Djibouti presses for binding arbitration over border dispute. Eritrea resists, saying the situation is “complex”.
Source: What’s in blue
Tomorrow afternoon (21 February), Under-Secretary-General for Political and Peacebuilding Affairs Rosemary DiCarlo is expected to brief Council members in consultations on Eritrea-Djibouti relations under the agenda item “Peace and Security in Africa”. The briefing is taking place in accordance with resolution 2444 of 14 November 2018, which requested the Secretary-General “to keep the Security Council informed of developments towards the normalisation of relations between Eritrea and Djibouti” by 15 February 2019 and every six months thereafter. Among other things, that resolution also renewed sanctions on Somalia and lifted sanctions on Eritrea.
The lifting of sanctions on Eritrea was the culmination of regional political developments that unfolded since Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki signed a peace agreement in Asmara on 9 July, ending a 20-year conflict. Eritrea and Ethiopia further signed an Agreement on Peace, Friendship and Comprehensive Cooperation on 16 September, which was welcomed by Council members in a press statement (SC/13516). Ethiopia, then a Council member, advocated the lifting of sanctions on Eritrea, which helped inform the Council decision to do so in resolution 2444.
However, issues that led to the imposition of UN sanctions on Eritrea through resolution 1907 of 23 December 2009 remain unresolved, including the Djibouti-Eritrea border dispute and the fate of Djiboutian soldiers missing in action as a consequence of the 10-12 June 2008 skirmishes along the border. On 11 July 2018, Djibouti transmitted a letter to the Secretary-General (S/2018/687) expressing concern about these and other challenges in the relationship between Djibouti and Eritrea, while also welcoming the “latest developments regarding the protracted conflict between Ethiopia and Eritrea.” The letter also expressed receptivity to “a good offices process facilitated by the Secretary-General, in collaboration with the Security Council…”.
A letter submitted to the Council on 18 February (S/2019/154) will most likely serve as the basis of DiCarlo’s briefing tomorrow. The letter maintains that Djibouti and Eritrea “have both expressed their satisfaction with the positive developments in the Horn of Africa and their interest in advancing peace and economic integration in the region.” It briefly assesses the position of the two countries with regard to their dispute. It says that Djibouti would like “its border dispute with Eritrea resolved through a binding international arbitration” and remains “concerned about the fate of its soldiers still missing as a result of the border clashes between Djibouti and Eritrea from 10 to 12 June 2008”. With regard to Eritrea, the letter states that it “has been keen to stress the complexity and difficulty of regional transformation and its determination to avoid errors…while emphasizing a holistic approach to the normalization of all inter-state relations in the Horn of Africa and hoping for more progress in this regard, including in its relations with Djibouti.”
The letter concludes on a positive note by maintaining that the parties have behaved responsibly along their border and have not employed negative rhetoric towards each other. Additionally, it outlines goodwill gestures being undertaken by the neighbours, including the resumption of flights between Asmara and Djibouti City.
Council members are likely to welcome efforts being made to help improve relations between Djibouti and Eritrea. In this regard, they may be interested in any information that DiCarlo has about the contacts that Ethiopia has had with Djibouti and Eritrea in an effort to promote the normalisation of relations between the two countries. They may also want to know if any mediation efforts are being undertaken by the UN Secretariat—and what role the Council could play to support such efforts—especially given the openness expressed by Djibouti in its 11 July 2018 letter to a mediation process facilitated by the Secretary-General in collaboration with the Council.