Eritrea and Ethiopia have agreed to end the conflict that has existed between the two countries since 1998. In signing the agreement the Prime Ministers of the two countries made a commitment to begin normalizing relations between their countries. In announcing the agreement Eritrean Information Minister said that the “state of war that existed between the two countries has come to an end”.
The visit of Ethiopia’s Prime Minister, Abiy Ahmed,to Eritrea’s capital Asmara followed his recent decision to accept the 2000 Algiers Agreement and border ruling that the town of Badme was part of Eritrea, and the subsequent visit to Addis Abeba of an Eritrean official. Yemane G. Meskel, Eritrea’s minister of information characterized this meeting as a “truly historic moment with memorable watershed events: brotherly embrace of the leaders”. Ethiopian PM Ahmed said that the airlines between the two countries will start operating again, the ports will be accessible and that the embassies will be opened stating that “We will demolish the wall and, with love, build a bridge between the two countries,” Al Jazeera reports. Eritrea’s information minister also tweeted a photo of the two leaders together writing that the meeting “set the tone for rapid, positive changes on the basis of respect of sovereignty and territorial integrity”. The visit was greeted with intense excitement within Eritrea in expectation that the agreement will enable families and communities that have been separated by the dispute to have normal contact, particularly along the border.
The agreement reflects changing relations between Eritrea and its neighbours. Last January, Sudan closed all border crossings with Eritrea, heavily affecting the traffic of goods and people. Eritrea has also strengthened its ties with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, with Eritrea’s Assab port serving as the base for military operations in Yemen.
Through the agreement, landlocked Ethiopia will gain access to and use of maritime outlets like the port of Massawa in Eritrea, which is of geopolitical importance for trade, security and economic welfare. “The port of Massawa will get a boost and become one of the alternative ports for Ethiopia,” noted Marc Lavergne (National Centre for Scientific Research in Paris).
This visit came after the Ethiopian Prime Minister announced that Ethiopia will fully accept the terms of the peace agreement with Eritrea in an effort to end bilateral tensions. The two countries have been in a state of no war, no peace since the last border dispute which led to a deadly conflict killing thousands of people (1998- 2000). In 2000, a UN-backed agreement between Ethiopia and Eritrea outlined the border, however the demarcation of that border never took place as Ethiopia refused to implement its ruling.
Eritrea has often pointed to the no war no peace situation to justify its unlimited national service, and its policies to suppress any form of dissent within the country. The consequences led to widespread condemnation for violating human rights, and a resulting exodus of Eritreans seeking refuge elsewhere. Many observers are keen to see whether the agreement will lead to any improvements for Eritrea’s people.
The situation inside Eritrea has been the focus of the UN Human Rights Council since 2001. The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Eritrea was appointed in 2012. The 35th session of the UNHRC considered the latest report of the Special Rapporteur for Eritrea, Sheila Keetharuth, in June. Presenting her report on the situation of human rights in Eritrea she called for the momentum of recent developments between the Eritrea and Ethiopia to be used to improve human rights in Eritrea.“I call on both parties to ensure that human rights remain a central consideration, moving forward. I also call on the international community, member states and the United Nations to use their good offices to facilitate a dialogue which would lead to enhanced respect for human rights”, she said. At this meeting of the Human Rights Council the Special Rapporteur’s mandate was extended for another year.