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Border Demarcation: FAQ

What triggered the Eritrea-Ethiopia border war?
Ethiopian authorities killed Eritrean officers who had come to discuss the case of Eritrean farmers who were forcibly evicted from their border villages by Ethiopian authorities, and the fact that Ethiopia had illegally occupied large swaths of sovereign Eritrean territory along the border. prior to this incident, Eritrea’s efforts to have the border demarcated through a joint border commission was frustrated by Ethiopia’s intransigence.

Has the border ever been legally delimited?
Yes; twice. The border was first delimited through treaties signed and ratified in 1900, 1902 and 1908 between the then Imperial Government of Ethiopia and the Italian colonial government of Eritrea. This border was, in fact, one of the most clearly defined border in Africa; it had functioned as the internationally recognized boundary between the two states during the colonial period and during the Federation era. The border was delimited again, in April 2002, through the work of the independent and neutral EEBC with minor changes in the central part of the border.

What is the EEBC and who are its members?
The EEBC is the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission. It was established and operates pursuant to Article 4 of the Algiers Agreement of December 12, 2000. The Commission has five commissioners: Sir Elihu Lauterpacht (President, British); H.E. Prince Bola Adesumbo Ajibola (appointed by Ethiopia, Nigerian); Professor W. Michael Riesman (appointed by Eritrea, American); Judge Stephen M. Schwebel (appointed by Eritrea, American); and Sir Arthur Watts (appointed by Ethiopia, British). The secretary of the Commission is Dr. Hiroshi Murakami (UN Chief Cartographer, Japanese) and the Registrar is Ms. Bette E. Shifman (American).

What is the mandate of the EEBC?
The mandate of the EEBC is “to delimit and demarcate the colonial treaty border, based on pertinent colonial treaties (1900, 1902 and 1908), and applicable international law.” It has finished its first mandate, the delimitation of the border, more than five years ago. That was on April 13, 2002. Today, the EEBC’s second mandate, demarcation, is being frustrated because Ethiopia refused to accept the delimitation decision as final and binding.

Didn’t Ethiopia unconditionally accept the decision?
No! According to Ethiopia Prime Minister’s August 2007 radio interview, Ethiopia will consent to demarcation only if it is allowed to retain, “all what it considers being Ethiopian territory.” What this means is the EEBC has to demarcate the border to match Ethiopia’s border claim line of 2001, a claim that was rejected by the Commission’s 2002 Delimitation Decision. Furthermore, as the EBBC’s 25th report from September 28, 2007 exposed, Ethiopia is not ready to demarcate the border.

Isn’t there an appeal process to the EEBC decision?
No. The delimitation and demarcation decision of the Commission, according to the Algiers Agreement signed by both governments, is final and binding.

What does “the Commission shall have no authority to decide on ‘ex aequo et bono’,” mean?
It means the Commission has no authority to delimit or demarcate the boundary on what it considers is “right and good”, but on what is based on the strict reading of the treaties that created it.

Why can’t Ethiopia and Eritrea sit down for a dialogue?
Because, Ethiopia is not asking for dialogue with the intention, in good faith, of complying with the final and binding EEBC legal decision, but to undo it. According to the EEBC, Ethiopia “has rejected the opportunity for dialogue’ [on demarcation based on the April 2002] repeatedly.” Eritrea cannot talk and sit to dialogue with Ethiopia while Ethiopia refuses to abide by what it signed to accept as “final and binding.”

Doesn’t the Algiers Agreement have guarantors?
Yes; it has. In fact the United Nations, the European Union, the African Union, the United States, and Algeria had signed the Algiers Agreement as guarantors and witnesses. The Algiers Agreement also gives the UN Security Council the power of enforcement of the agreement, by invoking Chapter VII of the UN Charter on a non-compliant party.

Why is Ethiopia getting away with its lawlessness?
Ethiopia continues to ignore the EEBC Decision and Security Council resolutions because it simply believes it has the U.S. on its side. In the words of Ethiopia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, “There is no use for Eritrea to continue wishing that the Security Council would impose sanction on Ethiopia and waiting for the prospect of drawing vicarious satisfaction from that. That is unlikely to happen. Not because Eritrea is not big enough to have its way, but because the idea is too crazy, and too unrealistic.” It is due to U.S. support of Ethiopia that the UN Security Council has been unable to shoulder its responsibilities in the face of Ethiopia’s continued breach of International law.

How is the U.S. helping Ethiopia’s lawlessness?
The U.S. State Department is actively trying to sabotage the work of the EEBC. Leading this effort is Assistant Secretary for African Affairs, Jendayi Frazer. Here is how John Bolton, former U.S. Ambassador to the UN, puts her position: “For reasons I never understood, however, Frazer reversed course and asked in early February [2006] to reopen the 2002 EEBC decision, which she had concluded was wrong, and award a major piece of disputed territory to Ethiopia. I was at a loss to explain that to the Security Council, so I didn’t.”1

Why is Ethiopia refusing to implement the Decision?
The border war of 1998-2000 was never about the border or Badme, which the Ethiopian Prime Minister calls “some godforsaken village.” The truth is that Badme was only used as a pretext for Ethiopia’s expansionist ambition. This ambition wants to reverse Eritrea’s independence. If that fails to materialize, has to, at least, capture one of Eritrea’s sea ports, Assab.

Ethiopia is talking peace but does it ever mean it?
According to Eleanor Roosevelt, the former First Lady of the US: “[I]t isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.” Ethiopia’s refusal to accept the final and binding delimitation of the border by an independent and neutral international commission setup with the consent and agreement of both countries, makes it obvious that Ethiopia is clearly not working for peace. It is working against peace.

The above is courtesy of the Organization of Eritrean-Americans.


  1. Bolton, John (2007). Surrender is not an Option. Threshold Editions, pp. 347  

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