diplomatic effort to prevent an unwarranted and unjustifiable war prior to, and in the aftermath of, Ethiopia's official declaration of war. Unfortunately, this only sent the wrong signal to Ethiopia and prompted the regime in power to pursue its policy of belligerence with impunity, and to unleash successive military offensives that resulted in great loss of life and destruction of property.
After a cycle of senseless and bloody military clashes, reason prevailed with the signature of the Cessation of Hostilities and the Comprehensive Peace Agreements in Algiers in June and December 2000 respectively. A Boundary Commission empowered to be the final arbiter for the boundary claims was subsequently created. The Commission announced its decision on 13 April 2002. Badme was confirmed by the Boundary Commission's decision as being sovereign Eritrean territory.
Yet, in spite of its treaty obligations to respect and duly implement the final and binding decisions of the Boundary Commission, Ethiopia has chosen to flout international law and practice. Thus, its rejection of the whole decision and the denunciation of the Commission follows a series of major violations of the Algiers Agreements, including the illegal deployment of troops and the building of settlements in sovereign Eritrea territory, the aggravation of the suffering of over 60,000 Eritrean citizens who remain displaced from their home villages, and the delay of demarcation because of obstructions caused by its dilatory tactics to prevent preparatory field work. This has resulted in huge financial expenses to the international community.
As most of you will have been informed by now, the Ethiopian Prime Minister declares, in his letter of 19 September to UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, that the boundary demarcation process is "in terminal crisis". The Prime Minister heaps insult on the Boundary Commission, dismisses its judgment as "totally illegal, unjust and irresponsible"; and calls on the Security Council to set up "an alternative mechanism" to demarcate the contested parts of the boundary". He further suggests that UNMEE pack up and leave and pleads for international recognition and endorsement of Ethiopia's occupation of sovereign Eritrean territories. Ethiopia's provocative letter represents nothing less than a wholesale assault on fundamental principles of international law, the key tenets of the Algiers peace agreements, as well as UN Security Council Resolution 1507. It is replete with blatant lies and distortions in its account of the legal principles and findings that the Boundary Commission invoked in determining the location of Badme.
The Prime Minister's letter contrasts sharply with the public statement of his Government when the Boundary Commission announced its decision on 13 April 2002. Ethiopia had then urged the international community to put intense pressure on Eritrea to accept and implement the decision of the Boundary Commission fully and faithfully. It declared full legal victory and even bragged about its "successful litigation strategy that was hinged on a maximalist approach" of exaggerating its claims to include territories that never belonged to it. This revelation, which is in fact true, was repeated by both the Prime Minister and his Foreign Minister in a report to the Ethiopian Parliament as recently as last month.
Let me now briefly address some of the issues raised in Ethiopia's letter.
1. Article 4.2 of the Algiers Peace Agreement unambiguously states, "A neutral Boundary Commission composed of five members shall be established with a mandate to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty boundary based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908) and applicable international law". Article 4.15 further states, "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 the territorial integrity and sovereignty of the other party". Ethiopia cannot thus arbitrarily and unilaterally discard these key provisions of the peace agreement or urge the Security Council to set up a new mechanism.
2. The Temporary Security Zone was never intended or set up to create a provisional boundary. Article 10 of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement explicitly states that this will not prejudge the final status of the contested areas, which will be determined at the end of the delimitation and demarcation of the boundary. In this regard, it is instructive to note that the Boundary Commission had notified both parties, in its delimitation decision of 13 April 2002, to recognize and respect each other's sovereignty and territorial integrity as determined by the delimitation decision pending demarcation on the ground. The boundary is thus already determined. This is reinforced by Article 2 of UN Security Council Resolution (1507), which calls on both parties to recognize and respect each other's territorial integrity and sovereignty. Ethiopia's ludicrous suggestion of "recognizing the southern boundary of the TSZ as the boundary between the two countries" thus represents a flagrant violation of the Algiers Peace Agreements and relevant UN Security Council Resolutions. Its grave humanitarian consequences for over 60,000 Eritreans dislocated internally because their home villages and towns remain occupied by Ethiopia is too clear to merit elaboration.
3. UNMEE's mandate shall terminate when the delimitation-demarcation process of the border has been completed (Article 5 of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement). Ethiopia will again commit a gross violation of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement if it requests, as it has intimated in its letter, UNMEE to leave before completing its task. Obviously, Ethiopia's primary concern is not the financial burden that UNMEE's prolonged presence would entail to the international community. Ethiopia is in fact guilty of a litany of obstructions that have in the past prevented expeditious demarcation. It cannot now shed crocodile tears or preach to the international community on ways and means of reducing financial cost. If this is a thinly veiled threat and meant to convey to us its intentions of unleashing war, our response is that Ethiopia will be the sole party responsible for endangering regional peace and stability. As the main guarantor of the Algiers Peace Agreements, the Security Council has treaty obligations to prevent war. Indeed, in accordance with Article 14 of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement, the Security Council should urgently consider Ethiopia's flagrant violations of the Algiers Peace Agreements and take appropriate measures under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations.
