The political leadership in Ethiopia and Eritrea failed to heed the international community's pleas for restraint and appeals for peace at crucial junctures in their two-year showdown. Despite the mediators' increasing frustration, intense truce efforts continued unabated led by the OAU, the U.N., the United States, and the E.U., as well as by several other bilateral mediators. But the world community stopped short of decisive diplomatic and economic pressures on the two parties to bring their deadly conflict to an early end.
The mediators ultimately managed to bring the war to a halt, and convinced the parties to accept international arbitration of their border dispute. This was hailed at the time as a success story for African and U.N. diplomacy and the consistent backing the lead OAU mediators in the later phase of the process had received from the United States and European Union. The peace agreement that the two parties signed on December 12, 2000 addressed the same three key issues as an OAU Framework Agreement on which it was based: delimitation and demarcation of the border; compensation for the losses, damage, and injuries resulting from the conflict; and investigation of the origins of the war. For each of these issues, the peace agreement provided for the establishment of an independent arbitration mechanism.
Because the border dispute had sparked the war, the Boundary Commission established under the peace agreement occupied center stage from the very beginning. The commission delivered its ruling on the delimitation of the border on April 13, 2002. Both governments, much to the relief of the world, declared their acceptance of the decision, with each claiming that it was in their favor. The parties' reaction was anticipated with great anxiety, leading to the delay of the announcement, which was had been in late February, and to a visit by the U.N. Security Council to both countries that month to calm rising tensions between them. These tensions persisted after the ruling, with each of the two governments claiming that the disputed village of Badme fell on its territory according to the delineation ruling. The U.N. peace mission drew the wrath of the Ethiopian government involvement shortly after the ruling when it organized a visit for international journalists to Badme from the Eritrean side of the border. Ethiopia briefly closed its border to the mission and later demanded the replacement of the mission's force commander.138
Like its counterpart for the boundary dispute, the claims commission, also known as the compensation commission, operated under the umbrella of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. But unlike the border commission, of which the U.N.'s cartography unit was member and provided technical expertise, the claims commission was set as a separate body from the U.N. system and the peace mission. This shielded the commission from the spotlight, with little information filtering to the outside world on the progress of its work by the first quarter of 2002. The mechanism of inquiry on the origins of the war received even less attention, with both parties reportedly showing little interest even in pushing for its formation.
The Boundary Commission's ruling laid the foundation for lasting peace in the region. However, the limited scope of the ruling left out contentious issues that, left unresolved, could in the future stoke renewed tensions. Chief among these were the political and economic tensions that had initially set the two former allies on a collision course and the human rights and humanitarian consequences arising from the conflict, particularly the problem of mass expulsions. Nationality issues are also sure to arise anew once the border is demarcated in light of the April 13 decision and entire communities in the disputed border areas find themselves on the wrong side of the border.
In the wake and largely as a result of the war, political dissent and popular unrest rocked the ruling parties in both countries. Both parties violently cracked down on dissenters, making civil and political liberties the latest casualties of their war. In Ethiopia, simmering disputes within the ruling Ethiopian Popular Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) over the prosecution and conclusion of the war lead to an open opposition to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi in March 2001. The dissenters complained that the government had concluded a premature and unfavorable peace agreement. They reportedly wanted the army to secure control over the port of Assab before agreeing to the ceasefire. The dissenters also reportedly faulted the prime minister for slowing the pace of expulsions of people of Eritrean origin. The government fired the dissenting politicians and officials, and charged leading opponents with economic corruption. Police in mid-April used excessive force against student demonstrators who were calling for greater academic freedom, killing forty, wounding hundreds, and detaining thousands of demonstrators.
In Eritrea, the ruling Popular Front for Democracy and Justice in mid 2001 jailed critics who pressed for accountability for its leaders' role in precipitating the country into what proved to be a disastrous war. The government closed down the small independent press, which had served as a forum for the government critics, and subjected university students who had demonstrated peacefully to request greater participation in decisions affecting them to harsh treatment and to jail.
After an early chorus of denunciation, the international community seemingly became oblivious to the problem of mass expulsions in the Horn of Africa war. The issue of the nationality status of those expelled from Ethiopia was addressed in the December 2002 peace agreement only indirectly. Of particular concern was the agreements' silence on whether the Claims Commission was specifically empowered to review nationality claims. As the following overview of the international community's response to the conflict indicates, the resolution of the socioeconomic impact of the conflict and the compensation of the affected populations became a stumbling block on which the peace process faltered at various stages of its evolution. UNHCR was the sole agency to address this issue, but first moved to do so only in late 1999 after thousands had already been expelled or deported.
The sudden outbreak of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea appeared to come as a total surprise to their strategic allies in the world. The United Sates and Rwanda, two of the closest partners of both governments, immediately dispatched high-level delegations to mediate a settlement that would avoid further deterioration. After several rounds of shuttle diplomacy, the mediators in May 1998 recommended to the two parties the deployment of a small observer mission, to be organized by Rwanda with U.S. assistance, in the disputed area of Badme; the redeployment of Eritrean forces to positions held before May 6, 1998; and the return of the previous (Ethiopian) civilian administration, this without prejudice to the territorial claims of either party. The Rwandan-U.S. plan also called for an investigation into the events of May 6, 1998, which had triggered the escalation of the border dispute, and a binding delimitation and demarcation of the boundary between the two parties to achieve lasting peace.139 Eritrea objected to the unilateral redeployment proposed by the U.S. and Rwandan mediators, while Ethiopia insisted on the return to the status quo ante called for under the plan. These irreconcilable positions led to the breakdown of the U.S.-Rwandan initiative.
