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Eritrea emerged an independent state, in 1993, from a protracted armed struggle to break-free from Ethiopia. Initially making democratic and economic gains, Eritrea soon relapsed into a devastating war against Ethiopia to assert its territorial integrity. The war formally ended with a peace agreement and the dispute is resolved by a binding arbitration. However, disagreeing in the process of implementing the peace agreement, the two states are locked in a no-war-no-peace scenario for the last decade. Within this detrimental situation, Eritrea has been deeply troubled and isolated under an increasingly authoritarian and militaristic government fixated on a position to implement the arbitrary ruling to its letter and aggressively refusing any compromise. In the context of this stand-off, the government has been denying Eritreans political, religious, civil, economic, social, cultural rights and subjecting them to an indefinite national service, imprisonment and even torture. As a result, and partly due to its rigid approach to foreign relations, the government is ostracized and sanctioned. This study proposes to capture the complexity of these issues and the factors involved. Eritrea’s border war against Ethiopia and its uncompromising position on the border issue are critically scrutinized in light of a nationalistic approach to politics. And the violation of human rights is inspected using many sources attested by some of the victims themselves. The factors that influence the aggressive foreign policy are analyzed by the Democratic Peace and Regional Complex theories. Using different concepts and considering historical legacies, the study has attempted to determine that Eritrea’s reality is animated by an exclusivist nationalistic itinerary. The stand-off with Ethiopia and the violation of human rights are carried out for and by this extraordinary force. Finally, admitting a fundamental dilemma, it is concluded that Eritrea’s internal predicament and external isolation is of its own making, and more to the point, its government’s making.


Chapter One


1.1 Background

Eritrea is a state, an area of 124,320 square kilometers, located in the Horn of Africa with a relatively diverse population of about 5 million constituted by nine ethnic groups of Christian highlanders and Muslim lowlanders1. Eritrea is bordered by Ethiopia and Sudan which are much bigger and more significant in the region. It has a coastal line of 1200kms in the Red Sea bordered by Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Eritrea became an official independent member state of the UN in 28 May 1993 following a de facto independence in 24 May 1991 after thirty years of armed struggle to break-free from Ethiopia with whom it has evident and manifest religious, ethnic and cultural ties.

Although Eritrea, and Eritrean identity, is a direct result of ‗a creation of the territory as an Italian colonial state‘ in 1890 (Habtesellasie, 2011; Tekeste, 1997) and ‗shaped by intervening powers‘ (Wrong, 2005), the peoples in what is now Eritrea claim a history of cultural and political independence dating back to 1000BCE (Markakis, 2012). Prior to Italian colonialism, the central highland of today‘s Eritrea was under the influence of Abyssinia (a precursor of Ethiopia), with the coastal lands under the suzerainty of the Ottoman Empire and later Egypt, and the western lowlands associated with Sudan (Tesfatsion, 1986; Erlich, 2005). Fifty years of Italian colonialism had transformed the traditional society, especially the predominantly Orthodox Christian highlanders, through industrialization and urbanization creating a new identity attached with the territory (Wrong, 2005). Eritrea was then liberated from Italian colonization by the British in 1941 as part of their Second World War agenda of weakening Italian force in Africa (ibid: 99). Eritrea remained under British Military Administration (BMA) for ten years during which the United Nations (UN) deliberated on Eritrea‘s case2 while some people in Eritrea were demanding for political independence.

  • The population is evenly divided between Christians and Muslims. The Tigrigna ethnic group is a majority.
  • As part of the Post-War deliberation in the UN to decide on the fate of Italian colonies.

The UN‘s decision to federate Eritrea with Ethiopia in September 19513, in spite of the UN principle that endorses colonial boundaries, in favor of a clearly stated interest of the United States of America (US) and in consideration of Ethiopia, became one of the ‗most defining moments in Eritrea‘s history‘ (Habtesellasie, 2011: 178). Ten years later, Ethiopia abrogated the federation and annexed Eritrea sparking an immediate armed resistance for independence. The Cold War context and Ethiopia‘s close alliance with US was decisive in Eritrea‘s cause to be flouted and the armed struggle to be instigated with a strong resentment for the silence of the UN and the world at large (HRW, 1999).

