Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Morality of the U.N. Security Council Sanctions against Eritrea: Defensibility, Political Objectives, and Consequences

Academic journal article African Studies Review

The Morality of the U.N. Security Council Sanctions against Eritrea: Defensibility, Political Objectives, and Consequences

Article excerpt


This article seeks to examine the sanctions imposed on Eritrea by the U.N. Security Council (UNSC) based on Eritrea's alleged involvement in Somalia and its border dispute with Djibouti. It argues that the UNSC's failure to sanction the parties for reneging on their commitment to implement the Permanent Court of Arbitration's verdict on the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia casts doubt on the morality of the sanctions. It also argues that the decision may have been driven by political motives. These sanctions will hurt the people of Eritrea and the Eritrean nation, and indeed, there is a real risk that the outcome of the sanctions could be the collapse of the Eritrean state.

Résumé: L'article cherche à examiner les sanctions imposées sur l'Erythrée par le Conseil de Sécurité des Nations Unies (le CSNU) basées sur l'implication présumée du pays en Somalie et son conflit frontalier avec Djibouti. Il soutient que l'échec du CSNU dans l'effort de sanctionner les gouvernements impliqués pour la rupture de leur engagement à mettre en place le verdict de la Cour concernant le conflit frontalier entre Djibouti et l'Erythrée, lance un doute sur la moralité des sanctions. Cet article soutient également que ces sanctions ont probablement été motivées par des manoeuvres politiques. Ces sanctions vont nuire à la nation et au peuple de l'Erythrée, et sans aucun doute, il y a un vrai risque que ces sanctions puisse engendrer l'effondrement de la nation érythréenne.

Key Words: Eritrea; conflict; IGAD; sanctions; UNSC


On December 23, 2009, the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) passed a resolution (Resolution 1709) imposing sanctions on Eritrea and calling for a weapons embargo, a freezing of assets, and a travel ban on civilian and military leaders and associated business people. The reasons for the sanctions were Eritrea's alleged support of the Somali opposition and its failure to heed calls by the UNSC to withdraw its forces from its borders with Djibouti (UNSC 2009).

The initiative to invoke the sanctions emanated from the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD) (the eight-country East African development organization) following a meeting of the IGAD Heads of State and Government in Sirte, Libya, on the sidelines of the African Union (AU) Summit on July 2, 2009. A request by IGAD was submitted to the AU, which endorsed the request and submitted it to the UNSC. The resolution, which was passed by the fifteen-member UNSC, was brought to the table by Uganda. It is clear to Eritreans that the majority of the IGAD membership wants Eritrea to be punished. Uganda has peacekeeping forces in Somalia, Kenya faces threats from Al Shebab, and Djibouti has been involved in a border dispute with Eritrea since 2008. However, Eritreans are convinced that it was mainly pressure from Ethiopia-and also the U.S.-that led to the action (see E-SMART 2010).The dominant power in IGAD, Ethiopia, has stalled in implementing the 2002 border verdict of the Eritrea-Ethiopia Boundary Commission (EEBC 2005) and the body that set it up, the Permanent Count of Arbitration (PCA). This failure is seen widely as the major obstacle in peace-building in the region (ICG 2008; Healy & Plaut 2007; Wrong 2007b; Lyons 2009).

The sanctions resolution angered Eritreans and inspired a massive opposition movement (see AGE 2010; E-SMART 2010; ITFE 2010). The Eritrean government, in a statement issued by its Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the same day that the resolution was announced, expressed its anger by calling it a "shameful day for the UN" (MFA 2009). Worldwide demonstrations were also organized by Eritrean diaspora communities in Geneva, Canberra (Australia), Washington, D.C., and San Francisco and staged simultaneously on February 22, 2010. Some five thousand Eritreans from fourteen European, Scandinavian, and Middle Eastern nations including the U.K., Norway, Turkey, and Israel traveled to Geneva to take part in the demonstration there (AFP 2010) and present a petition to the UNSC demanding that the resolution be revoked. …

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