The UN Sanctions against Eritrea: Built on Solid Evidence or Utter Lies?


On Wednesday 23rd December 2009, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) imposed sanctions against Eritrea, which include an arms embargo, travel restrictions and a freeze on the assets of its political and military leaders.

In adopting Resolution 1907 by a vote of thirteen in favour and one against (Libya), with one abstention (China), the Security Council accused Eritrea of supporting armed groups whose motives were to undermine peace and reconciliation in Somalia, and of having refused to withdraw its forces following clashes with Djibouti in June 2008. Furthermore, the Council reiterated its demand that Eritrea withdraw its forces to the positions of the status quo ante in the area where its conflict with Djibouti had occurred, acknowledge its border dispute and cooperate fully with the Secretary-General’s good offices. The Council further demanded that the country cease all efforts to destabilise or overthrow, directly or indirectly, the Transitional Federal Government of Somalia.

The purpose of this article is to discuss and provide analysis of the UN sanctions against Eritrea and to ask and provide answers to the following questions: Are the sanctions based on verifiable facts or on fabricated accusations? Moreover, who instigated the sanctions, and why?

However, before I begin to tackle the issues I have raised, let me first provide some background information which can help us understand the factors that have contributed to Ethiopian and Eritrean involvement in Somalia.

The 1998 Eritrean-Ethiopian War and the Algiers Agreement

In May 1998, a border skirmish erupted between Eritrea and Ethiopia, which developed subsequently into an all-out war along part of the 1000km-long border of the two countries. After two years of mutual killings, the Ethiopia-Eritrea War was terminated in June 2000 by the Algiers Ceasefire Agreement. Following the cessation of hostilities, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission (EEBC) – a neutral arbitration Commission consisting of eminent legal experts (see the pictures below) chosen by both countries – was formed and entrusted with full powers to delimit and demarcate the border between the two countries on the basis of the treaties of 1900, 1902 and 1908, as well as applicable international law.

The Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commissioners: Sir Arthur Watts, KCMG QC; Professor W. Michael Reisman; Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, CBE QC; His Excellency Prince Bola Adesumbo Ajibola; and Judge Stephen M. Schwebel.

Furthermore, at the Algiers conference, both the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments agreed and signed in the presence of international observers to accept the conclusions of the independent EEBC as legally binding and final (see picture below).

Issayas Afeworki and Meles Zenawi signing the legally binding agreement on December 2000 in the presence of international observers and guarantors.

However, when the EEBC delivered its verdict regarding the delimitation of the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia on April 13 2002, and awarded Badme, the border town that triggered the conflict between the two countries, to Eritrea, Ethiopia flagrantly refused to accept and implement the non-negotiable and legally binding decision of the Boundary Commission. The cold war that followed between Ethiopia and Eritrea, and the proxy wars in the Horn of Africa, were the direct result of the Ethiopian government’s refusal to have the border demarcated in accordance with the accord struck by the EEBC.

Consequently, with the encouragement and support of the US government, the Ethiopian government’s recalcitrant political behaviour continuing unabated to this day. Indeed, even after eight years, the Ethiopian government is still illegally occupying Eritrean sovereign territory with all the dangers associated with the unjustifiable Ethiopian position. The bitter irony is that even though the American government and the UN saw the need to impose sanctions against Eritrea under the pretext of a fictional border dispute with Djibouti and of supplying arms to Somali fighters, much to the dismay of the Eritrean people, despite Ethiopia’s continued violations of international law and norms, no sanction, threat of sanction or even pressure has been applied against Ethiopia by the UN or by the guarantor nations of the Algiers Peace Agreement. Subsequently, the UN-sponsored Algiers Peace Agreement, which officially terminated the 1998-2000 Eritrea-Ethiopia War on June 12 2000, now exists only on paper. Thus, as a result of the new situation created by the UN-imposed sanctions on Eritrea – and even emboldened by it – the Ethiopian government may be secretly positioning for another military showdown with Eritrea with all the tragedy that such reckless military action will bring to the people of Eritrea and Ethiopia, not to mention the entire Horn of Africa region and beyond.

Present at the signing ceremony: Secretary-General Kofi Annan, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, President Gnassingbe Eyadema of Togo, President Isaias Afwerki, President Abdelaziz Bouteflika, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi and President Olusegun Obasanjo.

