The EEBC’s Crime of Injustice, the Complicity of the UN, and the Betrayal of the International Community against the Irob Minority in Ethiopia:
A Critical Statement and An Urgent Call for Justice
By the Reverend Abba Tesfamariam Baraki
An Irob-Ethiopian-American Citizen
Washington, DC, USA
14 October 2003
“Remove justice, and what are kingdoms but gangs of criminals on a large scale?” St. Augustine (A.D. 354-430). The City of God, 4.4, A.D. 414-426. tr. Henry Bettenson, 1972. Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace .- Pope John Paul II on Celebration of the World Day of Peace, 1 January 1999).
“The States Parties to the present Covenant, Considering that, in accordance with the principles proclaimed in the Charter of the United Nations, recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world (Preamble).
Recognizing that these rights derive from the inherent dignity of the human person,
Recognizing that, in accordance with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the idea of free human beings enjoying the civil and political freedom and freedom from fear and want can only be achieved if conditions are created whereby everyone may enjoy his civil and political rights, as well as his economic, social and cultural rights, …
Agree upon the following articles (Preamble):
Article 1: (1) All peoples have the right of self-determination. By virtue of that right, they freely determine their political status and freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” (The United Nations Covenant of Civil and Political Rights: http://www.hrweb.org/legal/cpr.html).
On October 3, 2003, the members of the United Nations have, once again, in the words of St. Augustine of Hippo, trampled justice” and behaved in the name of their kingdoms as “gangs of criminals on a large scale”. They have carelessly and mercilessly exposed a tiny ethnic minority living between the countries of Eritrea and Ethiopia to the danger of disintegration and possible ethnic cleansing. Sooner or later this action may impact adversely all Ethiopian people.
In 1998 the United Nations had full knowledge that the Eritreans had illegally invaded the Irob ethnic minority and, for more than two years, horrendously brutalized them through all forms of physical and psychological torture, as well as causing economic destruction to their property. The UN repeatedly decided on demonstrating inhumanity and injustice toward the people of Irob and their territorial integrity by treating the matter as an insignificant and minor problem/obstacle to the peace process between the two feuding countries, Eritrea and Ethiopia. In his progress report, however, the UN Secretary-General never failed to blame (without mentioning the name of Irob) the inhabitants of Irob living in the vicinity of Aromo and the historically contested Drum Drum area. He accused them of being trouble-makers who consistently cross into the Temporary Security Zone and sometimes threaten or challenge the UNMEE peacekeepers.
Sadly, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (or EEBC, which is based in the Hague), the UN, the EU, the AU, and the United States have ignored the outcries and appeals of the Irob peoples from Ethiopia and Diaspora who have persistently and tirelessly sought justice against the threat of violation of their territorial and existential rights. Particularly, the United Nations, whose global mission is to protect the civic and human rights for all peoples despite their race, religion or status, chose to side with the ill-fated, unjust ruling of the independent Boundary Commission based in The Hague. So far, the UN not only failed to defend the Irob minority (who pre-existed the so-called “Eritrea”) from the ruthless and detrimental Boundary Commission’s decision but, instead, with unwavering determination aimed to dissect their land of birth and ancestors and award it to two bitter enemy countries. And that is why the Irob people and all Ethiopians are decrying the decision and regard it as a horrendous violation of human and civil rights, which would lead to more political instability and perpetuation of hostility between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea
In 1999, Pope John Paul II, in his Encyclical Redemptor Hominis (1999), stressed “the importance of respect for human rights”. He said, “Peace flourishes when these rights are fully respected, but when they are violated what comes is war, which causes other still graver violations” (See Respect for Human Rights: The Secret of True Peace).
