The Hague Court’s Verdict…Unjust and Detrimental To Irob Community
Commentary based on biblical justice and values
By The Rev. Abba Tesfamariam Baraki
An Irob-Ethio-American Citizen
Washington, D.C., USA
September 13, 2002
“Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality tied in a single garment of destiny.”
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
When Justice Is Abused
The purpose of this article is to critique, in the light of biblical truth, The Hague’s Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s verdict of 13 April 2002, which denied justice to the Irob people in the Irobland, as well as to condemn the hasty UN Security Council’s endorsement. The Irob ethnic minority was victimized by the Ethiopian-Eritrean border war of 1998 and more recently by the heartless injustice of The Hague Court’s decision. This Court ignored the voiceless Irob ethnic minority in Northeastern Ethiopia who could not defend themselves and stand for their civic and political rights. Although the Irob Diaspora strongly protested the injustice of forced division of the Irob ethnic minority into two nationalities of two hostile countries, the Court ignored the Irob people’s plea for justice and peace. What did the Court want to achieve by denying justice to the victimized Irob minority in those disputed borders? Certainly, those border peoples were not expecting a compulsory separation from their families, relatives, and friends and forced citizenship of a country that oppressed them with emotional and physical torture during the invasion and occupation. Then, I ask where is justice? Wasn’t Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. correct when he stated, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”?
Justice, in order to be fair and right, must be guided and enlightened by divine wisdom. Wisdom is not merely acquired human knowledge. It is a gift endowed by our Creator in order to discern right from wrong and good from evil. It is attained by humble submission to the will of the Omnipotent and Omniscient God and by faithful requesting and trusting in his guidance. Whenever there is arrogance and pride, however, there is the absence of divine wisdom. As a result, we fail to render justice in accordance with God’s mandate and his divine will.
In order to illustrate the nature of injustice done to the Irob minority, I will utilize biblical references that help us to reflect and understand injustice from a theological perspective.
Let’s look at the divinely inspired word of God concerning the enlightened wisdom of King Solomon and his deliverance of justice. In the First Book of Kings (The New Jerusalem Bible), we read the following biblical accounts:
a) Solomon’s Prayer and Request (1 Kings 3:7-11):
- Now, Yahweh my God, you have made your servant king in succession to David my father. But I am a very young man, unskilled in leadership. 8. And here is your servant, surrounded with your people whom you have chosen, a people so numerous that its number cannot be counted or reckoned. 9. So give your servant a heart to understand how to govern your people, how to discern between good and evil, for how could one otherwise govern such great people as yours?”
It pleased Yahweh that Solomon should have asked for this. 11. `Since you have asked for this,” God said, “and not asked for long life for yourself or riches or the lives of your enemies but have asked for a discerning judgment for yourself, 12. here and now I do what you ask. I give you a heart wise and shrewd as no one has had before and no one will have after you. (NJB)
In this biblical passage, we see that the authority to govern and lead people comes directly from God who is the Creator and Governor of the whole universe. Solomon accepts this tremendous authority and responsibility of governing God’s people. However, he acknowledges his own inadequacy and lack of confidence in his ability. The king humbles himself before the Almighty God and prays for the gift of wisdom that would enable him to discern right from wrong in the process of governing the people of God and in making rightful judgments on their behalf.
b) Two Disputing Mothers and the Judgement of Solomon (1 Kings 3:16-28):
- Later two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. 17. `If it pleases you, my lord,” one of the women said, “this woman and I live in the same house, and while she was in the house I gave birth to a child. 18. Now it happened on the third day after my delivery that this woman also gave birth to a child. We were alone together; there was no one else in the house with us; just the two of us in the house. 19. Now one night this woman’s son died; she overlaid him. 20. And in the middle of the night, she got up and took my son from beside me while your servant was asleep; she took him in her arms and put her own dead son in mine. 21. When I got up to suckle my child, there he was, dead. But in the morning I looked at him carefully, and he was not the child I had borne at all.”
Then the other woman spoke. “That is not true! My son is the live one, yours is the dead one”; and the first retorted, “That is not true! Your son is the dead one, mine is the live one.” And so they wrangled before the king. 23.
This one says," the king observed, "My son is the one who is alive; your son is dead,’ while the other says, `That is not true! Your son is the dead one, mine is the live one.’
