Ethiopia and Eritrea take their Dispute to the General Assembly

Macedonia The Former Yugoslav Republic Macedonia and Greece The Hellenic Republic were not the only two countries to trade barbs from the podium of the General Assembly this past week.  Representatives from Eritrea and Ethiopia also used the opportunity of the United Nations General Debate to settle some scores.

Here is the Eritrean Foreign Minister on Tuesday:

While the United Nations grapples with Sudan and Somalia, it continues to ignore the grave consequences of Ethiopia’s continued occupation of sovereign Eritrean telTitory, eight years after the ruling of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC), and three years after the Commission ended its work by depositing in the United Nations the demarcated boundary between the two countries. Ethiopia’s illegal occupation and the United Nations’ silence, which mean the continuation of the conflict, is exacting a heavy price on the peoples of Eritrea and Ethiopia and complicating the regional situation. I wish to remind the United Nations that Eritrea awaits responsible and urgent action to end Ethiopia’s violation of international law and its threat to regional peace and security.

And the Ethiopian foreign minister fired back:

When we talk about security in the Horn of Africa Region…we cannot avoid raising our concern once again about the destructive role the Government of Eritrea has continued to play since independence.  It is an open secret that the Eritrean Government has for some time now been actively playing the role of the spoiler in the whole tragic situation in Somalia…the Eritrean regime is the principal destabilizer in our sub-region with utter contempt for international law and the norms of international behavior.

Both sides have a point here.  The fact is, Eritrea was left out to dry by the international community. In 2002, a boundary commission in the Hague deemed that a disputed town should properly be considered Eritrean territory.  The Ethiopians simply ignored the ruling and the United States and other powers did not use their influence to force Ethiopia to abide by the ruling.

That said, Eritrea did not express its frustration in constructive ways. It kicked out UN peacekeepers, launched a border raid on Djibouti and has been arming Somali insurgents against the internationally-backed Somali Transitional government. For these reasons, the Security Council imposed sanctions on Eritrea last year.

Moral of the story: expressing your grievances by mounting a proxy war against your neighbor is not likely to win you any friends in the international community.   Still, it is better that these two countries blow off some steam at the United Nations than resume a war that claimed tens of thousands of lives.