The Organization of African Unity (OAU)140
The OAU's Framework Agreement - November 1998
Ethiopia accepted the OAU framework agreement shortly after it was tabled. Eritrea expressed a number of reservations and ultimately refused to withdraw its troops from Badme as called for under the agreement, saying that its withdrawal would be an acknowledgment of Ethiopia's sovereignty over Badme and other disputed territories. One of the main elements of the OAU document that Eritrea found contentious, according to Haile Woldensae, then Eritrea's foreign minister, was its position on the issue of human rights. The official said that the proposal must include a reference to the expulsion of citizens and specifically provide for the compensation of "illegally-expelled" Eritrean nationals.142
The OAU's framework agreement in fact addressed the human rights and humanitarian problems arising from the conflict, and outlined a framework to resolve them. Paragraph 8-a of the proposal calls on the two parties to commit to "put an end to measures directed against the civilian population and to refrain from any action which can cause further hardship and suffering to each other's nationals." Paragraph 8-b would commit them "to addressing the negative socio-economic impact of the crisis on the civilian population, particularly those persons who had been deported." Paragraph 8-c calls for the deployment of human rights monitors by the OAU in collaboration with the U.N. "in order to contribute to the establishment of a climate of confidence between the two parties."143
Eritrea unexpectedly declared its acceptance of the OAU's framework agreement on February 27, 1999 after Ethiopia overran its defenses and recaptured the disputed Badme plains. However, differences of interpretation of the document kept the two countries at odds. Hostilities soon escalated, leading to a renewed escalation of the fighting in May and June 1999.
Modalities for the Implementation of the OAU's Framework Agreement - July 1999
While both countries declared their acceptance of the modalities, each continued to question the other's commitment to peace. The Eritrean insistence that people of Eritrean heritage expelled from Ethiopia be compensated appeared to add a precondition to acceptance since the modalities didn't address the issue.
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said "we have to see if Eritreans are going to accept it without buts and ifs."145 Commenting on the Eritrean president's letter of acceptance, Ethiopia threatened to resume fighting if Eritrea failed to adhere to the letter of the modalities and continued to insist on "preconditions and amendments" before accepting the OAU plan.146 A major element behind Ethiopia's discontent was Eritrea's introduction of the issue of reparations for the deportees as underlined in a statement by the Ethiopian foreign minister: "What Eritrea told the Algiers summit was that it had a different cutoff date for return to the status quo ante - not May 6, 1998, as indicated in black and white in the modalities, but specifically July 1997. [O]ther amendments requested by Eritrea include a demand for compensation for alleged 56 villages uprooted and for Eritrean urban deportees."147
Technical Arrangements for the Implementation of the OAU's Framework Agreement and its Modalities - August 1999
The technical arrangements document also provided for the establishment of various other mechanisms for the implementation of the OAU settlement plan. For example, consistent with paragraph 8-b of the framework agreement, which placed the direct responsibility of resolving the humanitarian issues and the socioeconomic consequences of the conflict on the two parties, paragraph 14 of the technical arrangements further called on them to refer specific claims to an appropriate mechanism of arbitration for binding resolution in case of their failure to reach an agreement on such issues. Paragraph 14 also provided that "if the Parties are unable to agree on the appropriate mechanism of arbitration within a period of three months starting from the signing, the U.N. Secretary-General, in consultation with the OAU Secretary General, will determine the appropriate mechanism of arbitration."148
Eritrea immediately accepted the technical arrangements. Ethiopia first signaled its dissatisfaction with some of the document's provisions, and ultimately rejected it altogether, citing its failure to ensure Ethiopia's sovereignty as main reason.149
It is obvious that grievances of people forcibly expelled or deported by either party, and their complaints about ill-treatment, family separation, and loss of property would have come under the mandate of the mechanisms set forth in paragraph 14 of the Technical Arrangements. However, it is not clear whether the issue of arbitrary deprivation of nationality would have been covered by the arbitration mechanisms that paragraph 14 allowed for.
As the belligerents dug themselves into irreconcilable positions, the entire scheme set forth in the Technical Arrangements for the Implementation of the OAU Framework Agreement was largely overtaken by events. Sensing the clock ticking towards yet another round of deadly fighting, the OAU, backed by the U.S. and the E.U., convened intensive talks from April 29 to May 5 aimed at bringing the two parties to agree on a revised peace implementation plan. The talks again failed to resolve the core disagreements.
Agreement of Cessation of Hostilities - June 2000
Following these shifts, the OAU negotiators presented in early June a "revised, consolidated" peace proposal to representatives of the two parties. In the Agreement on Cessation of Hostilities they finally signed on June 18, 2000, the two parties reaffirm their "acceptance of the OAU Framework Agreement and the Modalities for its Implementation," signaling by omission that the technical arrangements were moot. The agreement required Ethiopia to withdraw to positions it controlled before the start of the war in 1998, but only after the deployment of U.N. peacekeepers in a 25 km wide buffer zone running along the border from which Eritrean troops would be withdrawn. The U.N. peacekeeping force would operate under the auspices of the OAU to monitor the parties' compliance with the agreement and allow the neutral demarcation of the border.
The U.N. Security Council affirmed that the OAU's framework agreement provided the "best hope" for peace on January 29, 1999 and urged Eritrea, which was the party stalling at the time, to accept the proposal. Its resolution also called on both parties in the strongest terms to undertake urgent measures to improve the humanitarian and human rights situation. Ethiopia said it was "encouraged" by the resolution.
