BEYOND THE BADME DEBATE:
THE FORGOTTEN CASE OF IROBLAND
An Open Letter and Appeal
To: Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC)
Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, CBE QC
H.E. Prince Bola Adesumbo Ajibola
Professor W. Michael Reisman
Judge Stephen M. Schwebel
Sir Arthur Watts, KCMG QC
Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission
Professor Dr. Hans Van Houtte
Mr George Aldrich
Mr. John Crook
Dean James Paul
Ms Lucy F. Reed
From: The Reverend Abba Tesfamariam Baraki
An Irob-Ethio-American Citizen
Washington, DC, USA
On the eve of the first year anniversary of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s decision on the boundary between Ethiopia and Eritrea, the fate of Irobland remains unsettled. Almost one year after the ill-fated decision which gave over one-third of Irobland from northern and western parts to Eritrea, the people of Irob have been witnesses to legal and political wrangling between the two countries over Badme, landmines, troop buildups and force commanders. But they have not heard anything about their future after they were carelessly dissected into two nationalities across the borders of two hostile countries and left to suffer in despair.
On April 13, 2001, when the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea announced their victory regarding their common border, thousands of Irobs woke up to find their history and their heritage suddenly altered by five judges that had never set foot in the boundary region. They were initially confused by the Commission’s decision because the decision placed the term “Irob” entirely in Ethiopia, yet numerous Irob villages and hamlets were now placed in Eritrea. They were confused as to why Ethiopia declared absolute victory because Eritrean radio stations in the Washington D.C. area and apparently in Eritrea were bragging that they won one-third of Irobland. Slowly, our fears became true. It became clear that despite the many pleas made by the people of Irob, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission had shockingly sacrificed the people of Irob for the sake of political compromise.
Reiterating pleas they made before the decision, the people of Irob immediately protested this inhuman act. But neither the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission nor the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea have addressed this burning issue. (I encourage readers to read everything the Boundary Commission has written at its own website, The Permanent Court of Arbitration .).
Other than the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s writings that do not address the suffering of the people of Irob, our only source of information are reports from foreign news sources that the demarcation of the boundary will begin in May 2003, and lately, that Ethiopia and Eritrea were called by the Commission to hold discussions regarding the boundary in London two weeks ago. As reported in IRIN, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission hosted a “high-level meeting between the two countries”. However, the report does not reveal critical information such as: (a) Who was present at the meeting? (b) What happened at this meeting? (c) What was discussed? (d) Was Irobland discussed? The people of Irob remain, as ever, in the dark.
Nor have the people of Irob received assurance that the terrible abuse they suffered during the war of 1998 by the invasion and occupation of Eritreans, whose atrocities are too numerous to list, are being addressed. When and how will the people of Irob, whose lives were adversely affected and whose source of the economy was completely destroyed by the Eritreans, be returned to normal? When the innocent people who were abducted by Eritrean troops from their farms, villages, and churches will return to their homeland? And when their conditions and whereabouts will be known? Has the Claims Commission addressed these crucial issues? If not, when will it do so? All we hear is the loud and deafening sound of silence. Irobland and the poor, innocent, deeply religious, and hard working people of Irob have been forgotten.
Today, on the eve of the one-year anniversary of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission’s verdict, the people of Irob continue to inflexibly reject the ruling that is dangerous and detrimental to their socio-political reality. They adamantly oppose to being divided into two nations against their will either through a grave error committed by the United Nations and/or by the mutual consent of the governments of Ethiopia and Eritrea. If the Boundary Commission’s unfair verdict is left to stand, it will be nothing but a death sentence on the principles that all nations and nationalities revere: the right to determine one’s nationality and citizenship. Unfortunately, the only time another entity such as the Boundary Commission violated the God-given rights of nationality, citizenship, and freedom in Africa was the inhumane partitioning of boundaries by the colonial powers during the Berlin Conference of 1884-5.
The Berlin Act of 1885 is one of these tragic decisions in history. No importance was given to the problem of tribal and ethnic groups being found on different sides of boundaries. The only issue that mattered to the European powers who met in Berlin and in the years following the Conference was the creation of their own boundaries regardless of the concerns of the fundamental social justice and primary human rights of those tribes to be divided permanently. In reality, the people did not matter. Will the Boundary Commission repeat such a historic tragedy? How can this Commission, in the twenty-first century, not realize the tragedy that took place in Africa more than one hundred years ago? One would think that the fragmentation, displacement, family separation, wars and the human suffering that have befallen many African ethnic groups, to name just a few, the Hausas, the Fulanis, the Tutsis, the Hutus, etc., would have been a lesson to the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. Why didn’t the Nigerian Commissioner (who was appointed by Ethiopia) raise this issue? Did he and his colleagues fail to address it because of their lack of acquaintance with the crucial case of Irobland? Are they oblivious to the issue of warfare and unrest in Africa as a result of ethnic divisions?
Unfortunately, despite the persistent outcry and reminder of this problem by the people of Irob at home and in the diaspora, the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission and the United Nations have up to now completely ignored the burning issue of Irobland, which may very well determine not only the success or collapse of the peace process, but also, the attainment of a long-lasting settlement and stability between the two countries.
The people of Irob are resolute in their belief that the boundary ruling issued on 13 April 2002 by the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission in the so-called Endeli Projection needs to be modified, adjusted or annulled. If this is not possible, the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments ought to exercise their common sense by being far-sighted enough to find a solution to this problem. Both governments know in their hearts that in the Irobland, the traditionally and administratively recognized border (the pre-war boundary) would most probably be accepted and honored by those in the immediate border areas. If this is not accomplished, the only thing the current leaders will pass on to the next generation of Ethiopians and Eritreans will be animosity and war. As we have said in past writings, in a few years, there will not be a Boundary Commission to speak of. Only the two nations and their people will remain. And only the two nations know what is good for their people. The Boundary Commission is made up of people whose true purpose and interest is not known.
It is my prayer and the wish of all Irob people that the two countries would open their hearts and minds to God to be able to sit down and discuss not only the problem of Irobland but also the whole boundary question carefully for the sake of a genuine lasting peace. But this has not materialized so far. The Irob people, therefore, are left with you ten Commissioners (the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission and Eritrea-Ethiopia Claims Commission) who will decide their future. Commissioners, for the sake of peace in the entire region, the people of Irob make the following appeal to you. As judges encumbered with this heavy and serious responsibility, you are begged to respect the will and the wish of the people of Irob to remain Ethiopians, as they have remained for hundreds of years. In my opinion, it is absolutely necessary for you, Commissioners, to go to the region yourselves and to see with your own eyes this burning issue of Irobs before the scheduled demarcation begins. If you are unable to do so, you are urged to take your time to research and read the ancient history of Irob and its affinity to Tigrayan and Ethiopian history. For an abbreviated and excellent background on the rich history of the people of Irob, I urge you to read a paper written by Souba Hais, and which can be accessed at Some Facts About Irob .
Commissioners, we, the Irob people, appeal to your sense of justice and fairness that you facilitate the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia to settle the Irob issue peacefully and in accordance with the Irob peoples’ desire to remain undivided in their motherland, Ethiopia. We pray that you use the incredible power you have been given to become peacemakers and not the agents of new conflict. The eyes of history are truly upon you.
The United Nations
The Holy See
The African Union
The European Union
The European Parliament
The Permanent Court of Arbitration
The White House
The United States Department of State
The United States Senate
The United States House of Representatives
The Ethiopian Parliament
Foreign Embassies in Ethiopia