Bring me a sword,” said the king; and a sword was brought into the king’s presence. 25. `Cut the living child in two,” the king said, “and give half to one, half to the other.” 26. At this, the woman who was the mother of the living child addressed the king, for she felt acutely for her son. “I beg you, my lord,” she said, “let them give her the live child; on no account let them kill him!” But the other said, “He shall belong to neither of us. Cut him in half!” 27. Then the king gave his decision. “Give the live child to the first woman,” he said, “and do not kill him. She is his mother.” 28. All Israel came to hear of the judgment, which the king had pronounced and held the king in awe, recognizing that he possessed divine wisdom for dispensing justice. (NJB)
Solomon’s fame (1 Kings 3:29-34):
29. God gave Solomon immense wisdom and understanding, and a heart as vast as the sand on the sea-shore. 30. The wisdom of Solomon surpassed the wisdom of all the sons of the East and all the wisdom of Egypt. 31. He was wiser than anyone else; …his fame spread to all the surrounding nations. …34. Men from all nations came to hear Solomon’s wisdom, and he received gifts from all the kings in the world, who had heard of his wisdom. (NJB)
In this biblical passage, we see two mothers locked in a bitter dispute over a matter of life and death of their offspring, one dead the other alive. One mother is honest, and the other is dishonest. The dishonest mother while asleep accidentally suffocates her own baby. Upon realizing the situation, she accuses the other mother of stealing her baby and replacing it with the dead one. She deliberately claims the living infant of the other woman as her own which results in a terrible dispute between the two women. They bring their case to King Solomon for arbitration. Before dispensing justice, Solomon, guided and enlightened by divine wisdom, closely analyzes the case in an effort to find out where the truth lies. He proposes a morally controversial method of solving the dispute by cutting the living baby in half. The true mother surrenders her maternal rights immediately in order to save the baby from execution. The pathologically dishonest and jealous mother, however, agrees to the decision of executing the living son and splitting his dead body between each mother. Through careful analysis, Solomon is able to discern the truth. As a result, Solomon makes a justifiable decision and gives the infant son to his rightful mother.
Relevance and Implications
Is there any relevance between this biblical account and the Irobland’s case, among others, which was disputed by Ethiopia and Eritrea at The Hague Court? Is there any similarity between the Court’s verdict of 13 April 2002 and that of King Solomon? In my opinion, there is a striking similarity in a reverse way. Solomon’s judgment was guided by divine wisdom in discerning the truth and in delivering a just decision. However, The Hague Court’s verdict, particularly, in the Irobland’s case does not appear to be enlightened or guided by the wisdom of God. Hence, the Court’s decision cannot be considered or accepted as a rightful justice. In my opinion, the Court failed to make a thorough investigation of the disputed issues and concerns of the border population prior to decreeing their verdict. The Court did not show compassion toward the peoples who would be adversely affected, such as the Irobs. Even though Ethiopia appealed for more clarification on the border delimitation ruling of 13 April 2002, the Hague Court arrogantly refused to rectify the harmful verdict which will disintegrate families, relatives, and friends who have lived together for centuries. Despite the outcry and condemnation of the victimized people, the Court yielded to the detrimental claim of the wrong mother by cutting the Irobland in two. In fact, to the Irob people’s dismay, Eritrea expressed her satisfaction and political victory over Ethiopia in gaining one-third of the Irobland. Yes, the false mother in the above biblical passage wanted King Solomon to “cut the living child in half,” knowing that the child would die. Likewise, the Hague Court unscrupulously cut the Irobland and its people in half, giving political victory to Eritrea while causing grave harm to the Irobs.
Despite the bloody sacrifice of tens of thousands of her children in order to protect her sovereignty and national integrity, Ethiopia failed to convince the UN Boundary Commission that the Irob minority is an integral part of Ethiopia. Hence, the Irob people feel betrayed by their true Mother Ethiopia’s yielding to The Hague Court’s unjust decision. The Irob people do not want another war between Ethiopia and Eritrea. They long for genuine peace. Nevertheless, they want justice from the international community and The Hague Court. The justice that they are crying for is simply not to cut them off from their families, relatives, and from their motherland (Ethiopia) to which they have a passionate loyalty.
