Eritrea-Ethiopia undemarcated border

The Horn of Africa is a home to Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia.

This region has suffered badly from civil war, human rights violations and humanitarian crises. For the past decades, the region faced turmoil at a domestic level as well as at a cross-border level. As indicated on IGAD’s (Intergovernmental Authority on Development) website: “Complicated by the legacy of colonialism, border disputes have become factors of distrust, and instability with wider regional implications. In some instances, these border disputes have escalated into border wars and led to military invasions. The Ethiopia-Somalia war of 1977, the recent Ethio-Eritrea conflict of 1998, the Djibouti-Eritrea conflicts of 1995 and 2008, and the Sudan-South and Sudan border related wars in 2012 are good examples”.

In parallel, the region continues to suffer from severe drought and desertification that consequently result in ecological degradation and economic difficulties.
On May 6, 1998, a new war broke between the two countries (after the liberation war of Eritrea: 1961-1991). Many Western countries mobilized extensive efforts to bring the two countries to a resolution. However, finding a common ground without resorting to institutional mechanisms was nearly impossible.

On December 12, 2000, after lengthy and complicated mediation efforts by friendly countries of both States, mainly the U.S.A and Rwanda, Eritrea and Ethiopia signed a comprehensive peace agreement in Algiers known as the Algiers Peace Agreement. The peace agreement was mainly initiated by the Government of Algeria, as the chairman of the OAU (now AU) at the time, while the representatives of the UN, European Union and the US witnessed the signing of both States (mainly the U.S.A and Rwanda), a peace agreement, including a cease-fire was initiated by the Government of Algeria, as the chairman of the Organization of African Unity (OAU, now African Union). Representatives of the UN, EU and the US witnessed the signing and pledged to support the implementation.

In the preamble of the agreement, the two parties reaffirmed their acceptance of the OAU framework of the agreement and its modalities of implementation as well as the agreement on the cessation of hostilities. The international community, through the guarantees that were given by the UN, the African Union (AU) and the “Witnesses to the Algiers agreements” pledged to support implementation.

On 13 April 2002 said Commission issued its decision to award a large segment to Eritrea.

Five years later, on November 30, 2007, the Boundary Commission dissolved itself after being unable to bring Ethiopia to respect and accept the physical demarcation. According to a 2008 report published by International Crisis Group: “Its disappearance (the Boundary Commission) removed an important forum where, even if they disagreed, the parties exchanged views regularly before a third-party arbiter.”
The agreement provides the establishment of three dispute settlement bodies:

a) Article 3 provides with the establishment of an independent body under OAU auspices to carry out an investigation to determine the origins of the conflict. However, this body was never established.

b) Article 4 provides with the creation of a neutral Boundary Commission (EEBC) to decide, delimit and demarcate the boundary based on pertinent colonial treaties and applicable international law. However, the EEBC dissolved itself on 30 November 2007 before bringing the two countries to a mutual agreement.

c) Article 5 provides with the creation of an impartial Claims Commission (EECC) to decide on issues of compensation. The EECC gave a verdict where the Eritrean government is asked to pay $10m to Ethiopia.

Finally, the last Article specifies the date of enforcement of the Agreement. The creation of these bodies was the core part of the agreement. They could not make decision on the basis of “ex aequo et bono” and their decision would be final and binding.
In its decision issued on April 13, 2002, the EEBC awarded a large segment of the Western border including Badme to Eritrea. The Ethiopian government had claimed victory, even though it had lost the disputed village of Badme.

After few days, although the Ethiopian government had agreed that the decision will be final and binding, the Ethiopian government rejected the decision of the EEBC as “unjust and illegal”. In a 21-page memorandum, it demands that the boundary commission correct its ruling by awarding Badme to Ethiopia.

In November 2007, the EEBC released itself from its obligation and placed a “virtual demarcation” on maps, as opposed to pillars on the contested zone. And it then declared its mandate complete.
a) Although both parties had reaffirmed their acceptance of the OAU framework of the agreement and its modalities of implementation, the Ethiopian government has not yet accepted the decision.

b) Articles 3, 4 and 5 of the peace agreement included crucial and instrumental organs which were intended to resolve the conflict in depth. One of these bodies dissolved itself, while another one, also provided by the Agreement, had not even been created.

c) Finally, the OAU (now African Union), Rwanda, the United States and the rest of the international community did not pursue its promise made at the time of the signing of the Agreement to solve the border conflict.
On April 13, 2017, the High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Federica Mogherini issued a statement on behalf of the EU expressing deep concerns in regards to the relations between Eritrea and Ethiopia. She highlights how the stalemate puts the “regional stability at risk, with potentially negative implications on international peace and security as well as international trade, and hampers regional cooperation and development”.


The fact that the EEBC dissolved itself, before bringing the two countries together, greatly strengthened the belligerent relationship that already existed between the two governments.

Eritrea is heavily impacted from a security point of view. Indeed, its surface area amounts to ​​117,600 km2 compared with 1,104,000 km2 for Ethiopia and its population to about 4’475 ‘000 compared with 102’400’000 for Ethiopia. This means that Ethiopia is 9 times larger than Eritrea in terms of surface area, and 22 times larger than Eritrea in terms of population. It is thus coherent and conceivable to continuously assess the risk of a potential threat to the sovereignty of the Eritrean territory. During the last decade, armed clashes of short duration took place on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia and these had required the mobilization of an important number of troops on the side of Eritrea.

Thus, the refusal of the Ethiopian government to accept EEBC’s decision prevents Eritrea from developing itself in a complete safe environment. But it should be noted and recalled that grave violations of human rights cannot be invoked as a justification of this external threat. This delicate security situation must not prevent the Eritrean authorities from creating strong national institutions that protect its citizens from internal violence, in particular those committed by state actors on civilians or those committed in the military context. Also, this security threat should not prevent an opening of the private sector, a better economic development and a transparent and equitable distribution of the State’s revenues.

This being said, the EEBC’s decision issued in April 2002 remains final and binding. The Ethiopian government must thus comply to its obligations to respect the decision as it was a prerequisite. To date, a significant number of people perceive this refusal of the Ethiopian government as a breach of trust between the international community and Eritrea which feels once again abandoned.

As the largest country of the Horn of Africa and as the host of the highest institution on the African continent, the Ethiopian government has the moral duty to scrupulously comply with international agreements and norms. In the meantime, the Eritrean government must intensively invest in its diplomatic divisions to become a trusted and resourceful partner for its close neighbors.