Despite the strong appeals, hostilities resumed only days later. On February 10, the Security Council issued another resolution demanding that Ethiopia and Eritrea stop fighting and that other states immediately end all arms sales to both sides. The mere threat of an arms embargo invited strong reactions from the belligerents. This alone should have indicated to the U.N. their vulnerability to a real ban on arms sales and delivery to their rapidly expanding militaries, but the U.N. did not take that step until more than a year later. In response to the February 10 resolution, the Ethiopian parliament passed a special resolution that expressed "its deep anger at the injustice done to Ethiopia" by the Security Council, and deplored "the attempt to deny Ethiopia, a victim of aggression...the right to self defense."150 The Eritrean government affirmed that, though it was committed not to start war, it reserved "the legitimate right to self defense in the face of aggression."151
The president of the Security Council, in a press statement on June 23, 1999, expressed dismay at the escalating conflict, especially that both countries were continuing to buy weapons while much of their populations faced famine. He reminded the two governments that it was their primary responsibility to feed their peoples and repeated the council's calls for "an immediate and unconditional cease-fire," and for the imposition of an arms embargo on both countries.152
Responding to a transient flare up in the fighting, the Security Council members on March 14, 2000, released a press statement that called on Eritrea and Ethiopia to cooperate "fully and urgently" with the OAU and to participate constructively in its efforts to settle the dispute between them.153 With clear signals in early May 2000 that the countdown for another round of deadly confrontations in the Horn of Africa war was already underway, the Security Council extended its special mission to the Democratic Republic of the Congo to include Addis Ababa and Asmara. The mission, which was headed by the permanent representative of the U.S., Richard Holbrook, and included six other ambassadors, visited the two capitals on May 8 and 9 respectively. Leaders of the two government were again unmoved by U.N. exhortations to restraint. The mission reported back to the Security Council that it found the differences between the two sides, "while real, were relatively small and manageable and could be resolved by intensive negotiations over time."154 Days after it left the region, fighting resumed over these differences with rare intensity.
The Security Council in a May 12 resolution strongly condemned the renewed fighting, and demanded the cessation of hostilities and resumption of talks by the two parties under OAU auspices. As the fighting continued, the council reiterated these demands in resolution 1298 of May 17, 2000, in which it also imposed an arms embargo on the two countries. The unanimous resolution, sponsored by the U.S., barred the sale and delivery of arms and other military equipment and services to the two countries for a year, or until the secretary-general was able to report a "peaceful, definitive settlement of the conflict."155 The belated U.N. arms embargo on the belligerents was destined to have little effect in the short and medium terms, coming as it did after frantic arms shopping sprees during which each of the two parties spent hundreds of millions of dollars and amassed huge stocks of arms and munitions.
United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE)
In response to formal requests from the Eritrean and Ethiopian governments to assist them in implementing the cessation of hostilities, the U.N. moved promptly. In early July the U.N. secretary-general dispatched an advance team to the Horn of Africa region to pave the way for the deployment of U.N. peacekeeping mission. Based on the recommendations of the team, the Security Council on July 31 unanimously adopted resolution 1312 (2000) establishing a United Nations Mission in Ethiopia and Eritrea (UNMEE) of up to one hundred military observers and support staff in anticipation of a larger mission. On September 15, the council authorized 4,200 troops for UNMEE and doubled the authorized number of military observers in resolution 1320 (2000).
Comprehensive Peace Agreement - December 12, 2000
In the meantime, member states had cooperated with UNMEE by offering troops and resources for the mission. By late October, UNMEE military observers took positions along both sides of the disputed border, allowing the agreement to take root. On April 18, 2001, UNMEE declared the establishment of the Temporary Security Zone (TSZ). This action marked the formal separation of the parties' forces and was a necessary precondition to the full implementation of the peace agreement of December 12, 2000.156
UNMEE's Human Rights Component
UNMEE's human rights component became operational during the second quarter of 2001. The mission's human rights officers were by then visiting the various sectors of the Temporary Security Zone and conducting investigations on the treatment of vulnerable groups of Ethiopians in Eritrea and of Eritreans in Ethiopia. The officers' assignment also included the monitoring of the return of displaced persons.158 In particular, UNMEE's human rights workers interviewed persons repatriated or deported to both countries and documented their treatment. Their reporting as of June 2001 was included in the human rights section of the secretary-general's quarterly reports to the Security Council on the progress of the implementation of the peace agreement, providing the Security Council with an effective tool for pressing the two parties to afford humane treatment to each other's nationals. One factor contributing to the scaling down of deportations from both countries would thus appear to have been the combination of UNMEE's field monitoring and the periodic opportunity for the secretary-general to publicly disclose reported abuses of these vulnerable groups.
The Claims Commission
Article 5-8 specifies that "claims shall be submitted to the Commission by each of the parties on its own behalf and on behalf of its nationals, including both natural and juridical persons. All claims submitted to the Commission must be filed no later than one year from the effective date of this agreement."160 Obviously mindful of the disputed nationality status of many of the deportees, particularly those who were forcibly removed from Ethiopia, the agreement provides in article 5-9 that "in appropriate cases, each party may file claims on behalf of persons of Eritrean or Ethiopian origin who may not be its nationals. Such claims shall be considered by the Commission on the same basis as claims submitted on behalf of that party's nationals."161 Finally, article 5-17 engages the parties to accept the decision and awards of the commission as final and binding and to honor all decisions and to pay any monetary awards rendered against them promptly.162
Immediately after signing the December agreement, Ethiopia invited any of its citizens and foreign residents who had suffered material loss or whose human rights have been violated as a result of the war to present their claims to a National Committee for Collecting Compensation Claims.163
On January 26, 2001, Ethiopia and Eritrea met the first deadline established by the December 12 agreement by announcing their respective appointments to the neutral Boundary Commission and neutral Claims Commission.164 One month later, the four arbitrators appointed by the parties to the Claims Commission selected a chairman for the commission.165 The Claims Commission was to commence its work in The Hague within fifteen days of this formation. This brisk pace hit a snag when by mid May each side had rejected arbitrators nominated by the other. A May 14-15 informal meeting of the commission broke the impasse by agreeing to replace the contested nominees.166 The commission later provided general information on the progress of its work for inclusion in the secretary-general's June 2001 report to the Security Council.167 However, the three subsequent quarterly reports of the secretary-general did not annex updates from the Claims Commission.
