Countries in the Horn of Africa lauded for lifting sanctions on Eritrea

Map of the Horn of Africa
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Countries in the Horn of Africa and the broader region have been lauded for their “sterling efforts” as the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to lift sanctions on Eritrea.

The punitive measures imposed in 2009 halted weapons supplies and placed travel bans and assets freezes on certain government officials over concerns Eritrea was supporting Al Shabaab militants operating in the region, particularly Somalia – something Asmara consistently rejected.

Reconciliation efforts between Ethiopia and Eritrea also played a critical role in persuading the Consensus in the Council that the sanctions – first imposed almost a decade ago and tightened in subsequent years – should go. A move welcomed by Ethiopia’s Ambassador Taye Atske Selassie Made.

“This significant political development, as well known, has been initiated by the Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and of course his initiative has been embraced and owned by the leaders of the region. Ethiopia will indeed welcome unreservedly, without any equivocation, the adoption of the resolution of lifting the sanctions on Eritrea. We believe the decision to lift the sanctions is a timely response to the major political developments that is unfolding in the Horn of Africa. Above all, it will also give impetus, a fresh breeze and energy to look into what the future will offer to the region while it will allow us to deal with current challenges.”

The sanctions were strengthened in 2011, two years after its initial imposition, particularly over Eritrea’s refusal to resolve a border dispute with Djibouti, which remains an outstanding issue.

The resolution passed on Wednesday urges Eritrea to work with its neighbour towards normalising relations and settling this border dispute. A monitoring group established by the Council has also increasingly found scant evidence to support claims that Eritrea continues to support armed groups in the region.

“We in Ethiopia believe the current developments in the region has enormously impacted the work of the committee and the sanctions regime as a whole, particularly since the declaration of peace and friendship in July 2018, the whole trajectory of development in our region has fundamentally changed and countries of the region have opted for a new chapter for normalising relations, relations which truly reflect the long-standing historical ties between our two peoples.”

The lifting of sanctions characterised as both important for the region and the international community as UK Ambassador Karen Pierce explained.

“This is a really welcomed development that we can lift sanctions, it’s welcome in the region, it shows that the region, the countries concerned, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Djibouti, Somalia have all made great efforts to move political processes forward and to reach agreement so it’s important for specific regional reasons, it’s also important for wider reasons. It shows that sanctions can be lifted, sanctions are a mean to an end, they’re a mean to advance progress, political progress, they’re a means to stop conflict. I think this region of Africa has done the international community a big favour today by showing that it can be done.”

Sweden Ambassador Olof Skoog concurred.

“It’s very important that the Council also acknowledges when there is positive change, in this case really coming out of courageous decisions by the leaders not least in Ethiopia and Eritrea and they will have – we already see that – have positive repercussions for the entire Horn of Africa.”

But concerns remain about the broader democratization of Eritrean society and its dismal human rights record – a point here expanded on by Dutch Ambassador Karel Van Oosterom, who urged greater cooperation between Asmara and the UN.

“The lifting in itself is not a condonement (sic) – no I think it’s a very strong signal that when Eritrea and Ethiopia have solved their problems, its also high time that, in those time when Eritrea’s internal repression was legitimized one might say by international tension, that this kind of relaxation is a good basis for improvement in the human rights situation, that’s why we will be continuing to push both here but also on a bilateral basis that a country like Eritrea should cooperate with the human rights council mechanisms.”

The resolution also asks the Secretary General Antonio Guterres to report back to Council on progress by February 15th and thereafter at six-month intervals.