The armed struggle for independence, which for the most part was carried out by Eritrean Peoples‘ Liberation Front (EPLF), slowly brought in many young recruits to fight for the Eritrean cause. The EPLF, throughout the 1980s, grew in to a strong military organization and at times efficiently governed liberated areas (Zondi and Rejouis, 2006). After conducting successful military operations against the Ethiopian army, the EPLF liberated all of Eritrea which has now become a reality. Effectively, Eritrea of today has become firmly rooted in the struggle for its independence during which it was defined. Thirty years of protracted armed struggle and the effects of war produced among Eritreans ‗a sense of unity and solidarity that they had not known before‘ (Markasis, 2012). Nevertheless, it has proved difficult for Eritrea to dissociate itself from the legacy of the struggle with which it is governed today


1.2 Problem Statement

Following its formal international recognition as an independent country in 1993, Eritrea saw a brief period of transition to democracy and a thriving economy. It has also shown signs of a respect for human rights while there were some incidents in which individuals and groups were treated harshly (Amnesty International (AI), 2013). In the process of asserting its sovereignty in the context of a conflict-prone region, it clashed with its neighbors and maintained a ‗tough approach‘ to international politics (Nur, 2013). And at the center of Eritrea‘s, the government‘s, tough approach to internal governance and external relations was the militarism and authoritarianism inherited from the struggle (ICG, 2010). This approach, which persisted after independence, led Eritrea into conflict with Ethiopia in 1998. Although, the conflict had many

  • Resolution 390A(V) interrelated causes, a territorial dispute over a small village, Badme4, exploded the brief but warm and supportive relations into a devastating two-year war. The village was later legally declared to be inside Eritrea‘s territory while Eritrea was implicated an aggressor. The conflict has formally ended with a peace agreement in 2000 and the territorial dispute has been legally resolved since 2002, however, the process of implementing the peace agreement has reached a deadlock as both countries could not reach a compromise.

Over a decade since the signing of the peace agreement, and the border only virtual demarcated, Eritrea has regressed in to one of the world‘s most ‗authoritarian and human rights-abusing regimes‘ (Tronvoll, 2009). Its relations with the outside world have deteriorated in to aggressiveness and militarism resulting in Eritrea‘s isolation. What has been apparent in the past ten years inside Eritrea is rampant internal repression in breach of international human rights laws and norms which is ‗evidenced by thousands of young people fleeing the country‘ (AI, 2013). However, the violation of human rights and Eritrea‘s intransigence in its approach to international relations has been underpinned by Eritrea‘s perceived threat from Ethiopia.

Eritrea‘s stand-off against Ethiopia continues to be the ‗dominant factor‘ in Eritrean foreign policy and an important element in domestic dynamics (Human Rights Watch (HRW), 2009). Although both governments agreed in advance to accept the decision of the border commission, as final and binding, Ethiopia has not ceded control over the village of Badme calling for further dialogue based on humanitarian grounds and considerations of a lasting peace. Eritrea, calling for an immediate implementation, has been using this unresolved dispute as a justification for mass militarization of society and the suspension of fundamental human rights. Therefore, herein are two predicaments. On one hand is an international legal issue (implementation of the border ruling) seriously challenged by Ethiopia‘s local humanitarian concerns and a consideration for a lasting peace. On the other hand is Eritrea‘s fundamental dilemma. To assert its sovereignty i.e. to implement the border ruling, it is suspending human rights. However, suspending human rights has not served its purpose but on the contrary has isolated Eritrea both from its people and the outside world. It has been alleged that it is difficult for Eritrea to find internal reconciliation without its territorial concerns fully resolved and to overcome the boundary issue it needs

  • Located close to the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Estimated inhabitants of Badme is 5000. internal reconciliation (Healy, 2007). This study attempts to understand and entangle the issues and factors underpinning these predicaments and dilemmas.

1.3 Objectives of the study

In line with the problems and dilemmas indicated, the overall objective of the study is to understand the interrelation among the three issues stated above: conflict, human rights and foreign policy. First, the study attempts to comprehend the conflict and the subsequent stand-off between Eritrea and Ethiopia. Secondly, the research attempts to understand the gross violations of human rights in Eritrea and Eritrea‘s uncompromising foreign policy partly resulting from the conflict and stand-off with Ethiopia. In the process of analyzing the relevant issues, attempt is made to achieve the following interrelated objectives;

  • To assess the causes and implications of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict, and understand the position of Eritrea in the implementation of the peace agreement.
  • To examine the major violations of human rights in Eritrea in line with international human rights law and standards to which Eritrea is legally bound.
  • To critically analyze Eritrea‘s hostile foreign policy in a regional and especially in the context of its tense relations with Ethiopia

1.4 Research Questions

The research questions of the study are designed in line with the stated objectives. Paying due consideration to the influence of the legacy of Eritrea‘s struggle for independence and the underpinnings of the repressive and isolated regime in Eritrea, the following interrelated questions are posed:

  • What constitutes the conflict and the ongoing stand-off between Eritrea and Ethiopia and why, despite their peace agreement, peace eludes them?
  • What is the justification for the gross violations of human rights in Eritrea in the aftermath of the peace agreement with Ethiopia?
  • What are the factors that influence Eritrea‘s aggressive foreign policy?
  1. Methodology and Methods of Data Collection

