An Open Letter to H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-Moon, UN Secretary General, on the illegal border deal of the Ethiopian Ruling Tribal Junta ( Woyanne ) and the Sudan –

August 21st, 2009 Print Print Email Email

H.E. Mr. Ban Ki-moon

United Nations Secretary-General

1st Avenue, 46th Street
New York, NY 10017

August 21, 2009

Your Excellency:

We, the representatives of various Ethiopian professional, civic, political, and cultural organizations, have the honor to bring to your attention a grave situation that is developing all along the border between Ethiopia and the Sudan. Recently, the Sudanese government has been engaged in an all-out effort to seize control of Ethiopian territory illegally. Toward that end, it has sent elements of its army to forcibly evict Ethiopian farmers from their lands, and has killed some and detained others in Sudanese jails. The Sudanese government has taken these brazen actions in total disregard of Ethiopia’s sovereignty and in violation of the fundamental rights of the aggrieved persons under applicable rules of international law.
The boundary between the two countries has been the subject of numerous negotiations since colonial times. But it is only in the last decade and half that the Sudan has felt emboldened to resort to the use of force to settle its boundary dispute with Ethiopia. The Sudanese government apparently believes that it has arrived at an opportune moment in history to drive a hard bargain and to fulfill its territorial ambitions. The dictatorship in Ethiopia headed by Prime Minister Meles Zenawi is so weak and so obsessed with hanging on to power at all costs that it regards these territorial claims as a ”small price” to pay for securing Sudan’s cooperation in crushing Ethiopian resistance movements with bases in the border region.
Negotiations between the leaders of the two regimes have been ongoing since the beginning of the 1990s. They recently culminated in an official meeting in Addis Ababa from April 21 to April 22, 2009 where Prime Minister Zenawi and General Al-Beshir of the Sudan signed off on a deal that covered a variety of bilateral matters including—crucially– the recognition of Sudan’s claims to Ethiopian territory. We have learned to our utter shock and dismay that under the just-concluded deal, huge swathes of our ancestral lands have been ceded to the Sudan with a stroke of the Ethiopian dictator’s pen.

We wish your Excellency to take note that we reject absolutely and condemn vehemently this nefarious deal between the two dictators. We wish to let it be known that we will never allow this deal to stand, for it deprives thousands of our people of their farms and holds for naught the enormous sacrifices our forefathers have made so valiantly to preserve these lands as an integral part of Ethiopia’s territorial identity and sovereignty. We would like to remind the world community of the fact that Emperor Tewodros II ( 1818 – 1868 ) cut his teeth on defending these very lands from Egyptian and Sudanese encroachments in the 19th century. Those who seek to deprive us of these lands would also do well to remember that Emperor Yohannes IV ( 1831 – 1889 ) gave his life and immortalized his name in the defense of these same territories from similarly motivated forces. In short, so hallowed is the history associated with these lands and so deep-seated the passions it evokes among Ethiopians of every generation, it is foolhardy to expect the Ethiopian people to acquiesce in Zenawi’s treasonous act and to take Sudan’s land grab lying down. Let this note serve as a warning that we pledge to vindicate our national rights and honor by all necessary means. For a nefarious deal concluded by an illegitimate and quisling government deserves only to be honored by its breach.

Your Excellency should know that the current Prime Minister of Ethiopia has no authority- legal or moral- to enter international agreements that cede Ethiopian territories. To the contrary, a fundamental and venerable principle which Ethiopians have repeatedly affirmed in the course of their history is that which denies to their rulers – even to those who claimed to rule by divine grace- the authority to voluntarily cede territory to foreign powers. As recently as the time of the late Emperor Haile Selassie I ( 1892 – 1975 ) binding international boundary settlements had to obtain the imprimatur of the people’s representatives. Meles Zenawi too will be hard pressed to point to anything in the constitution of the country or its traditions which allow him to override this immutable principle against voluntary territorial cessions without the participation and consent of the Ethiopian people as expressed through its chosen representatives. There is no more vivid or better demonstration of the tenacity with which this principle is upheld in Ethiopia than the ill-fated rulings of The Hague Boundary Commission which conferred Eritrean sovereignty over lands that have historically belonged to Ethiopia. As you know, these rulings ultimately proved a dead letter for no other reason than that the Ethiopian people found them to be at war with this time-honored principle. And not because Meles Zenawi was unwilling to oblige, give in or give up. He was. But for the Ethiopian people, neither the Commission’s international standing nor Meles Zenawi’s too clever- by- half ramblings urging acceptance of the Commission’s rulings were of any consequence. The Ethiopian people know like the back of their hands where Ethiopia’s territory ends and foreign territory begins. They will not seek what is not theirs; but they will not willingly give up what they know to be theirs, even when those at the helm of state power are willing to betray the national interest in the service of selfish and shortsighted personal or group ambitions. In short, we wish it to be understood that territorial cessions or concessions that have been made by the Prime Minister (and his cohorts) behind the back of the Ethiopian people– and contrary to their wishes and interests– will only last as long as the life of the regime; not a day longer.

Of course, we are not surprised that Sudan’s leaders have acted with transparent opportunism in seeking to extract territorial gains from a weak and insecure regime that they intimately know to be wracked by internal dissent and a serious deficit of democratic legitimacy. We are not unmindful of the usual proclivity of governments to seek to promote their perceived national interests. Nevertheless, we believe in this case that the government of General Al- Beshir has unwittingly planted the seeds of an inevitable future conflict and instability and thereby jeopardized his country’s long term interests by seeking to secure territorial gains at Ethiopia’s expense courtesy of a leader who he knows to have no qualms about putting “his” country’s interests on the auction block so long as doing so prolongs his rule.