Despite their guilty conscience, the members of EEBC on April 13, 2002, with a stroke of a pen, opted to commit a callous crime against the people of Irob who had lived in unison and harmony for centuries. They ruthlessly decided to divide, separate, and disintegrate the Irobs from their sacred fatherland just for the satisfaction of their abusers and victimizers. Even though the Commission was perfectly aware of its grave shortcomings in rendering justice fairly, it deliberately chose to adhere to their decision which affected the Irobs and other ethnic peoples in the region. Families, relatives and whole communities would be dissected and separated inhumanly into two bitterly hostile nationalities. The Commission did not have the courage and humility to rectify its deficiencies in the investigation and arbitration processes prior to delivering its final verdict. It totally failed to rescue a helpless people. Although the members of the EEBC were obligated to investigate personally, and carefully research all the possible consequences of their action before issuing their binding verdict, they did not do so. Rather, they arrogantly rejected all calls from concerned non-governmental groups and individuals. They declared that they would not accept any suggestions or advice except from the official sources of the Ethiopian and Eritrean governments who signed the Algiers Agreements in December 2000, which was based on defunct “colonial treaties” and “notes” of 1900, 1902, and 1908.
In my opinion, the Boundary Commission committed an injustice to the Irob people and their homeland by failing to investigate contested border matters and by accepting and employing inaccurate and controversial evidence, particularly in the Endeli projection in the Central Sector. In accordance with a confused assumption of the Colonial Treaty of 1900 between Italy and the Emperor Menelik II, they irresponsibly accepted, as a matter of fact, that the so-called “Muna River” or “Berbero Gado,” would supposedly flow eastbound from Zalamessa, dissecting Gulomakeda, Sabeya (Serrukoso) and Irobland, and then connect the Endeli River at the juncture.
If the Boundary Commission were truly interested in determining the truth so as to reach the right conclusion, and thus a fair arbitration, it had a good opportunity to do so. It could have interviewed some knowledgeable elders from Gulomakeda, Serrukuso, and Irob areas who would have assisted them in gaining a better understanding about the existence or inexistence of this controversial imaginary river named: “Muna/Berbero Gado”. No one would deny the existence of various tributaries that flow toward the east of Zalambessa, but none of them are called “Muna” or “Berbero Gado”. The main river that dissects the Gulomakeda, Sabeya, and Bucnaiti-Are/Enda-Bocnaito (Irob) and flows to the east until it joins the Endeli River is never been known as “Muna” or “Berbero Gado”.
The same river has different names in different localities in the Irob area. For example, some descriptive names attributed to this river are Engal-gade, Assabol-gade, Tsilalle-gade, Assarayie-gade, Dowhan-gade, Kadoita-gade, Kitra-gade, Zegarut-gade, Barbare-gade, etc. Most probably, the Boundary Commission might have used the latter name to identify the whole river from Zalambessa all the way to the Endeli River that is originated in the vicinity of Senafe (Eritrea). However, unless it is confused or misunderstood, the same river in question in no way can be identified or known as “Berbero Gado” or “Muna” River. First of all, the term “gade” means “river” in Saho language, which is the native tongue of the Irob people, as well as of some tribes in Eritrea. Therefore, logically it would be impossible for the disputed river to be named after “Berbero Gado” in the Gulomakeda, as well as Serrukuso/Sabeya regions where only the Tigrinya language is spoken and the word “gade” or “Gado” would not be understood to describe the so-called “Muna/Berbero Gado”. Secondly, the so-called “Barbare-gade” in the Irob region is known to describe the same river in question in a just particular tiny space of orchard (about 100-200 meters long field), where the Alitiena Monastery (Irob) used to plant some hot peppers (barbare means hot pepper), as well as fruit trees and vegetables. In other localities of the Irob where the same river flows, the name “Barbare-gade” is not known or identified except in that immediate area. It is absolutely illogical for the Boundary Commission to use the nonexistent “Muna/Berbero Gado” theory as the rationale for their border-delimiting line — a line (from Point 20 to Point 21 on the EEBC Map of border delimitation) which will impose compulsory separation of families, relatives, friends, and communities who have not been disturbed for centuries.
The Irob people in particular, and other Ethiopians in general must condemn and reject the EEBC’s careless and heartless verdict…a verdict that is destined to perpetuate more conflict between the brotherly peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea found in the border areas and beyond. The Commission’s ruling is unjust and unfair and will surely lead only to more problems than solutions. The EEBC, the UN, the EU, the AU, the United States and the international community, by forcing the government of Ethiopia to abide by the Algiers Agreement while the Ethiopian people as a whole are opposing it, are violating the territorial rights and protection of the citizens of Ethiopia, like the Irob, Afar, Kunama and others, and subjecting them to disintegration and possible ethnic cleansing. Intentionally or unintentionally, they are encouraging a political confrontation and instability within Ethiopia itself, that is, between the government and the opposing people as well as the military who sacrificed so much to protect the territorial integrity of their country.