The approach adopted to undertake this research is a qualitative one. Qualitative research is an explanatory and descriptive methodology (McNabb, 2005). Conflict, human rights and foreign relations are all social phenomenon thus qualitative approach is adopted because it is important to promote understanding and help to expound on correlation of different issues and subjects (ibid). Since the study is about complex political and cultural incidents, the study follows this research approach by using descriptive and analytical methods. The study is about intricately interconnected issues; the existing stand-off between Eritrea and Ethiopia, human rights violations in Eritrea and the factors that influence Eritrea‘s foreign policy. Accordingly, key concepts of conflict resolution, human rights and foreign policy are used while analytical and theoretical framework fitting to issues are employed.


5.1. Method of Data Collection

This research is based on the study and analysis of both primary and secondary sources. The study uses primary sources such as treaties, official statements of public bodies, peace accords and UN Drafts5. In addition, primary information has been gathered through interviews with Eritrean refugees living in Addis Ababa. Interview is an appropriate method of research to gain insight about people‘s opinion, feelings, emotions and experiences (Descombe, 2007). The selection of the informants was based on their experience and knowledge of the situation of human rights in Eritrea. However, the purpose of the interviews is to get a firsthand information thereby to add more validity to secondary reports and allegations while understand their views from a close perspective. The research is conducted through semi-structured in-depth interviews to explore the experience of the refugees while they were in Eritrea and consider their opinions. The researcher has chosen individuals presumed to have experienced human rights violations, such as imprisonment and indefinite conscription in the Eritrean military. Informal discussions were also made with other Eritreans affected by government policies. The interview was conducted in Tigrigna and anonymity of informants has been respected when informants so requested. Secondary sources such as books, journal articles, publications, unpublished works, and papers arising from seminars and conferences, and, more importantly, organizational

  • UN Draft: Allegations of Human Rights in Eritrea; See Appendix

publications of the Amnesty International (AI), Human Rights Watch (HRW) and International Crisis Group (ICG) reporting on Eritrea have been used.

  1. Significance

The Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict and the stalled peace process have been thoroughly studied and much rigorous researches have been conducted on the ongoing human rights violations in Eritrea. Many authors and conferences have also attempted to analyze Eritrea‘s foreign policy. However, the conflict and peace process between Eritrea and Ethiopia have proved intractable. The present humanitarian crisis in Eritrea has also proved vast involving political and cultural issues. Most of the researches conducted have tried to dissociate one issue from the other when in fact they are intricately interconnected. Some of the researches have also been tuned by political positions. This research proposes to capture the intricacy of the issues and factors that engender the complexity and intends to contribute to the current literature on Eritrea in particular and to studies that interconnects various research areas of International Relations in general.

  1. Scope and Limitations of the Study

The main scope of the study is Eritrea‘s human rights and foreign policy in the aftermath of Algiers Agreement (2000-2013). However, the complexities of the issues deserve a detailed background study. Eritrea‘s internal dynamics and external relations, especially with Ethiopia, have their roots in Eritrea‘s struggle for independence therefore almost one chapter has been devoted to examine this. Limitations to the study arise from two reasons. Originally the field research was planned to be conducted in one of the Eritrean refugees‘ camps in Ethiopia where diverse and relevant data through interviews could have been gathered. However, due to disturbances inside the camps related to unfortunate events elsewhere, the interview was conducted with Eritrean refugees living in Addis Ababa limiting the selection of informants. Secondly, the researcher, as a refugee, had constraints to approach the Eritrean Delegation to the African Union thus depriving the research to entertain the government‘s position and views on different issues. Conducting the research in the camps, possibly with quantitative approach and taking in to consideration of the cultural underpinnings of the Eritrean society, could have generate more relevant data. And, understanding Eritrea‘s position from the government perspective could have enriched the research.

  1. Organization of the Study

The thesis is divided in to six chapters including the introductory chapter. The first chapter contains the major parts of the proposal of the research. Chapter two presents the conceptual and theoretical framework of the study. In this chapter, a thorough discussion of pertinent concepts of conflict and conflict resolution, human rights and foreign policy analysis along with the analytical and theoretical framework is set forth. Chapter three provides a brief discussion on Eritrea‘s experience during its armed struggle to break free from Ethiopia and makes a brief assessment of its human rights and foreign policy after its independence. The conflict and stalled peace process with Ethiopia is also studied in this chapter. Chapter four extensively deals with Eritrea‘s human rights in the aftermath of the war with Ethiopia. Chapter five deeply analyses the factors that influence Eritrea‘s foreign policy. And Chapter Six provides summary and concluding remarks of the study.


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