By Simon Weldemichael,
Double standards have become a regular and widely used feature of international political affairs, and the international system is known for its differing treatment of countries and individuals. There exist no standard, impartial rules for all, and genuine cooperation and partnership have gone astray. Instead, domination, confrontation and exploitation have assumed a central role. Although the international system has passed through multipolar, bipolar and unipolar power arrangements, double standards have remained a constant.
The double standards characterizing the international system can best be illustrated by the case of Eritrea. After World War II, when the international community began talks to decide the future of the Italian colonies, Eritrea received its first lesson in double standards. While Libya and Somalia were granted independence, the case of Eritrea fell under the cloud of double standards. The then US Ambassador to the UN, John Foster Dulles, sought to explain the double standard by stating,
“From the point of justice, the opinion of the Eritrean people must receive consideration. Nevertheless, the strategic interest of the United States in the red sea basin and considerations of security and world peace make it necessary that the country [Eritrea] has to be linked with our ally, Ethiopia.”
The UK position in the debate to decide on the future of Eritrea buttressed Dulles’ statement,
“In the case of Eritrea, there was a third consideration besides the welfare of the inhabitants and the stability of the region … [we] thought that Ethiopia was entitled compensation (Gebreab 122).
By way of double standard, Eritrea was presented to Ethiopia covered by the linen of federation. The international community was essentially complicit in the 40 years of death and destruction of the Eritrean people. If the names of all the victims could be written on the road, and if all the kinds of atrocities committed over the people of Eritrea were listed alongside, the distance they would stretch would be far beyond the eye can see. Veteran fighter and mother Zeyneb Yassin, speaking to the author and journalist Roy Pateman during the struggle said,
“You have seen our country. Now you know why we want to be free. The Ethiopians came, they bombed our villages, they slaughtered our cattle and buried our children. Everything is burning now. Even the stones are burning” (Pateman 179).
Double standards would follow Eritrea, even after independence. Shortly after Eritrea won independence in 1991, Ethiopia waged a full-scale war on its former colonial possession with the aim of regime change. When the Ethiopian adventure was exhausted in the face of Eritrean resistance, a peace agreement was reached in 2000, with the AU, EU, UN, USA and Algeria as facilitators and guarantors of the agreement. A quick delineation and demarcation of the border was among the most important components of the agreement.
The boundary commission presented its verdict on 13 April 2002. However, Ethiopia raised a seemingly endless list of demands for clarification and modification before finally rejecting the “final and binding decision” of the commission. Remarkably, the guarantors of the agreement, instead of taking appropriate measures against the violating party, preferred to remain silent. Notably, the biased approach of US encourages Ethiopia violation of international law and tacitly supports Ethiopia’s aggression and occupation of large swathes of Eritrean territory.
The international community’s indecisiveness to implement the court verdict is an additional confirmation that the world often overlooks true justice. The Algiers Agreement of 2000 is disrespected by Ethiopia because of impunity. The two year war (1998-2000) and the subsequent “no war, no peace” situation waged heavy costs for both sides. However, in the face of extreme political, economic and military pressures, Eritrea, has continued to seek sovereignty, development, peace, and progress.
The double standard in the international community’s treatment of Ethiopia and Eritrea parallels numerous international cases. For example, acts of aggression by Iraq and Ethiopia over Kuwait and Eritrea respectively have no distinction at all. However, while the US employed force to scold Iraq, it tacitly has supported Ethiopia. The rationale? As noted in a recent article exploring the West’s misguided approach to the Horn of Africa, US and Western support for Ethiopia is,
“part of a policy approach based upon the misguided belief, dating back to the immediate post-World War II period but rearticulated more recently in terms of regional “anchor states” designations, that Ethiopia is vital to protecting U.S. and Western geostrategic interests and foreign policy aims”.
The US has constantly accused Eritrea of human rights violations and obstructed any kind of aid or investment that Eritrea can receive to combat poverty and underdevelopment. Contrary to the “no democracy, no aid” rhetoric, the US has worked closely with dictators who massacre theirs and with states funding terrorism.
It is true that the US has played a dominant role in the development of foundational international human right instruments and that it urges nations to embrace international human rights standards. On the other hand, however, the United States systematically declines to apply international human rights law in its domestic and foreign practices. In his famous book, ‘Turning the Tide – US Intervention in Central America and the Struggle for Peace’, Chomsky mentions John Humphrey’s description of the US in 1830, which describes it as a, “bloated, swaggering libertine…with one hand whipping a Negro tied to a liberty pole, and with another dashing an emaciated Indian to the ground” (Chomsky 3).
As for Eritrea, the unlawful castigation of 1950s made for international peace and security was now effectively remedied by human rights and other unsubstantiated allegations. After WWII, the US has regularly used human rights as an instrument to plague and torment small countries that refuse to sell their independence.
During a joint hearing on US policy toward Equatorial Guinea and Ethiopia, Mr. Delahunt stated that “by backing thugs against the aspiration of common people, we erode our most precious national asset, our standing in the world as a moral leader, the bulwark of democracy and human rights” (Delahunt 2007: 3).
He goes on to state that “If our moral currency is not as sound as the dollar, we will be hampered in our ability to build alliances and conduct an effective foreign policy that safeguards our interests” (Delahunt 2007: 4).
Another area where double standard manifests itself clearly is the case of migration. When western countries seek to close their doors to migrants, a special call was issued for Eritreans to leave their country (particularly through quick asylum processes). In fact, President Obama stated publicly that “We are partnering with groups that help women and children escape…” The objective was nothing but to help Eritreans but to capitulate and surrender the country.
Additionally, the UN, increasingly recognized as a tool of the US, has continued to punish Eritrea on the basis of false allegations. Since 2009, Eritrea has been burdened by international sanctions, even though the case has lacked even a shred of evidence.
Furthermore, for over a decade, the US has diverted international attention away from the disturbing role of Ethiopia in the region.
Today, the calls to lift the unjust and illegal sanctions against Eritrea have become louder and more persistent, and they reverberate around all corners of the world. In the face of the long list of double standards against Eritrea, the country dares to pursue true independence, promote self-reliant development, and ensure social justice. Eritrea will never be moved by political manipulation. Eritrea laid its foundation deep and on the rock, and it will not easily be shaken by the torrent of hostilities.