Hence, the Irob people who had been in the forefront of victims of the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia from 1998-2000, strongly feel and resent the international community’s betrayal of, and interference in, the very life and death issue of the border delimitation and demarcation.
The Irob people and all Ethiopians in general, strongly resent and reject the support given by the UN, the EU and the United States of the EEBC’s unjust ruling criticizing the Ethiopian Government for not acting irresponsibly toward its citizen. It is their citizens who have been fighting for justice and fairness from the Boundary Commission and the United Nations since the inception of the Eritrean aggression and invasion in 1998.
In conclusion, on behalf of the defenseless and voiceless people of the Irob Wereda, the writer of this statement would like to appeal to the Ethiopian Government and all Ethiopians not to bend to unjust demands and pressures from the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, and the United States Congress and from the rest of the international community.
The Government of Ethiopia is beseeched not to betray the Irob people or other Ethiopians in exchange for continued relief and economic aid that the international community is promising as precondition if only the demarcation is promptly implemented as scheduled by the Boundary Commission. The Ethiopian Government has a sacred responsibility and obligation to heed the voices of its citizens and protect and safeguard them regardless of any social or political harm that might come from any external or internal forces or agents. The Government also has a sacred duty not to endanger the Irob people or other Ethiopians because of the continued influences and pressures of the international community, which never demonstrated any good gesture or effort in condemning, defending or protecting the fundamental civic and human rights of the Irob tribal minority during the Eritrean invasion and later during the EEBC unjust and unfair border delimitation. And, now they are forcing a demarcation that will inhumanely and cruelly disintegrate and/or uproot the same people from their sacred birth places of their ancestors.
Eritrea is indeed desperately asking that the border be immediately and securely demarcated once and for all without any possibility of flexibility or compromise or any form of renegotiation on the critical issue of the border area people like the Irob. No one will blame Eritrea for doing that, because Eritrea will benefit from the demarcation since it will legitimize its claim on the contested Irobland and other areas and their inhabitants. But this kind of stubborn attitude is not helpful for the two countries’ peace process or conflict resolution. The Irob people strongly oppose the argument which insists on “first, surrender your land and your people, and then we will negotiate.” The Irob people regard such an attitude as very dangerous and harmful to the Irob’s existence and security. As the British Ambassador indicated in his interviews with the Ethiopian Reporter lately in Addis Ababa, that is exactly what the International Community is attempting to do for Eritrea, while ignoring the human rights of the helpless and voiceless Irob ethnic minority whose rights are being inhumanly violated in the name of conflict resolution and fake-peace.
As a native clergy of the Irobland, the writer of this statement is fervently calling on the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, the United States Government, and other relevant parties to heed the Irob people’s cries for justice and to respect the civil and human rights and territorial integrity of their land. They also seek the recognition of their inalienable right to determine which country they will remain as citizens. The Irob people must be given a referendum without being forced to accept a blind verdict aimed at dividing and separating them from their families, relatives, and communities to which they are tied through birth, ancestral heritage and culture.
If the UN Security Council and the rest of the International Community are truly peacemakers and are seriously concerned for the two peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia, on an equal and equitable basis, they must understand that by resolutely disregarding the Irob people’s issues and their persistent pleas for justice they will not successfully break the impasse in the peace process and conflict resolution for the two countries. The United Nations and the whole international community need to realize that it is not a hasty and compulsory border demarcation that will guarantee a lasting peace for Eritrea and Ethiopia. First and foremost, mutual reconciliation and normalization of bilateral relations of both governments and their respective citizens are absolutely necessary. It must be understood that JUSTICE AND RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS ARE PREREQUISITES FOR A GENUINE AND LASTING PEACE. Otherwise, no justice then no peace! Such a conviction and stand neither should be understood as belligerency nor interpreted as saying, “NO” to “PEACE” and “YES” to “WAR”.