The Sudan should also understand that there is no historical, legal, or demographic justification to its claims over any of the Ethiopian territories in question. The only slender reed on which it bases its claim is a colonial-era treaty between Ethiopia and Great Britain which does no more than purport to define the territorial limits of Ethiopia and the Sudan. (Sudan is, of course, a successor state of Great Britain under international law and would stand in the shoes of its erstwhile colonial ruler as far as its treaty rights are concerned.) But the treaty is devoid of anything that favors Sudan’s position. To begin with, since the circumstances of the making of the treaty during the heyday of British colonialism were so murky, the legal validity of the treaty is open to question. Legal validity aside, however, it is worth noting that the treaty merely delimits the boundary between the two countries in very general terms, expressly leaving the task of actual boundary demarcation to a later date. That date, however, never arrived and, as a result, the demarcation of the common boundary has proved elusive from the day the treaty was inked. To be sure, Sudan has at various times claimed that the boundary between the two countries has in fact been demarcated. The claim, however, has no support in historical fact or law. A legally binding demarcation requires the cooperation, participation, and consent of both sides. Indeed, the 1902 treaty itself explicitly calls for both sides to set up a joint demarcation body. This, however, never materialized. Instead, a certain Major Gwynn of the British colonial office seems to have singlehandedly sought to demarcate the entire Western length of the border between the two countries soon after the treaty was allegedly signed. But this unilateral and self-serving act cannot be held to determine Ethiopia’s rights or foreclose her rightful claims. A valid and binding demarcation takes the consent of both sides. This principle is too well known and too established under international law to even require mention were it not for the contrary pretensions of the Sudanese government and Zenawi’s complicit acquiescence. Moreover, a legitimate demarcation requires the participation and the cooperation of the denizens of the borderlands. The importance of such a procedure too is obvious and does not need elaboration. Yet, this too has not happened to date.

It is against this backdrop that in April, 2008, elements of the regular army of the Sudan entered Ethiopian territory and forcibly evicted our citizens from their farms, destroying in the process their crops, flour mills, tractors and other farm equipment. Twenty-four settlements were razed to the ground. The natural vegetation and wild animals that grace this region were not spared from wanton destruction. Following these unlawful acts, we addressed a letter dated June 2, 2008, to President Al-Beshir decrying these misdeeds and putting the Government of the Sudan on notice of its responsibility for its actions. Unfortunately, we have seen no evidence that the Sudan government is willing to change course and to desist from its unlawful and arrogant behavior. On the contrary, just recently, the Sudanese army once again went on the offensive and murdered seven more of our citizens while they were tending their farms. We strongly condemn these actions.

Despite the brutalities and indignities our citizens continue to suffer at the hands of the Sudanese army, their “own” government has not cared to seek legal redress for these transgressions. On the contrary, Prime Minister Zenawi had the audacity to extend an official invitation to Al- Beshir to visit Ethiopia from April 21 to April 22, 2009 in the teeth of the International Criminal Court’s indictment against him for a variety of international crimes. For now, our citizens seem to have no legal wherewithal in the face of the obstacles placed in their path by the two dictators. Nevertheless, we the undersigned consider it our duty and responsibility to register with your Excellency our protest and condemnation of these unlawful actions.

We would also like to go on record as asserting our inalienable rights to self-defense, to our sovereignty as a people, and to our territorial integrity as a member of the United Nations. We reserve the right not to honor any boundary agreements that the regime of Meles Zenawi has signed with the Government of the Sudan without the knowledge and full consent of the people of Ethiopia.

Finally, we demand that the government of the Sudan immediately withdraw its army from Ethiopian soil and maintain scrupulous respect for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ethiopia and pay adequate compensation to the victims of its actions and their survivors, and for the loss and destruction of their property.

Please accept the assurances of our highest consideration.

Sincerely,
1. Ethiopian Border Affairs Committee;
2. United Ethiopian Democratic Forces;
3. Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Party (Democratic);
4. All-Ethiopia Socialist Movement;
5. Ethiopian Democratic Hibrehizb Unity Movement;
6. Ethiopian Medhin Democratic Party;
7. Ginbot 7 Movement for Justice, Freedom and Democracy;
8. Ethiopian People’s Patriotic Front;
9. Ethiopian National United Front;
10. Crown Council of Ethiopia;
11. All-Amhara People’s Organization;
12. Gambella People’s United Democratic Front;
13. Oromo People’s Liberation Organization;
14. Tigrean Alliance for Democracy;
15. Ethiopian National Congress;
16. Tatek Ethiopian Democratic Unity Force;
17. Anuak Justice Council;
18. Gasha for Ethiopians;
19. Ethiopian Women for Peace and Development;
20. The Legitimate Holy Synod of the Ethiopian Orthodox Tewahedo Church in Exile;
21. Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia;
22. Mahdere Andinet Ethiopian Association;
23. Ethiopian Veterans Association;
24. Ethiopian Unity Diaspora Forum;
25. Ethiopian Dialogue for Peace and Common Ground

CC:
Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton
United States Department of State
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Senator John Kerry
Chairman, U.S Senate Committee on
Foreign Relations
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