4. Ethiopian leaders also argue that "the people of Ethiopia will not accept the decisions of the Boundary Commission [and that] Ethiopia will be embroiled in a political crisis and civil war if we accept the decision". These hackneyed arguments have been used by previous Ethiopian leaders to justify their wars of occupation. The truth is that the people of Ethiopia have enjoyed internal harmony only when they were at peace with Eritrea. Ethiopia became a source of instability in the region while its people became the victims of recurrent famines and pestilence at any time that it was at war with Eritrea. Also, such declarations must ring an alarm bell because they are similar, if not identical, to statements made by those leaders who embroiled Europe in World War II.
In our view, Ethiopia's leaders have assumed their lawlessness and aggressive policy because they have been emboldened by the past patterns of unjustifiable tolerance by the international community. No action was taken against Ethiopia when it violated the Moratorium on Air Strikes brokered by the United States and launched its second offensive in February 1999. No action was taken against Ethiopia when, in violation of the Technical Arrangements which were forged by the US, the European Union, the United Nations and the OAU and considered final and binding, it launched its third offensive in May 2000. Ethiopia has now achieved the apex of its record of lawlessness, contempt for the rule of law, treaty obligations and the UN charter by rejecting the final and binding decisions of an Arbitration Commission. How long shall this culture of impunity continue? When is the world going to say, "Enough is enough" and invoke article 14 of the Algiers Agreement?
Article 14 of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement states, inter alia, that "the OAU and the United Nations commit themselves to guarantee the respect for this commitment of the two Parties until the determination of the common border on the basis of pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international law.... This guarantee shall be comprised of: (a) measures to be taken by the international community should one or both of the Parties violate this commitment, including appropriate measures to be taken under Chapter VII of the Charter of the United Nations by the United Nations Security Council". Should not the UN and the international community now take these actions in the name of justice and the UN Charter?
The international community has already invested too much - in financial and political terms - to help bring about a legal and peaceful resolution to this dispute. The political and financial leverage of the international community as well as the instruments of persuasion at its disposal are also substantial as Ethiopia continues to receive lavish development assistance from multilateral and bilateral partners. Yet, while all the ingredients and safeguards of success are there, the danger of failure of the peace process is now distinct due to the failure of the international community to take seriously its obligations under this agreement and to take effective measures. Unless appropriate action is taken now before the situation explodes, crisis management will be too late and will not be worth the effort. In this spirit, the Eritrean delegation appeals to the General Assembly and to the international community to take necessary and timely actions to ensure that peace and security will prevail in our region.
The obligations of the international community are' clear while the measures at its disposal are expressly spelled out in the Algiers Agreement. In spite of international guarantees, Ethiopia has chosen to blatantly violate international law and its solemnly signed treaty obligations. As of 19 September, Ethiopia has willfully crossed the red line and set in motion an irreversible process to scuttle the peace agreement altogether. This is an affront not only to Eritrea but also to the international community as a whole and, in particular, the UN and the Security Council.
In his report to the Security Council on 3 April 2003, secretary General Kofi Annan has expressed concern that the Eritrea- Ethiopia peace process was "at a critical stage". The process can now be considered explosive, paving the way, as Ethiopian leaders seem to wish, to renewed conflict, with its attendant horrific consequences, unless the international community acts promptly and decisively. The effects of Ethiopia's lawlessness will not be limited in its malicious effects to Eritrea only. It will impinge on the legitimacy and credibility of the United Nations and mock its core values, if only because it violates the hallowed injunction that states, big and small, need to observe the basic principles of international rule of law, sanctity of legal agreements, as well as respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of states.
The people of Eritrea and Ethiopia have been denied peace for more than three (3) decades. This has had a devastating effect on their economies. They deserve peace and development, which are now recognized as human rights. Yet, such peace can be guaranteed only by respect for the rule of law, the sanctity of agreements and the sovereignty and territorial integrity established by arbitration decisions made on the basis of solemn agreements. Eritrea has always been-and will continue to be committed to such peace. It is now up to the international community and, in particular, the Security Council to uphold these principles. In essence, Ethiopia is no longer in conflict with Eritrea but with the Charter that the Security Council must uphold as it had done in several similar cases.
I thank you