The Irobs in Diaspora have petitioned the international community as well as the United Nations to investigate abuses and violations of human rights committed against the innocent voiceless Irob peasantry, particularly against more than 90 abducted farmers and business people during the Eritrean invasion and occupation from 1998-2000. I am not aware that any significant attention has been given by the international community or the United Nations to the Irobs’ request and plight. Such apathy demonstrates negligence and a lack of justice concerning the voiceless minority’s human rights. It was a deep disappointment for the Irob people that during the visit of Mr. Jakob Kellenberger, the President of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to Eritrea and Ethiopia in August 2002, that the Irob abductees or prisoners’ conditions and whereabouts were not discussed or even mentioned by the concerned party or by the Ethiopian Government. This was a great opportunity for Ethiopia and the international community to show some gesture of empathy and human solidarity with the voiceless Irob minority. Hence, I question, where is human justice and fairness to the oppressed and forgotten? Once again, we must listen to the prophetic words of Dr. King, Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Where Justice Is Misconstrued, There the People’s Rights Are Trodden
In the New Jerusalem Bible, according to the Gospel of St. Luke (18:1-8), we read the following parable told by the Lord Jesus:
- Then he (Jesus) told them a parable about the need to pray continually and never lose heart. 2.
There was a judge in a certain town," he said, "who had neither fear of God nor respect for anyone. 3. In the same town, there was also a widow who kept on coming to him and saying,I want justice from you against my enemy!’ 4. For a long time, he refused, but at last, he said to himself, `Even though I have neither fear of God nor respect for any human person, 5. I must give this widow her just rights since she keeps pestering me, or she will come and slap me in the face.’ ” 6. And the Lord said, “You notice what the unjust judge has to say? 7. Now, will not God see justice done to his elect if they keep calling to him day and night even though he still delays to help them? 8. I promise you, he will see justice done to them, and done speedily. But when the Son of man comes, will he find any faith on earth?”.(NJB).
In this parable, we see the human and divine aspects of justice in relation to the poor and the oppressed. The unjust judge’s behavior in the parable is appalling. It demonstrates the corruption of human justice. The judge in the parable does not show concern for the widow who cries persistently for justice against her oppressor. The judge arrogantly claims that he shows neither compassion nor responsibility for any human being nor fear or respect for God. He falsely thinks that there is no other power or authority above him. He seems to believe that he is the only absolute authority. In other words, his behavior reflects a lack of moral conscience and abuse of power.
God Is Full of Justice: When and Where Justice Is Abused His Anger Is Provoked
In the above parable, God is revealed as a God of justice (Is 30:18) who cannot tolerate injustice. He wants to see justice done speedily, fairly, and equitably to his oppressed and victimized people. He abhors human arrogance and pride in treating the weaker segment of his people with injustice. Hence, Prophet Isaiah speaks out against any social injustice: “Woe to those who make unjust laws, to those who issue oppressive decrees, to deprive the poor of their rights and withhold justice from the oppressed of my people, making widows their prey and robbing the fatherless” (Is. 10:1, NJB). Similarly, Prophet Jeremiah moved inspired by the word of God utters that justice is done to the oppressed: “To the royal House of Judah. Listen to the word of Yahweh, House of David! Yahweh says this: Each morning give fair judgment, rescue anyone who has been wronged from the hands of his oppressor, or else my wrath will leap out like a fire, it will burn and no one will be able to quench it, because of the wickedness of your actions” (Jer. 21:11-12, NJB). In the Letter to the Romans, St. Paul writes against injustice: “The retribution of God from heaven is being revealed against the ungodliness and injustice of human beings who in their injustice hold back the truth” (Rom. 1:18, NJB). The author of Book of Psalms (58:1) condemning injustice, says: “Justice? You high and mighty politicians don’t even know the meaning of the word! Fairness? Which of you any left? Not one! All your dealings are crooked: you give ‘justice’ in exchange of bribes.” Prophet Habakkuk criticizing injustice, says, “The law is not enforced and there is no justice given in the courts, for the wicked far outnumber the righteous, and bribes and trickery prevail” (Hab. 1:4, LB). Similarly, Psalm (64:6), “They plot injustice and say, ‘we have devised a perfect plan!’ Surely the mind and heart of man are cunning.” The Book of Job decries injustice in cheating and moving illegally territorial boundary: “Men move boundary stones; they pasture flocks they have stolen. They drive away the orphan’s donkey and take the widow’s ox in pledge. They thrust the needy from the path and force all the poor of their land into hiding” (Job 24:2-4). In a similar manner, concerning the dispute of territorial boundaries, the author of Deuteronomy (19:14) urges the Israelites, “You must not displace your neighbor’s boundary mark, positioned by men of old in the heritage soon to be yours, in the country which Yahweh your God is about to give you” (NJB). Deuteronomy 27:17 strongly condemns such an act, saying, “Accursed be anyone who displaces a neighbor’s boundary mark. And the people must all say, Amen” (NJB). Prophet Amos as well deplores injustice: “They turn justice into wormwood and throw uprightness to the ground” (Amos 5:7).
