In a move that holds a promise of assertiveness and independent choice, the AU at its 36th ordinary summit of Heads of State, held on 18 and 19 February 2023 reiterated its declaration that was adopted for the first time last year; at its 35th Ordinary Summit held in February 2022.
The Resolution condemned unilateral sanctions imposed on three of its Member States – namely Eritrea, South Sudan and Zimbabwe. The decision aptly emphasized the harmful effects of these sanctions and called for their immediate lifting. The reiteration of this declaration in 2023 is an encouraging step on the part of the continental organization.
States employ various tools to achieve their national interests. Under ideal circumstances, States deal with each other on the basis of mutual respect and non-interference in domestic affairs as well as respect for each other’s sovereignty.
These timeless principles of international relations were codified in the Westphalia treaty in 1648. However, hegemony, unilateralism, and colonialism have been consistently practiced by some individual, or a group of, countries in pursuance of their policies and interests, at different times and epochs of history.
The pursuit of these policies, which invariably create imbalance and disequilibrium in international relations, have led to wars and destruction. The Napoleonic wars, the First World War, and Second World War are, but a few examples.
Sanctions are brutal and inhumane by their very nature. They collectively punish and undermine a nation’s socio-economic progress.
This is true especially in the nascent 21st century, where the US and its allies have been consistently touting the so called “rules-based international order. It must be emphasized that these rules are neither symmetric nor formulated through consultations with, and consensus of, all stakeholders. They are also antithetical to a durable and stable international architecture that is predicated on promotion of mutual and common interests. But they are often invoked by the US in its drive to retain its unipolar power and impose its financial and military policies on the world.
Sanctions and economic warfare are intended to bully and intimidate those nations that pursue independent national policies and programs to the benefit of their people. Such countries are victimized because of their decision to safeguard the well-being and security of their population by adopting policies of self-reliance and win-win cooperation. Eritrea falls in the category of developing countries that have adopted and are pursuing such policy.
It is in response to this supposed transgression that Eritrea has been hit with various sanctions and embargos. The unwarranted harassment of Eritrea begun in 2009 with the passage of UN sanctions resolution 1907(2009) which focused on economic and military sanctions. These inhumane sanctions were then strengthened in 2011 under Resolution 2023(2011) which specifically targeted the financial sector of Eritrea.
The objective of these sanctions was to blackmail and intimidate Eritrea’s independent and self-reliant policies in domestic and international affairs.
It is in this context that the relentless sanctions and embargos imposed on Eritrea should be viewed and analyzed. Intimidation of this strategically located country through the use of sanctions has been a constant modus operandi of certain Western countries led by the US in the past two decades. The persistence and vigor manifested by these countries in applying and ratcheting up what they termed as “Infernal Sanctions” aimed at destroying the nascent national economy and to arrest progress is indeed incomprehensible and irrational even if they were belatedly lifted in November 2018 through UNSC decision (2444).
However, this policy of flagrant aggression has had a detrimental effect on socio-economic progress of the country. But thanks to the country’s self-reliant development path and resilient character, Eritrea was able to withstand the pressures.
Not learning from their past failed policies, the US and its EU allies imposed further unilateral sanctions on Eritrea in 2021.
The latest round of sanctions targeted Eritrea’s institutions and high-level government officials. These unilateral sanctions lack legality in international law as they contravene fundamental provisions stipulated in the Declaration on Principles of International Law Regarding Friendly Relations between Sovereign States. The Declaration stipulates, inter alia, that no State may use or encourage the use of unilateral economic, political, or any other measures that intend to coerce another State in order to obtain from it undue benefits.
In addition, it is worth mentioning that unilateral coercive measures violate international law, international humanitarian law, the United Nations Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among states.
The adoption by the 31st Meeting of the UN General Assembly of a resolution calling on States not to recognize unilateral coercive economic measures; and not to recognize or apply such measures or legislation imposed by any State across territorial boundaries, which are contrary to recognized principles of international law is further proof of the illegality of unilateral coercive sanctions.
Moreover, Resolution 27/31 passed by the Human Rights Council emphasizes that unilateral coercive measures and legislation are contrary to international law, international humanitarian law, the Charter and the norms and principles governing peaceful relations among states. It also highlights that in the long term, these measures may result in social problems and raising humanitarian concerns in the targeted countries.
Indeed, it is duly recognized that socio-economic sanctions are one of the main obstacles impeding implementation of the African Union Agenda 2063 and the United Nations 2030 Agenda for sustainable development.
In view of all these normative legal facts and norms, it was indeed long overdue for the AU Member States to bolster their solidarity and Pan-African mentality to combat unilateral sanctions and other forms of neo-colonialism that still continue to undermine Africa. The next steps that need to be taken in this regard can be summarized as follows:
– Consistent and unified voice in condemning and challenging unilateral sanctions in regional and global forums:
– Combating all facets of the remnants of colonialism and oppression, as well as the principle of long-arm jurisdiction that strives to undermine sovereignty and independence of states:
– Creating concrete and tangible regional and sub-regional structures that bring together African economies and infrastructures to minimize impacts of unilateral sanctions:
– Aligning security and defense partnerships that aims to prevent any forms of coercion and abusive relations.
It is imperative for Africa to embark on this process in earnest. The era of Africa’s subjugation and marginalization by external hegemonic powers has to come to an end. Thankfully the process has begun. The challenge now is to bring this process to a successful conclusion.
Embassy of the State of Eritrea
16 March 2023
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