This House believes that Eritrea is responsible for its isolation

Eritrea is a small nation state on the coast of the Red Sea with a history of past struggles. A former colony of Italy, its annexation by Ethiopia via the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 3901 following the Second World War led to a thirty year armed struggle for independence. This movement allied itself with the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front and eventually gained independence once the combined forces overthrew Ethiopia’s Marxist government in 19912. Two years later it was finally recognised as a member of the United Nations (UN).

Despite initially positive relations, Eritrean-Ethiopian relations soon deteriorated over the Ethiopian occupation of Badme, which was traditionally Eritrean land as declared by the Boundaries Commision in 20023. Ethiopia claimed the land for itself and had occupied the town and other ‘Eritrean’ areas. Prior to this, the border had not been an issue for the unified forces as it was merely an arbitrary line between the two states. Eritrea eventually forced Ethiopian troops out of Badme, leading to the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. The 1998-2000 border war failed to completely resolve the issue. The war was symptomatic of decreasing international co-operation between Eritrea and the rest of the world. This debate examines whether Eritrea or other actors are responsible for the state’s isolation.

1) United Nations General Assembly, ‘Resolution 390 (V) Eritrea’ 2 December 1950

2) Cousin,T. ‘Eritrean and Ethiopian Civil War’, November 1997

3) Lauterpacht,E. ‘Sixteenth report on the work of the commission’ 24 February 2005

Title 
Eritrea started the 1998 war
Point 

Eritrea was responsible for instigating the war against Ethiopia, making it liable for its increased isolation. Eritrea was officially recognised by an international Claims Commission as the initiator of the war1. The state invaded the region of Badme after a long diplomatic dispute over the border issue as they believed the territory was rightfully theirs2. They removed the Ethiopian presence from the state, compromising territorial integrity and incurred a reaction from Ethiopia. This marked Eritrea as the aggressor. An aggressor in a war cannot be seen as a ‘just’ actor and has therefore contributed to its own seclusion by acting in such a manner.

1) BBC, ‘Eritrea broke law in border war’, 21 December 2005

2) Briggs,P. ‘Ethiopia’ pg.30

Counterpoint 

Ethiopia provoked Eritrea into invading their shared border. The lands were technically Eritrean, as the boundaries commission would later state1. Through these circumstances, Eritrea was not infringing the territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Moreover, some have hypothesised that Ethiopia actually encouraged the war to happen by murdering several Eritrean officials near Badme2. This would create an excuse to make territorial gains, namely to regain access to the Red Sea and the potential trade that accompanied it3.

1) Lauterpacht,E. ‘Sixteenth report on the work of the commission’ 24 February 2005

2) Connell,D. ‘Eritrea/Ethiopia War Looms’, 2 October 2005

3) Shah,A. ‘Conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea’20 December 2000

Title 
The government has supported terrorist organisations
Point 

Accusations have been made against Eritrea claiming that they have supported terrorist groups, particularly those operating in neighbouring countries. Eritrea has been accused of supporting al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda affiliated terrorist group in Somalia who also operate in Kenya, as well as several other secessionist groups. Training camps have reportedly been established within Eritrea, several of which were attacked by Ethiopia in 20121. The attempts to destabilise East Africa have naturally led to international condemnation, especially from the USA whose “War on Terror” was contradicted by Eritrea’s action2. This would suggest that Eritrea’s own actions are responsible for their isolation.  

1) Smith,D. ‘Ethiopian raid on Eritrean bases raises fears of renewed conflict’, 16 March 2012

2) BBC, ‘US sanctions on Eritrea spy chief Negash over al-Shabab’, 6 July 2012

Counterpoint 

These terrorist camps are the responsibility of a few within the Eritrean government, such as Colonel Tewolde Habte Negash, not the many. In other areas, Eritrea has been cooperative with the global war on terror. In 2012 Eritrea provided over flight clearance to the US air force in regional security operations2.

1) Connell,D. ‘Eritrea/Ethiopia War Looms’,  2 October 2005

2) Office of the coordinator for counterterrorism ‘Country Reports on Terrorism 2012 Chapter 2: Africa’ 2012

Title 
Human Rights Abuse
Point 

Eritrean isolation has been exacerbated by their poor human rights record.  Claims were presented to the UN of ‘extrajudicial killings, enforced disappearances, extended incommunicado detention, torture, indefinite national service, and lack of freedom of expression, assembly, religious belief and movement’1. Eritrea’s President, Isaias Afewerki, has been accused of using the threat of invasion as a justification for the highly militarised and brutal nature of his country2. This has attracted international criticism, with a joint statement from 44 countries condemning Eritrea’s infringement of human rights3.

1) The Guardian, ‘Eritrea’s human rights record comes under fire at United Nations’, 25 October 2013

2) Blair,D. ‘Eritrea: the African North Korea which thousands will risk anything to escape’ 3 October 2013

3) Joint statement of 44 countries, ‘Human rights Situation in Eritrea’, Human Rights Council, 13 March 2012

Counterpoint 

Many states commit human rights abuse but still enjoy inclusivity in the international system. China has been associated with mass human rights abuse1, yet they are still a major actor in international relations. They also have one of the largest economies, a seat on the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), and positive relations with most of the world. Eritrea’s regional rival, Ethiopia, also enjoys fruitful international relations with many powerful states despite similar human rights abuses. The resettlement of the Lower Omo Valley by Ethiopia is one such example of continued international support despite killings, beatings and forced resettlement2. This demonstrates a double standard which is not necessarily Eritrea’s fault.