The big question is thus: Why have the UN, the US government, the African Union (AU) and European Union (EU) adamantly refused to place sanctions or pressure on the Ethiopian government in order to enforce the EEBC decision in accordance with the Algiers Agreement, signed by the leaders of the two countries? The answer is because the US government is blocking any and every effort towards the peaceful closure of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict in order to force using sheer pressure the leadership of the Eritrean government to enter into dialogue with the Ethiopian government and support the disastrous US foreign policies in the Horn of Africa. Subsequently, in line with its total hostility to the Eritrean government and its people, the US government has been very busy for some time now demonising Eritrea and its leaders and pressuring its client African states to table and support sanctions against Eritrea. Indeed, the sanctions imposed on Eritrea under various dubious pretexts in December 2009 by the UNSC were done so at the behest of the US government. In what follows now, I will discuss whether the sanctions voted against independent Eritrea are built on lies or hard facts.

Do the UN Sanctions against Eritrea have any Legal or Factual Basis?

As already stated, on December 23 2009 the United Nations Security Council voted a resolution to place an arms embargo on Eritrea to impose travel bans and asset freezes on businesses and individuals members of the Eritrean government. The cardinal questions to ask are: Do the UN sanctions against Eritrea have any legal basis? Are they supported by hard facts? It is very important to ask and provide a clear answer to these questions, because in order for the UN to authorise any sanctions against any country and in order for its decision to have a legal basis and thus be enforceable, their action must be based on international law and norms and on irrefutable facts. The question again is: Is Resolution 1907 against Eritrea based on international law and incontrovertible facts? Has there been an authorised fact finding mission to Eritrea in order to verify all of these assorted politically motivated allegations? And did that body submit its findings to all members of the Security Council before the council voted Resolution 1907, or has the UN accepted uncritically the intelligence reports of the powers that have an axe to grind against Eritrea and its leaders? What is more, the Eritrean people and their government have the right to know all the relevant facts related to the sanctions against their country, and the UN has a duty – an obligation – to make public and forward all documents related to the sanctions.

As will be demonstrated in what follows now, the answer to all the above posed pertinent questions is an emphatic ‘no’. The fact of the matter is that since the brutal invasion of Somalia by the Ethiopian Army in December 2006, on the direct order of the US government, unjust politically motivated accusations have been popping up against Eritrea. Indeed, Eritrea was accused brazenly and falsely in 2006 of having 2,000 armed soldiers fighting on the side of Somali opposition fighters. However, ultimately, this accusation was proven unfounded. Similarly, without any shred of evidence, Eritrea was also accused and threatened by the Bush administration that it would be placed on the list of terrorist sponsor nations. The nonsensical accusations against the Eritrean government of arming, training and equipping armed groups in Somalia to overthrow the Ethiopian- and American-backed Transitional Federal Government of Somalia continued unabated. Moreover, the sanctions imposed on Eritrea are the culmination of these untenable false accusations.
Thus, Resolution 1907 against Eritrea is built on lies and is therefore devoid of any legal basis. It is, in fact, comparable to the weapons of mass destruction lies that the American and British governments widely propagated in order to justify their attack on Iraq and its people. It will fall, consequently, like a house of cards in the face of the coming determined political resistance of Eritrean patriots inside Eritrea and in the Diaspora. In other words, the resolution to place sanctions on Eritrea is a political decision purely concocted by the United States intelligence services (the CIA) and illegally passed in the name of the United Nations with the express political aim of punishing independent Eritrea for refusing to tow the US government line over the cover-up of arming Somali forces opposed to the US-backed transition government of Somalia. There can therefore be no doubt that the US strategic objective in trying to silence and weaken Eritrea by using the UN as a cover is to realise its imperialist strategic interests in the Horn of Africa, which are diametrically opposed to the vital interests of the people of the Horn. The US government is thus using the UN to punish proud countries that refuse to carry out Washington’s dictates. Therefore, what the UNSC resolution against independent Eritrea has clearly demonstrated is that the UN has become a tool of the aggressive US government’s foreign policy and has become a corrupt organisation beyond repair. Moreover, if the UN was really an independent organisation working for real peace and security in the world – as it purportedly claims to be – sanctions should have been imposed on the governments of the US and Ethiopia, the former for disturbing world peace and endangering the lives of millions of oppressed people around the world, and the latter for refusing to abide by and implement the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission decision, for occupying Eritrean sovereign territory contemptuously and for creating chaos and destruction in the Horn of Africa and terror inside Ethiopia under its apartheid form of government.