The international bureau of the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague, which serves as the registry for the claims commission, announced that claims were submitted to the commission by the deadline of December 12, 2001.168 Under the peace agreement, the commission is to endeavor to complete its work within three years of the deadline for filing claims.
Earlier U.N. Responses to Expulsions
The statement drew an angry reaction from the Ethiopian government. The foreign ministry blamed the commissioner for ignoring the fate of Ethiopians harassed in Eritrea, considered her statement on the plight of Eritreans as "absolutely groundless," and said the statement was of the kind "that would undermine the credibility of the office of the United Nations."169 In an interview with Ethiopian Television on July 9, Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said Eritreans in Ethiopia were treated in accordance with international conventions. Ethiopia's right to deport the "fifth columnists was not something to be negotiated," he said.170 A follow-up plan by the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to send long-term observation missions to both countries was stalled mainly due to the row with the Ethiopian government over the commissioner's first statement. This stalemate appears to have stymied the high commissioner's efforts to intervene in this crisis.
The United Nations' system in Ethiopia was directly affected by the expulsions when authorities there deported some twenty-five locally-recruited U.N. staff of Eritrean origin in the first weeks of the campaign. In an unprecedented move, the Ethiopian Ministry of Foreign Affairs even wrote to several U.N. agencies, naming some staff members "persona non grata," allegedly because they posed threats to the national security of Ethiopia. Concerns for the safety of the targeted staff members and their families led the Economic Commission for Africa (ECA), which has its headquarters in the Ethiopian capital, to assist in the relocation of several Eritrean nationals and Ethiopians of Eritrean origin to Nairobi.
The expulsions of U.N. staff prompted a strong reaction from the U.N. Secretariat. In a Note Verbale dated October 22 1998, the Organization reminded the Ethiopian government that these measures were in express violation of its obligations vis-à-vis the U.N. under the Charter, the ECA Headquarters agreement, and the 1966 and 1981 UNHCR and UNDP Agreements.171 In addition, the measures were "in clear contravention of the most fundamental human rights enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and other human rights instruments."172 Ignoring the protests, Ethiopian authorities later deported several U.N. staff directly to Eritrea without prior notification to the U.N.
Response of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR): 1998-2000
UNHCR's early role in this crisis is best understood within the context of the background to its operations in Eritrea, as well as an explanation of its mandate for refugees and matters pertaining to statelessness and nationality. Formal communications between UNHCR and the Eritrean government broke down in 1997, following the expulsion of the agency's foreign staff members for what the Eritrean government considered "undue pressure" to revive the stalled repatriation of Eritrean refugees from Sudan.173 UNHCR claims that the program was suspended because of unreasonable expectations of the resources it could bring to Eritrea for returnees. UNHCR continued to maintain a residual level of local personnel and activities in the country. The agency played a negligible role in the initial humanitarian response of the U.N. system to the crisis. This was partly due to the fact that Eritrean authorities at the start of the crisis confiscated UNHCR's stockpiles in the country, namely tents, plastic sheeting, household utensils, and agricultural tools valued at $2,848,000 to assist the expellees. Following UNHCR's reestablishment in the country, the government agreed to acknowledge the provision of these goods as UNHCR's contribution to the assistance of the expellees and the internally displaced.
In February 1999, UNHCR staff in the then regional bureau for Central, East, and West Africa, informed Human Rights Watch that they did not consider this issue to fall within the mandate of UNHCR.174 Human Rights Watch has always held the view that most, while not all, of those people forcibly expelled from Ethiopia are of concern to UNHCR under its mandate both to provide international protection to refugees and to address matters pertaining to statelessness.
UNHCR's mandate for statelessness derives from article 11 of the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness which provides for "a body to which a person claiming the benefit of this Convention may apply for the examination of his claim and for assistance in presenting it to the appropriate authority." This function has been entrusted to UNHCR and affirmed by General Assembly resolutions 3274 (XXIV) of December 10, 1974 and 31/36 of November 30, 1976.
More recently, the Executive Committee of UNHCR issued a Conclusion in 1995 that significantly broadened UNHCR's role concerning statelessness.175 Executive Committee Conclusion 78 on the Prevention and Reduction of Statelessness and the Protection of Stateless Persons "acknowledges the responsibilities already entrusted to the High Commissioner for stateless refugees and with respect to the reduction of statelessness, and encourages UNHCR to continue its activities on behalf of stateless persons, as part of its statutory function of providing international protection and of seeking preventive action." The Executive Committee further requested in its Conclusion that UNHCR "provide relevant technical and advisory services pertaining to the preparation and implementation of nationality legislation to interested
UNHCR has thus been mandated to undertake a variety of different activities in the field of prevention and reduction of statelessness. These include:
As the analysis in earlier sections of this report suggests, there is strong evidence that many of the people forcibly expelled from Ethiopia to Eritrea were Ethiopian citizens. The arbitrary expulsion of these persons and the termination of certain nationality privileges in Ethiopia at the point of departure (many were issued with documents stating "Not to return") resulted in the arbitrary deprivation of nationality of large numbers of people.
Meanwhile, the status of these people has not been regulated in Eritrea and most of them have not been given any kind of permanent status or citizenship in Eritrea. In other words, most of the deportees could be rendered de facto stateless, and the potential for de jure statelessness is high. In this context, UNHCR has a well-defined mandate for intervention in order to prevent and reduce statelessness and to assist those who have been rendered stateless.
