U.S. Congressman Slams Washington’s Role in Eritrea-Ethiopia Border Dispute

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Border Dispute
DISGRACEFUL. Given its incoherent policy to the region, the U.S. administration has descended from an arbiter and guarantor of the Algiers Agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea into a party to the conflict. Such misguided policy has contributed to further complication and destabilization of the strategically sensitive region.

By Organization of Eritrean Americans (OEA),

California Congressman Dana Rohrabacher, chairman of the House subcommittee on Europe, Eurasia, and Emerging Threats, last week strongly criticized the U.S. government for its role in the border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea that claimed the lives of tens of thousands of people on both sides of the border.

Congressman Rohrabacher made these remarks at a hearing on the growing tensions between Ethiopia and Egypt on water sharing, and particularly in a response to suggestion that Washington could arbiter the dispute between the two African nations.

Challenging a witness who had suggested U.S. arbitration in the emerging water-sharing conflict between the two U.S. allies, the Republican congressman, who was chairing the subcommittee hearing, said, “I thought the behavior of our government in that whole episode [the Eritrea-Ethiopia border dispute] was disgraceful, and has undermined our ability to arbitrate other disputes.”

“Let’s just note that, we did convince the Ethiopians at one point to agree to arbitration of a major dispute that they were in with Eritrea,” the congressman said. Then when “the decision of the arbiters went against Ethiopia in their border dispute with Eritrea…and we extracted some kind of other deal with them to help us with some sort of defense related deal…and let them off the hook, basically said they didn’t have to follow their arbitration.” He described Washington’s behavior as “disgraceful.”

In his assessment of the damage to U.S. credibility as a result of such action flouting international law, he stated, this “meant the message to all of Africa was you don’t…you better skip out the arbitration because that just doesn’t work, even the Americans are going to discard it, what the result is. That was very sad.”

Ethiopia and Eritrea signed the Algiers Peace Agreement on their disputed borders in December 2000 allowing the Hague-based independent Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission to render a “final and binding” decision. The AU, EU, UN and USA witnessed this historic agreement as ‘Guarantors of the Peace Agreement.” And in April 13, 2002, the EEBC reached a verdict that was hailed by the U.N. and AU and EU. Eritrea accepted the decision. While Ethiopia, which initially appeared to accept it and in fact boasted of its favorable outcome, reneged on delimitation implementation.

However, the Unites States, as a key guarantor of the agreement, has yet to condemn, compel or sanction Ethiopia for failing to abide by the verdict and by international rule of law. In fact, at different stages since the 2002 ruling, Washington actively worked to openly sabotage efforts by the Boundary Commission to implement the decision.

For example, former George W. Bush administration official John Bolton publicly accused that former U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs Jendayi Frazer tried to prevent the demarcation of the border according to the final and binding 2002 Eritrea Ethiopia Boundary Commission decision. In February 2006, he said, Frazer told him to “reopen” the 2002 decision “which she had concluded was wrong, and award a major piece of disputed territory to Ethiopia.”

OEA in a letter to Congressman Rohrabacher has called for a thorough investigation of this entire episode to make an assessment of any damage to our nation’s credibility abroad—and at home—and hold individual policy makers accountable for this policy failure in order to avoid similar ill-advised actions in the future.