The Irob people’s cry for justice reminds me of the Prophet Isaiah’s utterance: “Now, the vineyard of Yahweh Sabaoth is the House of Israel, and the people of Judah the plant he cherished. He expected fair judgment, but found injustice, uprightness, but found cries of distress” (Is 5:7). In the Book of Leviticus, we read, “You will not be unjust in administering justice. You will neither be partial to the poor nor overawed by the great but will administer justice to your fellow citizen justly” (Lev 19:15). Similarly, in the Book of Deuteronomy, we find the word of God saying, “At that same time I told your judges, ‘you must give your brothers a fair hearing and see justice done…’” (Deut 1:16). And the Book of Exodus adds by stressing, “You shall not pervert the justice due to your poor in his suit” (Ex 23:6). Because as the Book of Proverb says, “He who mocks the poor shows contempt for their Maker…” (Pro 17:5). Likewise, in the 2 Chronicles (19:6) the judges are advised, “Be careful what you do, since you are judging not by any human power but in the name of Yahweh, who will be with you when you pronounce sentence.”
The Hypocrisy of Pontius Pilate’s Unjust Verdict
The following historical episode, recorded in the Gospel of St. Matthew (27:1-26), describes the injustice Jesus Christ endured under the Roman Empire’s court system.
- When morning came, all the chief priests and the elders of the people met in council to bring about the death of Jesus. 2. They had him bound and led him away to hand him over to Pilate, the governor… 9. The word spoken through the prophet Jeremiah was then fulfilled: And they took the thirty silver pieces, the sum at which the precious One was priced by the children of Israel, 10. and they gave them for the potter’s field, just as the Lord directed me. 11. Jesus, then, was brought before the governor, and the governor put to him this question, “Are you the king of the Jews?” Jesus replied, “It is you who say it.” 12. But when he was accused by the chief priests and the elders he refused to answer at all. 13. Pilate then said to him, “Do you not hear how many charges they have made against you?” 14. But to the governor’s amazement, he offered not a word in answer to any of the charges. 15. At the festival time, it was the governor’s practice to release a prisoner for the people, anyone they chose. 16. Now there was then a notorious prisoner whose name was Barabbas. 17. So when the crowd gathered, Pilate said to them, “Which do you want me to release for you: Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?” 18. For Pilate knew it was out of jealousy that they had handed him over. 19. Now as he was seated in the chair of judgment, his wife sent him a message, “Have nothing to do with that upright man; I have been extremely upset today by a dream that I had about him.” 20. The chief priests and the elders, however, had persuaded the crowd to demand the release of Barabbas and the execution of Jesus. 21. So when the governor spoke and asked them, “Which of the two do you want me to release for you?” they said, “Barabbas.” 22. Pilate said to them, “But in that case, what am I to do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said, “Let him be crucified!” 23. He asked, “But what harm has he done?” But they shouted all the louder, “Let him be crucified!” 24. Then Pilate saw that he was making no impression, that in fact, a riot was imminent. So he took some water, washed his hands in front of the crowd, and said, “I am innocent of this man’s blood. It is your concern.” 25. And the people, every one of them, shouted back, “Let his blood be on us and on our children!” 26. Then he released Barabbas for them. After having Jesus scourged he handed him over to be crucified. (NJB)
Was Pilate really innocent of condemning Jesus to death? Why did he refuse his wife’s wise advice? Was it arrogance or lack of prudence that caused him to ignore her plea on behalf of this innocent man? With all power in his hands, why did he fail to render justice to an innocent man? Was it justifiable for him to release Barabbas – a notoriously known murderer, rapist, and thief – and condemn Jesus, publicly known for his goodness, compassion, and mercy toward the sinners, the sick, and the poor?