Moreover, in the context of Eritrea's independence, neither Ethiopia or Eritrea took steps to establish a clear legal framework whereby the nationality status could be determined. Neither country issued clear directives regarding the nationality status of its residents and the criteria and procedures for acquiring citizenship in the successor state were not clearly articulated. The lack of definitive directives and a clear legal framework has led to much confusion in both countries regarding who is and who is not a citizen of their respective country. Under its mandate for statelessness, UNHCR also has a clear obligation to provide technical and legal advice to both Ethiopia and Eritrea regarding their nationality laws and to assist both countries in establishing legal frameworks that will help to prevent and reduce statelessness, most fundamentally by providing redress for the arbitrary deprivation of nationality.
There are precedents for UNHCR involvement in nationality questions arising from situations of state succession. With the emergence of new states and citizenship laws in the Czech and Slovak Republic, the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS), and the former Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, UNHCR played an active role in providing technical advice and assistance to the newly formed states on the formulation of nationality legislation with a view to preventing statelessness. In all of these cases, UNHCR provided in-depth analysis of the nationality laws in the respective states to ensure that they were in accordance with international law and would not result in the de facto, or de jure statelessness of sectors of the population. In the event that nationality laws were likely to result in statelessness, UNHCR provided assistance on how legislation could be amended to avoid such eventualities. UNHCR also helped to promote dialogue between states on issues pertaining to nationality, and to convene regional expert meetings on citizenship legislation. It also provided advice and assistance to states on practical procedures for establishing citizenship, including issues such as the acquisition of documentation to prove citizenship, and establishing projects with nongovernmental organizations to provide legal assistance to individuals facing difficulties in establishing their nationality.
Despite UNHCR's slow response in the early months of the crisis, by the end of 1999 the agency became increasingly engaged in the situation. Following the October 1999 meeting of UNHCR's Executive Committee and the July 1999 visit to Eritrea by U.N. Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs Sergio Vieira de Mello, the Eritrean government indicated that it would like to discuss with UNHCR various issues including the agency's involvement in the repatriation of the 140,000 Eritrean refugees who were still in Sudan. Consequently, in November 1999 UNHCR sent a high level mission to Eritrea to hold discussions with the authorities regarding the reestablishment of an international UNHCR presence in the country and the modus operandi for future UNHCR activities. In the course of these discussions, the Eritrean authorities also sought assistance for the 75,000 persons who had been by then expelled from Ethiopia, as well as for those displaced as a result of the ongoing conflict between the two countries.
Following the first high level mission to Eritrea at the end of 1999, some progress was reported. It was agreed that UNHCR would reestablish an international presence in Eritrea; repatriation programs would resume; and in the context of reintegration programs UNHCR would extend assistance to expellees located in the same areas as refugees returning to Eritrea. UNHCR agreed to send a technical mission to Eritrea in December 1999 to discuss the repatriation operations for refugees then in Sudan. The agency also agreed that it would dispatch an expert mission to Eritrea to investigate the question of nationality and statelessness pertaining to the deportees sent there by Ethiopia. Based on the findings of this mission, UNHCR would be able to formulate a position on the status of the deportees and would determine its subsequent involvement. As a result, in January 2000, the senior UNHCR legal officer for statelessness traveled to Eritrea to investigate the situation. A further high level UNHCR mission was dispatched to Eritrea in January 2000, when the assistant high commissioner visited the country to meet with the Eritrean government. By March 2000, the agency was in the final stages of formulating a position on the nationality status of the expellees, based on the expert mission of the legal adviser for statelessness.177 At the 17th meeting of UNHCR's ExCom Standing Committee in February 2000, the Africa Bureau stated in its presentation on UNHCR operations in Africa that the ongoing border conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea had "put hundreds of individuals in a de facto stateless situation," an indication that UNHCR believed that some, if not all, of the deportees were persons of concern to the organization under its mandate for statelessness.178 Moreover, UNHCR confirmed that they hoped to follow up the expert mission to Eritrea with a similar mission to investigate the situation in Ethiopia and of deportations from Eritrea to Ethiopia.
UNHCR involvement with expellees in Eritrea should be based on the premise that the expellees find themselves in a "refugee-like situation" and face potential de facto, if not de jure, statelessness. UNHCR has also given technical advice to both countries regarding their nationality laws in order to provide redress for the arbitrary deprivation of nationality and the need for family reunification. This technical advice involves conducting a thorough legal analysis of existing laws and directives in both countries in order to identify gaps and areas of law which are not in accordance with international standards; providing advice on the reform and revision of existing legislation to ensure that both countries' nationality laws are in accordance with international standards and with a view to preventing statelessness; facilitating and conducting seminars and sensitization programs on issues of statelessness; and encouraging accession to and compliance with the international instruments on the prevention of statelessness. UNHCR may be able to provide deportees includes assistance in establishing nationality claims.
The incursion of the Ethiopian army into Eritrea in mid May 2000 uprooted more than a million Eritreans. Most of the displaced resettled under extremely precarious conditions in areas less affected by the fighting that lacked shelter, healthy water, food, and sanitation. Some 85,000 of them found refuge across the border in eastern Sudan. The crisis forced UNHCR for a while to put on hold its plan to resume the repatriation from Sudan of Eritrean refugees residing there since the seventies and eighties. Instead, UNHCR became heavily involved in the relief operations targeting the internally displaced and the new refugees. The agency doubled its emergency team in Eritrea and airlifted critically needed humanitarian supplies and equipment to ease the mounting distress in the camps for the internally displaced. UNHCR officials in both Sudan and Eritrea welcomed the June 2000 Algiers peace deal, and expressed the hope that peace would finally allow the return of refugees and the displaced to their homes and fields.
