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Ethiopia and Eritrea

Volume 742: debated on Wednesday 30 January 2013

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress toward the resolution of the disputed border between Ethiopia and Eritrea since the death of Meles Zenawi.

My Lords, unfortunately there has been no progress on the border dispute since the death of Prime Minister Meles. We have, however, encouraged both Governments to engage to resolve their differences.

I thank my noble friend for that reply, which confirms that there has been little change over the past decade in this very long-running dispute. Does my noble friend agree that the appointment of Ethiopia’s new Prime Minister, Hailemariam Desalegn, to chair the African Union and, quite separately but in the same time span just last week, the revolt of elements of Isaias Afewerki’s Eritrean army indicate a shifting of regional political ground? Does that mean that developments in Ethiopia and Eritrea and the impact on regional security of the weakening of al-Shabaab represent an opportunity through diplomatic discourse to resolve the border issues, address the democratic deficit and unlock the security stalemate in that region?

My noble friend makes an important point, and I think all noble Lords in this House would agree that a legitimate Government and stability in the region are essential. We can see from what has happened in Mali and Algeria that it is absolutely essential for us to support a democratic process to resolve border disputes. We have been working with the United Nations and the European Union to try to ensure that these countries continue to speak to resolve their differences. As my noble friend will be aware, the Boundary Commission report of 2003, which is the document that lays out the internationally accepted agreement on that boundary, has still not been implemented.

My Lords, Eritrea is governed by one of the most secretive and repressive regimes in the whole world, which uses forced labour and is under UN sanctions for its continuing support for al-Shabaab, a self-declared affiliate of al-Qaeda in Somalia. Will the Minister join me in condemning that regime? Will she tell us why the Foreign Office has facilitated a London meeting between the Eritrean Government and a range of mining and investment companies? Does she really think that this is the best way to impress on the Government of Eritrea the need to respect the freedoms and human rights of its people?

The noble Baroness will be aware that the Somalia and Ethiopia monitoring group, which reported in 2012, very much raised some of the concerns that the noble Baroness raises here today. Eritrea continues to flout UN sanctions; that is why we continue to support them. The regime has huge human rights issues, which is why we continue to raise those matters whenever we get the opportunity.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness answer the second point of my noble friend’s question: the meeting with the oil company?

I was not immediately familiar with the specific meeting to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, refers. She is clearly better informed than I on this issue, as many noble Lords are on regular occasions; it is why we have such expertise on foreign policy in this House. I will make sure that I speak to the Minister for Africa and write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, does the Minister accept that, in the post-Meles era, the international community needs to reset its relations with Ethiopia by pushing the ruling parties to revive the rights and freedoms of the 1994 constitution and by promoting inclusive reforms, as the only way to ensure internal and regional stability as well as durable development?

We saw the appointment of Prime Minister Hailemariam as a real opportunity. The right reverend Prelate will be aware that Prime Minister Meles and President Isaias have had a long history with the ongoing dispute between the two countries, and we felt that a change in Prime Minister was an opportunity for the two countries to move together. South Sudan, as the right reverend Prelate will probably be aware, has offered to act as a mediator and facilitator in this dispute, but unfortunately, because of the ongoing violence through 2012, no real progress has been made.

On the new Prime Minister’s role in Ethiopia, is the Minister aware that some of us met the Prime Minister and pressed very hard on all the questions that have been raised, including on the role of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and the need for it to be transparent in publishing all its reports. I think we made some progress on that. I hope that the Minister can press on that point as well.

We raise the issue of human rights whenever we have the opportunity, with both the Eritrean and Ethiopian Governments. The Minister for Africa raised the issue of human rights, among other things, with the adviser to the Eritrean President in September of last year.