1) Human Rights Watch, ‘World Report 2013: China’, 2013

2) Hurd,W. ‘Ignoring abuse in Ethiopia: DFID and USAID in the Lower Omo Valley’ July 2013

Title 
President Isaias Afewerki has sought self-reliance
Point 

Whilst President Afewerki was fighting for Eritrean independence he became a proponent of the self-reliant state, which could sustain its own population with no external assistance. Since independence the President has rejected foreign aid to the country through claims that aid is a method of enslavement to international donors1. Numerous offers of assistance, including the free food distributions of the World Food Programme, have been rejected in favour of the domestic market2. Afewerki claims that as aid decreases, farmers will work harder to ensure that food demand is met. The lack of donors and trading partners has served to weaken Eritrea’s ties of the outside world, making the state responsible for its own isolation.

1) BBC, ‘Self Reliance could cost Eritrea dear’, 5 July 2006

2) Saunders,E. ‘Eritrea aspires to be self-reliant, rejecting foreign aid’, Los Angeles Times, 2 October 2007

Counterpoint 

Eritrea has never been fully self-sustainable and still accepts foreign assistance. The beginning of the 21st century has seen Eritrea open up to increasing numbers of foreign Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) providing aid. The country has now become a highly favoured aid recipient1. Even during the Eritrean-Ethiopian war, when most aid agencies were forced out of the country, some were permitted to remain.

1) Smith-Simonsen,C. ‘The pros and cons of self-reliance: Eritrea’s relations with aid agencies and NGOs’ pg.347

Title 
The US has unfairly supported Ethiopia
Point 

The US is responsible for Eritrea’s isolation through its foreign policy. The United States has actively supported Ethiopia, Eritrea’s rival, in regional disputes. In 2002, the USA urged Ethiopia to disregard the Eritrean-Ethiopian Border Commission’s (EEBC) decision which stated that lands occupied by Ethiopia did belong to Eritrea. This was also a violation of their role as a guarantor for the agreement1. Continued support for Ethiopia’s counterterrorism role worsened US-Eritrea relations. Relationships deteriorated to the extent of which that the USA attempted to revoke Eritrea’s membership to the UN in December 2011. The US has therefore been unnecessarily provocative and exclusionary in its foreign policy.

1) Weldemichael,A. ‘Eritrea: Bringing Eritrea in From the Cold- We Need to UN-Break the U.S.-Ethiopia-Eritrea Triangle’ 17 January 2014

Counterpoint 

The US has attempted to maintain an equal level of support for both Ethiopia and Eritrea since the EEBC incident. Both states became military allies of the USA and joined the coalition of the willing which invaded Iraq in 20031. The US has also attempted to reach a permanent peace between the two state and has encouraged Eritrea to contribute to regional stability2.

1) Connell,D. ‘Eritrea/Ethiopia War Looms’, 2 October 2005

2) Bureau of African Affairs, ‘U.S. Relations with Eritrea’11 February 2013

Title 
Eritrea is surrounded by hostile nations
Point 

Eritrea has been forced in to isolation due to unfriendly neighbours. In its short history, Eritrea has been in conflicts with Ethiopia and Djibouti over border issues. Diplomatic ties with Sudan, while having improved recently, have historically been very poor as well. The hostility received from these countries has fostered a “bunker mentality” amongst Eritreans1. The previous and present security threats from their neighbours has ensured an ‘us against them’ attitude, which is evident in their wider international dealings.

1) Eshetu,S. ‘Eritrean Leadership’s “Bunker Mentality”’, 3 September 1998

Counterpoint 

Eritrea has been responsible for the majority of this animosity. The country was responsible for aggressively attacking Yemen in 1996. In 2008, Eritrea attacked along the Djibouti-Eritrean border claiming the territory was rightfully theirs1. A theme emerges from these examples, confirmed by President Afewerki of Eritrea when he openly stated he has sought the removal of neighbouring regimes2. The excuse of adopting a siege mentality has also enabled the president to increase his powers and suppress internal dissent3. It is therefore more likely that the government, rather than external players, have contributed to Eritrea’s siege mentality. 

1) Mesfin,B. ‘The Eritrea-Djibouti border dispute’, 15 September 2008

2) Eshetu,S. ‘Eritrean Leadership’s “Bunker Mentality”’, 3 September 1998

3) Blair,D. ‘Eritrea: the African North Korea which thousands will risk anything to escape’, 3 October 2013

Title 
The UN has done little to facilitate improvement
Point 

Rather than encouraging Eritrea to become more integrated in the international community, the United Nations has made the state’s situation worse. The UN has enforced sanctions upon the country for links that it claimed to find between Eritrea and al-Shabaab1 which served to weaken ties between Eritrea and the outside world. The intergovernmental organisation (IGO) has also regularly condemned Eritrea for its policies, which Eritrea believes is the result of hostile states ensuring the state is condemned by the international community2.

1) The Guardian, ‘Eritrea’s human rights record comes under fire at United Nations’, 25 October 2013

2) Ibid

Counterpoint 

Eritrea has acted in violation of international law numerous times through methods such as human rights abuse and deserves the UN’s condemnation. Despite these abuses, the UN still offers aid to the country1, demonstrating its commitment to re-engage with the country.  Eritrea, however, has been increasing hostile to the UN over the issue of aid. Having refused assistance from the United Nations World Food Programme and other policies, Eritrea has weakened its links with the institution, isolating itself from the international community. 

1) BBC, ‘Eritrea refuses food aid’, 3 January 2010

Bibliography 

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Smith-Simonsen,C. ‘The pros and cons of self-reliance: Eritrea’s relations with aid agencies and NGOs’, Forum for Development Studies, December 2003, pgs. 335-348

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Weldemichael,A. ‘Eritrea: Bringing Eritrea in From the Cold- We Need to UN-Break the U.S.-Ethiopia-Eritrea Triangle’, African Arguments, 17 January 2014 http://allafrica.com/stories/201401201182.html?viewall=1

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