War between Ethiopia and Eritrea, two of its closest allies in the continent, was deemed to pose serious threats to U.S. interests in the entire region and led to the most sustained high-level attention by the former Clinton Administration of any conflict on the continent. Clinton's assistant secretary for African Affairs at the State Department, Susan Rice, led a high-level mediation team to the region at the first signs of serious trouble in May 1998. The team almost brought the parties to accept the Rwandan-U.S. initiative, when Eritrea balked at the last moment, expressing strong reservations about the redeployment arrangements provided for in the plan (see above). The decision to announce the plan despite this objection, first in Addis Ababa, and later before the OAU's 34th summit held in Ouagadougou in June 1998, reportedly surprised Eritrea and contributed to its subsequent stalling in signing on to the initiative.179 When the OAU took over the mediation process, the U.S. continued to engage in direct negotiations with the two parties and provided technical back up to the OAU effort.
Anthony Lake, the Clinton administration's lead mediator as of October 1998 and a former national security advisor, shuttled between the two capitals several times, coordinating his efforts closely with the OAU and the U.N. Experts assisting the three mediators worked together to finalize the most detailed and technical of the peace documents, the "technical arrangements" that Ethiopia ultimately rejected. Efforts during a late August 1999 visit to Addis Ababa by Lake and Susan Rice to persuade the Ethiopian leaders to accept the arrangements appeared to have failed.
In late 1999 the U.S. prepared to take over the presidency of the U.N. Security Council, with the then U.S. ambassador to the U.N. Richard Holbrook declaring January 2000 the "Month of Africa," Representative Benjamin A. Gilman, chairman of the House International Relations Committee, raised a sobering alarm that the month might witness the slaughter of thousands of Ethiopian and Eritrean soldiers and civilians in renewed fighting. Gilman blamed the Ethiopian government for stalling the peace process, and charged that it was preparing to launch a major attack aimed at breaking the back of the ruling front in Eritrea. He called on the international community to "condemn the Ethiopian's intransigence and urge them not to launch an attack."180 The Ethiopian prime minister, Meles Zenawi, in his statement rejecting the "technical arrangements," had sought to preempt such pressures. He declared that "Ethiopia will not kneel down to any pressure imposed on the country to accept the technical arrangements, unless the document is prepared to guarantee its sovereignty."181
The flare-up in the fighting in February 2000 after months of inactivity coincided with a two-week U.S. mediation mission to the region. Anthony Lake explained on that occasion that the U.S. had no new peace proposal, and was only backing the OAU's initiative.182 This was again confirmed by the State Department's spokesman who, on March 9, 2000, called on the two nations to remain "fully engaged" in the peace process, and expressed "unqualified support" for the OAU's efforts.183 The call for restraint was once more aired in a May 5 statement as it became obvious that hostilities were about to resume.184 The U.S. on June 10 came out strongly in support of what was then a proposal for the cessation of hostilities which it said was developed with its support.185
Pursuing this active involvement in the peace process, the U.S. hosted indirect talks between Ethiopian and Eritrean "technical experts" in early July 2000 during which the two sides discussed the substantive issues of border demarcation and compensation for the damages resulting from the war.
Despite its involvement from the very beginning in the efforts to end the war peacefully, the role of U.S. policy makers came under harsh scrutiny when their efforts failed to prevent the last round of fighting. Critics faulted the Clinton administration for failing to apply direct pressure on the two parties, as reflected in its reluctance to press for a U.N. arms embargo or to use its influence to slow the flow of bilateral and multilateral financial aid when both countries were spending hundreds of millions of dollars on arms purchases. Administration officials defended the mediators by pointing to the free and determined will of officials of the two governments in deciding to go to war and agreeing when to return to the negotiation table.186
The U.S. on August 6, 1998 expressed deep concern about Ethiopia's detention and expulsion of Eritreans, and urged the government of Ethiopia to respect international human rights norms and follow appropriate due process in handling its security concerns. The statement further called on Ethiopia to "allow all those who were wrongfully expelled to return and to establish a compensation commission to investigate and recommend compensation for the claims resulting from undue financial loss and hardship as a result of rapid, forced expulsions."187 Later on, during the protracted mediation efforts, the U.S. proved far less vocal in matching its active involvement in the peace process with equally forceful human rights interventions and instead carried on with its prior practice of declining to publicly criticizing either party for the rampant human rights abuses that took place in the context of the war.
The U.S. and other major donors had in fact had a capacity to use strong leverage to nudge both parties toward peace, but that leverage was used only sparingly until the very end. Despite the devastating internal and regional implications of the conflict, the donor community continued to channel significant resources to the two countries. Prior to the war, Ethiopia and Eritrea were the lynchpins in the U.S.-led plans for the military and diplomatic containment of the government of Sudan, then considered by the U.S. to be an exporter of radical Islam and a supporter of international terrorism. The two countries were expected to play a key stabilizing role in the search for peace in east and central Africa. The war between them reversed all this. It drained their resources, and effectively slowed down their economic growth rates. Humanitarian emergencies and the looming famine added to the cost of the conflict. Sudan declared its neutrality in the conflict, leading Ethiopia and Eritrea to compete in normalizing their relations with its Islamist government and reducing their support to its exiled opposition.
During the conflict, the U.S. scaled back its direct financial assistance to both countries. It suspended its balance of payment support to Ethiopia and froze the training of Ethiopian troops within the U.S.-led peacekeeping training program under the African Crisis Response Initiative. However, Ethiopia continued to benefit from the International Military Education and Training, with the only limitation being that they could not receive training in their country but had to come to the U.S.