Hence, when all is said and done, once again Eritrea has become the victim of illegal and immoral UN sanctions, just as it was the victim of the UN decision in the 1950s when Eritrea  was forcefully incorporated, amid the sharp protests of the Eritrean people, with feudal Ethiopia. This was done again out of consideration for the strategic interests of the US in the Horn of Africa. At this point it is in order to quote here what the then US Secretary of State, John Foster Dulles, candidly told the UN Security Council: “From the point of view of justice, the opinions of the Eritrean people must receive considerations; nevertheless, the strategic interest of the United States in the Red Sea basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country has to be linked to our ally, Ethiopia” (see Monthly Review (1978), The Eritrean Struggle For Independence, Volume 30, p.15). As a result of the crude involvement of the US government, the Eritrean people had to endure a thirty-year long armed struggle to extricate themselves from the shackles of the US imperialist-backed Ethiopian feudal colonialism.

However, unlike in the 1950s, today Eritreans are politically very conscious and well organised about world politics operate today, and they are ready to fight back against the untold injustice being committed against their country. And with the support of progressive and other democratic forces the world over, the Eritrean people, who have paid with rivers of blood to secure the independence of Eritrea, are fully determined to foil the conspiracy hatched by the United States government against their young country.

How should Eritreans in the Diaspora stand against the UN sanctions?
Primarily, I want to state that Eritreans should not be fooled by the deceptive language (smart or targeted) that the UN Security Council has used to describe its sanctions against Eritrea. It should be clearly understood that whether the sanction is called ‘smart’, ‘targeted’ or by any other name, it is directed against the Eritrean people just as it is directed against the top layers of the Eritrean political and military elite. Henceforth, not only will the sanctions disrupt the existing balance of forces – if, or more pertinently when, war erupts between Ethiopia and Eritrea – but also it could have a devastating economic and psychological impact on the Eritrean people. It is therefore of utmost importance that every Eritrean should, and must, condemn and oppose unconditionally the sanctions against their country, because the sanctions involve not the aforementioned restrictions, but also an arms embargo at a time when the country is on a war footing with its arch-enemy Ethiopia. In my opinion, while there still prevails a no-war and no-peace situation between Eritrea and Ethiopia and Eritrean territory is still being occupied by Ethiopia, an arms embargo against Eritrea is a reckless undertaking primarily designed to endanger the security of the country and its people. Hence, every Eritrean should and must oppose the sanctions whether it is called smart, targeted or by any other name. After all the accusations leveled against Eritrea are unwarranted and fabricated. In other words, the sanction is based on lies and its main objectives is to isolate Eritrea and its people, undermine the country’s relative peace, stability, security, and obstruct its heroic attempts to embark on a self-reliant economic development.

Sadly, some right wing Eritrean groups and corrupt intellectuals in Diaspora have fully and uncritically endorsed and supported the resolution initiated by the security guards of US imperialism in the Horn of Africa. These right wing Eritrean groups and individuals have done so irrespective of the immediate and long-term consequences the sanctions will have on Eritrea and its people; they are ready to make Eritrea a playground for external forces, performing as puppets for their new paymasters. History will judge them very harshly for letting down Eritrea and its people at very critical moment.

Concluding Remarks

To date, the United Nations Security Council has miserably failed to back up with hard evidence the multi-pronged, unfounded types of accusations tabled in order to justify the unjustifiable. Why? Because the sanctions imposed against Eritrea are based and built on lies. Furthermore, the very foundations of these lies cannot be backed up by evidence. It is therefore very clear that the sanctions against Eritrea are a criminal project undertaken in order to weaken the country, undermine the strong confidence of its proud and hard working people, and obstruct the attempts the country has made to pursue its own unique model of economic development. Consequently, it is the sacred duty of all Eritreans to struggle indefatigably to foil and render useless the US imperialist action imposed on their nation. All Eritreans should organise peaceful demonstrations and rock the major Western capital cities by chanting slogans and raising banners which reflect the illegality of the situation. Simultaneously, Eritreans should also create a Worldwide Appeal Committee without any delay, with the sole aim of bringing their case to the attention of the International Court of Justice in The Hague to demand the immediate invalidation of the illegal sanctions against Eritrea.

Nevertheless, in order for such demonstrations to be credible and conducted in unison, the participants should also demand the unconditional release of all political prisoners interned without trial in Eritrea, demand for the immediate implementation of the 1997 approved constitution, and demand democratic change and respect for their human rights.

At this critical juncture, it is very important that all responsible patriotic Eritreans understand clearly that if internal Eritrean political forces fail to effect democratic change without further delay, someone else is going to do it for us, with all the grave consequences that an externally induced governmental change brings. The external and internal enemies of Eritrea are ready with their sharp knives to attack our nation state, so it is high time for internal forces to act now and hand over Eritrea before it is too late to its rightful owners – the Eritrean people.

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