The Irob Community in North America
The Honorable Kofi Annan
The United Nations
One United Nations Plaza
New York, NY 10017-3515
On September 21, 2005, Eritrea warned the United Nations that it might rekindle its war with Ethiopia if the international body fails to resolve the lingering territorial dispute between the two countries. This statement, made only a few years after a bloody war in which tens of thousands of Eritreans and Ethiopians perished is deeply perturbing.
The people of Irob are all too familiar with the evils of war. After all, our people were one of the worst victims of the 1998 war that was fought in the name of a territorial claim. After living for hundreds of years in quiet God-fearing serenity where we farmed our land and harvested our honey, suddenly, and without warning, Eritrea came into our homes, raped our women, killed our boys and abducted our priests (see Ethiopia-Eritrea Claim Commission’s Report for objective findings on these facts). Immediately following the invasion, Eritrea claimed our people and large segments of Irobland.
But the worst evil that befell the people of Irob was not only the actual invasion of our land and the cruelty our people endured. In a most blatant act of awarding aggression, the Ethiopia-Eritrea Boundary Commission decided to split our land and our communities to give the historically, administratively, and legally Ethiopian territory of northern Irob (Enda-Algeda) and a substantial section of western Iroland (Enda-Boknaito) to Eritrea.
The injustice of this magnitude took place because the Boundary Commission, apparently, did not examine the historical and legal status of the region appropriately. But above all, it did not consult the concerned people before making a decision of such importance. The Boundary Commission never visited our region and never heard from our people. Is the United Nations surprised why the peace process is at a standstill? If the Boundary Commission’s fateful decision were implemented as it stands, it would be akin to the Alsace-Lorraine region being given to Germany. It would amount to the United States agreeing that San Diego and its environs be joined with Mexico. The United Nations and all the sponsors of the Algiers Agreement must understand that there will be no peace between the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea unless the issue of Irob, as well as the rights of other border populations, are addressed and resolved in a manner acceptable to the concerned and directly affected peoples.
The United Nations, however, must first conclude that the Boundary Commission and the Algiers Agreement have been utterly unable to respond to the crisis before us. We, therefore, ask the United Nations to consider the following observations to understand some of the reasons for the current impasse:
The United Nations must understand that the reason for the current state of affairs between the two brotherly countries is a result of the Boundary Commission’s ruling of April 13, 2002, which has been perceived as a dangerous and detrimental decision to the very existence of those affected populations whose native territories, families, and communities would be divided between two nations.. The fate of Irobland is a prime example of this act: Irobland, existing before the creation of the Italian colony of Eritrea in the late 19th century, remained undivided within Ethiopia, until April 13, 2002, when five Boundary Commissioners, who did not even visit the area, carelessly decided to partition it. They believed, naively, that they were involved in some strange act of justice where both parties would walk away with a morsel of land without any concern for the local people.
The United Nations must understand that the people of Irob particularly and other affected peoples as well in the border area endured extreme suffering under the invading Eritrean army for two years (1998-2000) when Eritrea made its territorial claim. Irobs were subjected to some of the worst violations of human rights. Our women were raped, our villages were pillaged, and our people were abducted by Eritrean soldiers (still over 85 of them remain unaccounted for). Our members of the clergy, including nuns, were not spared. Awarding Eritrea our land and our people that underwent such incredible abuse would truly be one of the most cynical acts of this century.
The United Nations must understand that the Boundary Commission’s verdict cannot bring about a lasting and a peaceful solution for the peoples of Ethiopia and Eritrea. It is rather designed to cause and pass on for generations of Ethiopians and Eritreans, anger, resentment, vengefulness, rancor and extreme bitterness that can only lead to conflict and bloodshed for generations to come. As we all know, violence and revenge are cyclical.
The United Nations must understand that being so unconcerned and unresponsive to the persistent demands and appeals of the people of Irob to deny remaining in Ethiopia as Ethiopians make the United Nations complicit if a future conflict arises in the region. In none of its resolutions or reports has the United Nations Security Council even mentioned the issue of Irobland.
The United Nations must understand that the land of Irob, which is viewed by the people of Irob and Ethiopians as being equally as important as Badme, must be an issue to be reckoned with. Without this recognition, peace between the two countries will be nothing but a fleeting dream.
Eritrea’s threat of war comes in the heels of the United Nations Security Council resolution calling on Ethiopia and Eritrea to bear “primary responsibility” for implementing the Algiers Agreement. Yet, here we are, five years after the guns stopped roaring, that we hear of the renewed possibility of blood spilling in that unfortunate part of the world.
Your Excellency, as you, the Security Council, and others have urged many times, dialogue between Ethiopia and Eritrea is the only best solution for the two countries. We urge the United Nations to give this call serious weight and to take a much more proactive role by taking into account ALL of the points raised in this appeal letter. We further appeal to Your Excellency to facilitate and provide a forum where, at the very least, Eritrean and Ethiopian religious leaders and other respected elders from both communities representing the affected border areas can participate in finding a lasting solution to this dilemma.
Your Excellency, we are convinced that a lasting peace can only be achieved not through an imposition of a deeply flawed Boundary Commission’s ruling that unfairly divides Irobland (as well as other affected areas along the border) but through a meaningful dialogue facilitated by you, the Security Council, and other interested state and non-state parties. We must reiterate, however, as we have done so in countless appeals in the past, that the future of the peace process will depend on the United Nations’ understanding that our ancient and undivided land and people must not be divided in two. Let us not repeat the tragedy repeated in many parts of Africa where tribes and ethnic groups have been divided in half and placed in two nations by different colonial rulers, which, as you know, has resulted in countless conflicts in the continent. The Boundary Commission’s flagrant ignorance of this historical fact and current reality is truly astounding. We believe that this tragedy may be averted through your facilitation of a meaningful dialogue where this reality is recognized, and one that will not endanger or compromise the historical integrity of Irobland and its people to remain intact in Ethiopia as Ethiopians.
Recognition of the reality we have outlined in our appeal and a fresh start of the peace process may not only bring resolution to the territorial dispute but also pave the path for reconciliation between the brotherly peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia.
Representatives of The Irob Community in North America