The then outgoing Clinton administration attempted, but failed, to get the ban on arms imports lifted in the weeks that followed the signature of the peace agreement in December 2000. The U.N. allowed the ban to expire in May 2001, but warned the parties it would take action if they resumed fighting.
The Bush Administration also sparingly used its leverage to counter rampant human rights abuses in Ethiopia and Eritrea. Following the September 11, 2001, attacks on New York and Washington, the Horn of Africa gained prominence in the U.S.-led coalition against international terrorism, seemingly relegating human rights concerns to even less attention. Candidates for supplemental increases in U.S. security assistance to Africa in early 2002 included Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti, Nigeria and South Africa.
The E.U.'s presidency issued statements of concern when the conflict broke out in 1998, and condemned the major outbreaks of fighting in February and June 1999 and the resumption of hostilities in May 2000. Other statements released by the presidency persistently expressed full support for the OAU's mediation effort, and repeatedly urged the parties to halt the war and to negotiate a peaceful settlement on the basis of the OAU's proposals.
On March 9, 1999 the European Council of Ministers adopted a common position imposing an embargo on the export of arms, munitions, and military equipment to Ethiopia and Eritrea, and on September 30 extended that ban until March 31, 2000. An E.U. ministerial delegation traveled to Addis Ababa and to Asmara in February 1999, at the peak of the second phase fighting, to push for a cease-fire and a return to the OAU's mediation process. The delegation returned empty-handed.188 On December 29, 1999 the E.U. named Italian Deputy Foreign Minister Rino Serri as its envoy "to bolster the OAU effort and help the E.U. countries to come up with a better understanding and interpretation of the situation."189 The Italian envoy had visited the two capitals in June and in December 1999 as part of his government's efforts to support the OAU's peace package. He attended as an observer the talks that led to the signing in the Algerian capital on June 18, 2000 of the cessation of hostilities agreement. The E.U. presidency welcomed the formal establishment of the temporary security zone on April 18, 2001, and encouraged the parties to move toward lasting peace with pledges of assistance for their reconstruction and peace building efforts.190 A year later, the presidency marked the next milestone toward peace in the region, the boundary commission's ruling on April 13, 2002 delimiting the border, by urging the parties to respect that decision and to move forward toward normalizing their relations.191
The African, Caribbean and Pacific and E.U. Joint Assembly in a September 24, 1998 resolution condemned the outbreak of hostilities and called for an immediate end to the human rights violations perpetrated during the conflict, including arbitrary expulsions, deportations, and detentions. The Joint assembly renewed that call in April 1999 in response to the resumption of the fighting.192 Its 29th session, held in the Bahamas from October 11-14, 1999, called on Ethiopia to accept the technical arrangements and implement the OAU peace package. The assembly further called on the E.U. Council to prevail on Ethiopia to implement the OAU peace plan and to respect human rights regarding Eritreans residing in Ethiopia.193 A parliamentary delegation led by the assembly's vice-president, John Alexander Corrie, visited the Ethiopian and Eritrean capitals in mid December to press the recommendations.
The E.U. made substantial monetary and in kind donations for the relief of civilians affected by drought and the conflict in both countries. These donations, together with aid provided bilaterally by E.U. member states, placed the E.U. as the top donor of food aid to Ethiopia, a position it has continually occupied in the past twenty-five years.194 However, the conflict led to significant reductions in the E.U.'s development cooperation with the two countries. The European Commission declared on May 19, 2000, that as a result of the tightening of conditions for the disbursement of credits of the Structural Adjustment Support Programs, financed by the commission, the latter had not disbursed any budgetary support to Ethiopia since January 1999. Expressing concern at the negative impact of the conflict on the humanitarian effort to assist drought victims and those displaced by war in the two countries, the commission resolved not to provide funding for new development projects for Ethiopia and Eritrea as long as they remained engaged in war.195
138 "ETHIOPIA: Government Demands Removal of UNMEE forces commander," IRIN, May 8, 2002.
139 U.S. Department of State, "The Dispute between Ethiopia and Eritrea," Press Statement by James P. Rubin, Spokesman, June 3, 1998.
140 In July 2002, the new African Union came into being and replaced the OAU.
141 The delegation was mandated by 34th summit of the Organization of African Unity (OAU), held in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso from 8 to 10 June 1998.
142 UNDP Emergencies Unit for Ethiopia, "Situation report for Ethiopia," Addis Ababa, February 2, 1999.
143 OAU, "OAU high level delegation proposals for a framework agreement for a peaceful settlement of the dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia," November 8, 1998.
144 Embassy of Eritrea, "Eritrea Accepts OAU Modalities for Implementation of the OAU Framework Agreement," Press Release, Washington D.C., July 14, 1999.
146 "Ethiopia talks war as international mediators praise peace efforts," Associated Press, Addis Ababa, July 22, 1999. See also "Eritrea says it accepts the new OAU peace proposals, and what about Ethiopia?" Interview with Selome Tedesse, Ethiopia's government spokeswoman, Focus on Africa, BBC, July 15,1999, monitored by Press Digest, Vol. VI, No.29, July 22,1999.
147 "Deep differences obstacle to ending Horn of Africa bloodshed," Agence France Presse, Nairobi, July 16,1999.
148 See the OAU "Technical Arrangements."
149 See: "Ethiopia still has misgivings over peace proposal," Panafrican News Agency, Addis Ababa, October 26, 1999.
150 "Letter dated 1 March 1999 from the permanent representative of Ethiopia to the United Nations addressed to the president of the Security Council," U.N. Doc. S/1999/226, March 3, 1999.
151 "Statement of the Government of Eritrea on Security Council Resolution," Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Asmara, February 11, 1999.