Certainly, there is something intrinsically wrong with this kind of justice. How can a human being with such power claim no responsibility for the consequences of judgment regarding the fate of a human being? Now, I ask, will the integrity of the Hague Court remain unscathed by its verdict against the Irob ethnic minority? Can the Judges of this Court claim no responsibility for the consequences of their ruling? Prophet Ezekiel warns, “Behold, the day! Behold, it comes! Your doom has come, injustice has blossomed, and pride has budded” (Ezek 7:10). In Psalm 96 the divinely inspired author utters: “Proclaim to the nations: ‘God is king.’ The world has made firm in its place; he will judge the people in fairness. …With justice he rules the world, he will judge the peoples with his truth.” According to Psalms 37:28, “For the Lord loves justice and fairness; he will never abandon his people. They will be kept safe forever, but all who love wickedness shall perish.”
The Last Divine Justice and Judgement (Matthew 25:31-46):
In the following biblical passage, Jesus as the Lord and King of the universe will appear in his glorious divine majesty to pronounce his final judgment on humankind who behaved diligently or negligently, dealt charitably or uncharitably, conducted themselves justly or unjustly toward the least or marginalized segment of human society. The passage indicates that all people in spite of their social backgrounds or socioeconomic conditions are important before God. Hence, they deserve to be treated with full human dignity and respect as children of God and brothers and sisters in Christ. According to Christ’s words, His final judgment will be based on the principles of just and fair treatment of these least and neglected ones. We will find the Lord himself associating and identifying himself with them as He feels and experiences their human conditions and sufferings here on earth. In the end, He will reward or punish everlastingly those who treated them with justice and fairness or maltreated them with injustice and lack of compassion. This is the absolute truth he revealed when he said (shortened):
`When the Son of Man comes in his glory, escorted by all the angels, then he will take his seat on his throne of glory. All nations will be assembled before him and he will separate people one from another as the shepherd separates sheep from goats. He will place the sheep on his right hand and the goats on his left.
Then the King will say to those on his right hand,
Come, you whom my Father has blessed, take as your heritage the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world. For I was … in prison and you came to see me. Then the upright will say to him in reply,Lord, when did we see you … in prison and go to see you?’ And the King will answer, `In truth, I tell you, in so far as you did this to one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did it to me.’
Then he will say to those on his left hand,
Go away from me, with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was … in prison and you never visited me.' Then it will be their turn to ask,Lord, when did we see you … in prison, and did not come to your help?’ Then he will answer, `In truth, I tell you, in so far as you neglected to do this to one of the least of these, you neglected to do it to me.’ And they will go away to eternal punishment, and the upright to eternal life.” (NJB)
Conclusion and Suggestions
It is my hope and humble prayer that this commentary based on biblical principles will serve to stimulate the conscience of all who read it with an open mind and enlightened faith. Unless we are guided by the light of faith and remain connected to our Creator, who is the source of all wisdom and understanding, we are doomed to fail in discerning what is right and wrong, what is just and unjust, in accordance with his divine will and ordinance.
Jesus said: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God” (Mt 5:9). Hence, for the sake of justice and peace as well as for the sake of reconciliation and healing of the respective peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea, it is my hope that the following suggestions will be considered seriously and reflected upon by all concerned peacemaking parties:
It is never too late for The Hague Court and other associate bodies – such as the United Nations, the African Union, the European Union, and the United States – to re-examine and rectify the erroneous decision which dooms populations along the Eritrean and Ethiopian borders, especially the Irob ethnic minority for disintegration. For the sake of durable peace, political stability and prosperity, it would be an honorable accomplishment for the Court and concerned groups to amend the verdict of 13 April 2002. Such a courageous decision demands admiration and the respect of all nations.
Eritrea and Ethiopia must seek a genuine resolution for their conflict and hostility. A resolution for lasting peace must be founded on a genuine spirit of mutual reconciliation which is based on justice and respect for the human and political rights of their respective citizens. If both countries want genuine peace, governments must cease media wars which only serve to poison minds and political sentiments of the already afflicted peoples. Both countries must stop the madness of relying on military muscle to solve their conflicts and thereby wasting their meager economic resources to amass destructive weaponry with money needed for feeding their starving people.
Eritrea and Ethiopia must abide by the will and precepts of the Almighty God in dealing with their own respective citizens as well as each other’s citizens. Both countries should release promptly all military prisoners and civilian abductees and detainees on humanitarian grounds. If both countries truly believe in what they preach about democracy and respect for human rights, they must prove themselves to the world in action by guaranteeing full freedom of speech and individual rights for their respective citizens. Both countries have to understand from a religious viewpoint that violation of human rights and oppression of innocent people are serious crimes that cry out for Almighty God’s vindication.