152 "Ethiopia-Eritrea: U.N. deplores fighting while famine looms," Horn of Africa, IRIN News Brief, June 24, 1999.
153 "Security Council urges Eritrea and Ethiopia to work with OAU towards peace," U.N. Department of Public Information, March 14, 2000.
154 U.N., Security Council Press Release SC/6861, May 12, 2000.
155 U.N. Security Council resolutions no. 1297, May 12, and no. 1298, May 17, 2000. See U.N., Security Council Press Releases SC/6861, May 12 and SC/6863, May 17, 2000.
156 UNMEE/PR/51 4.18.01
157 Security Council, "Report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea," U.N. Doc. S/2000/879, September 18, 2000.
158 U.N., "Progress report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea," U.N. Security Council, S/2001/1608, June 19, 2001.
159 "Agreement between the Government of the State of Eritrea and the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia," online, http://www.reliefweb.int/w/rwb.nsf/UNID/C142020959F04DAFC12569AE005DA33C?OpenDocument, (retrieved January 5, 2001).
163 "World applauds signing of Ethiopia-Eritrea peace agreement," CNN.com, December 12, 2000, at http://europe.cnn.com/2000/WORLD/Africa/12/12/ethiopia.eritrea.peace.02/, accessed December 15, 2000.
164 UNMEE/PR/30, February 2, 01, Ibid. See also "Ethiopia-Eritrea: Border commissioners appointed," IRIN, Nairobi, January 30, 2001.
165 UNSC (S/2001/202) 3.7.01
166 "UNMEE Commission Agrees_," AllAfrica.com, May 22, 2001.
167 U.N., "Annex II, Progress report of the Secretary-General on Ethiopia and Eritrea," U.N. Security Council, U.N. Doc., S/2001/1608, June 19, 2001.
169 "To the U.N. High Commissioner For Human Rights," Press Release, Ethiopia's Permanent Mission to the U.N., Geneva, July 2, 1998.
170 "Prime Minister Meles urges defense force to renew valor," Press Digest, Vol. V, No. 29, p. 3, citing Addis Zemen, July 9, 1998.
171 "United Nations calls Ethiopia expulsions illegal, unwarranted and inhumane," Secretariat News, December 1998, p. 6.
173 "Eritrea: UNHCR allowed to resume operations," Horn of Africa, IRIN News Briefs, January 26, 2000.
174 Meeting between Human Rights Watch and UNHCR, Geneva, February 12, 1999.
175 The Executive Committee (ExCom) is UNHCR's governing body. Since 1975, the committee has passed a series of Conclusions at its annual meetings. The Conclusions are intended to guide states in their treatment of refugees and asylum seekers and in their interpretation of international refugee law. While the Conclusions are not legally binding, they do constitute a body of "soft" international refugee law and ExCom member states are obliged to abide by them.
176 The then High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata, underscored this mandate in a statement at the 51st session of the Commission for Human Rights in 1995:
177 Human Rights Watch meeting with UNHCR, March 2, 2000, Geneva.
178 UNHCR, "Strategic Oral Presentation on UNHCR Operations in Africa," Standing Committee, 17th meeting, February 29 to March 2, 2000.
179 See Dan Connell, "Letter from Eritrea," Nation, March 29, 1999.
180 Benjamin A. Gilman," Ethiopia needs a push toward peace," Washington Post, January 3, 2000.
181 "Ethiopia finally rejects OAU's "Technical Arrangements," Ibid.
182 "U.S. backs OAU peace initiative for Ethiopia, Eritrea diplomats," Agence France Presse, February 25, 2000.
183 U.S. Information Agency, "U.S. calls on Ethiopia and Eritrea to keep working for peace," March 9, 2000.
184 U.S. Department of State, "Ethiopia/Eritrea proximity talks in Algiers," Press Statement, May 5, 2000.
185 U.S. Department of State, "Ethiopia/Eritrea," Press Statement, June 10, 2000. President Clinton expressed concern in January 1999 at the huge military buildup along the common border between Ethiopia and Eritrea. He again issued a statement expressing disappointment at the resumption of hostilities in February. On July 27, a presidential statement welcomed the announcement by the OAU that the two parties had accepted the modalities for the implementation of its framework agreement.
186 See for echoes of this debate: "Abroad at home: the state department," Steven Mufson, Washington Post, June 8, 2000, p. A29; "A barren border war," a Washington Post editorial, May 26, 2000, p. A34.
187 U.S. Department of State, "Ethiopia: Expulsions of Eritreans," Press Statement by James B. Foley, Deputy Spokesman, August 6, 1998.
188 "E.U. delegation leaves Eritrea empty-handed-diplomats," Reuters, February 20, 1999.
189 "E.U. in bid to end Horn of Africa conflict," Agence France Presse, December 29, 1999.
190 E.U., "Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the European Union on the occasion of the definitive establishment of the Temporary Security Zone between Ethiopia and Eritrea," Brussels, April 20, 2001, 7899/01 (Presse 154), p. 080/01.
191 E.U., "Declaration by the Presidency on behalf of the E.U. on Ethiopia/Eritrea (Boundary Commission Decision)," April 13, 2002.
192 ACP-E.U., "Resolution on the resumption of hostilities between Ethiopia and Eritrea," ACP-E.U. 2757/99/fin, Strasbourg, April 1, 1999.
193 "Eritrea: Trade organization urges Ethiopia to accept OAU peace plan," Eritrean News Agency, cited in BBC Worldwide Monitoring, October 15, 1999.
194 E.U., "Food aid for Ethiopia," Brussels, April 10, 2000.
195 E.U., "Commission invokes clause suspending signing of new financing agreements with Ethiopia and Eritrea due to conflict," May 19, 2000.