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Amplifying the Voices of the Tigrayan Irob Community: The Failure of the Algiers Agreement

Mekelle: 22 May 2024 (Tigray Herald)

Amplifying the Voices of the Tigrayan Irob Community: The Failure of the Algiers Agreement

Introduction:

Nestled within the intricate fabric of the Eritrea-Ethiopia conflict are the Tigrayan Irob  community, whose historical presence and cultural heritage are deeply intertwined with the landscapes of the Tigray region. Despite their enduring resilience and contributions to the region, these indigenous peoples have often been marginalized and sidelined in discussions of peace and stability. The signing of the Algiers Agreement in 2000, heralded as a watershed moment in resolving the 1998 to 2000 Ethio-Eritrean Border War, was expected to bring an end to decades of hostility and usher in a new era of peace. However, for Tigray’s indigenous minorities, especially the Irob, the promises of peace and security have remained elusive, overshadowed by ongoing insecurity, displacement, and marginalization. This article seeks to delve deeper into the experiences, perspectives, and aspirations of the Irob in the aftermath of the Algiers Agreement, shedding light on the systemic challenges they continue to face. 

Historical Context:

To understand the significance of the Algiers Agreement from the perspective of the Tigrayan Irob, one must delve into the historical tapestry that has shaped their existence. For centuries, these indigenous peoples have inhabited the rugged landscapes of Tigray, their lives intertwined with the land, their culture, and their rich history of resilience in the face of adversity. For example, the Irob were a part of the resistance against the Italian colonizers in the late 1800s, utilizing their mountainous landscapes to fend off the invaders.

However, their presence in the region has been fraught with challenges, as geopolitical forces have redrawn boundaries, asserted control, and imposed external narratives that often overlook or disregard their rights and aspirations. Despite their deep roots in the region, their voices have too often been silenced in discussions of peace and conflict resolution.

Analysis of the Algiers Agreement:

1. Disregard for Indigenous Rights:

The 2000 Algiers Agreement, negotiated primarily by the governments of Eritrea and Ethiopia, paid scant regard to the rights and interests of indigenous peoples like the Irob. While discussions centered on political boundaries and territorial disputes, the voices of these marginalized communities were conspicuously absent from the negotiating table. As a result, the agreement failed to address the unique challenges and aspirations of indigenous peoples, perpetuating a cycle of marginalization and erasure. The failure to recognize the distinct identities and rights of the Irob within the framework of the Algiers Agreement further entrenched their marginalization, denying them the opportunity to shape their own destinies and participate meaningfully in the peace process. While the Eritrean occupation of about 60% of Irob continues today as part of the genocidal war on Tigray, the Irob continue to be marginalized as the 2022 Pretoria Agreement, which stipulates the withdrawal of all non-federal Ethiopian forces from Tigray, is still not implemented as intended, and the occupation of Irob is often left out of the broader discussion on peace. 

2. Continued Border Disputes and Insecurity:

Despite the delineation of borders outlined in the Algiers Agreement, the Irob continue to grapple with insecurity, displacement, and the specter of violence having not yet recovered from the border war when Ethiopia and Eritrea launched their genocidal war on Tigray in November 2020. Border disputes, fueled by competing claims over territory and resources, have persisted, exacerbating tensions and perpetuating a cycle of fear and uncertainty. The arbitrary delimitation of borders, devoid of meaningful consultation with affected communities, has only served to deepen divisions and sow the seeds of future conflict. The lack of recognition of the historical and cultural significance of the borderlands to the Irob has further exacerbated tensions, as their traditional livelihoods and access to resources are threatened by the imposition of external boundaries. The Irob have longmaintained that the division of Irob land into two countries as stipulated per the Algiers Agreement poses an existential threat. 

Most recently, at the end of April 2024, Eritrea once again reiterated that the lands it occupies in Tigray were awarded to it as part of the Algiers Agreement and subsequent 2002 UN Border Commission. However, the Tigrayan land Eritrea currently brutally occupies goes beyond what was awarded to it, almost double the area. The extent of the occupation makes the forceful annexation of all the land Eritrea occupies illegal and against the spirit of the Algiers Agreement–which neither Eritrean or Ethiopia have ever practically implemented on the ground. The Eritrean government with the support of the Ethiopian federal government has weaponized the Algiers Agreement to enact its next phase in dismantling the Tigrayan region and its identity, including that of its minorities.   

3. Human Rights Violations and Displacement:

The legacy of the 1998 to 2000 Eritrea-Ethiopia Border War and the Algiers Agreement’s failure to address its underlying causes have had dire consequences for the Irob. 

During the 1998 to 2000 Ethio-Eritrean border conflict, a tragic chapter unfolded. The invasion of Irob land resulted in severe human rights abuses that were largely overlooked by the media at the time. Reports from journalists like Mimi Sebhatu and accounts from Irob communities detail atrocities committed by Eritrean armed forces, including forced citizenship, expulsion from homes, imprisonment, harassment, beatings, killings, rape, and looting of churches and properties. Civilians, including the elderly, disabled, women, and children, were subjected to harsh conditions without shelter or food, while their properties and livelihoods were destroyed. The systematic erasure of Irob culture and resources, including landmines placed in villages, further exacerbated the suffering and made resettlement difficult. The lack of accountability for past atrocities and the absence of mechanisms for redress have compounded the suffering of the Irob, leaving them vulnerable to further exploitation and abuse. The risk of further crimes became a reality as the genocidal war on Tigray was initiated and Eritrea accompanied by Ethiopia once again implemented similar tactics on a larger scale throughout the Tigray region.

Consequent to the genocidal war since November 2000, human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, forced conscription, and land confiscation, have been perpetrated against indigenous peoples with impunity. Many have been forcibly displaced from their ancestral lands, their livelihoods destroyed, and their cultural heritage threatened by the ravages of war and displacement. As it stands today, most of Irob’s population is displaced and violations continue after the signing of the 2022 Cessation of Hostilities Agreement. 

In April 2024, a disturbing video clip emerged from the violently occupied Irob district offering a glimpse into the plight of the indigenous Irob minority population, who find themselves forcibly subjected to a false Eritrean identity. The regime’s systematic denial of aid and essential services, coupled with coercive measures aimed at enforcing compliance with Eritrea’s compulsory national military service, constitutes a grave violation of human rights and international law. The scenes captured in the video, depicting the dire conditions within the Alakalo locality of the Masi-Dage area, serve as a stark reminder of the urgent need for international intervention and accountability. It is imperative that the international community stand in solidarity with the oppressed and work tirelessly to ensure that justice is served and the rights of all individuals, regardless of ethnicity or nationality, are upheld and protected.

4. Lack of Reconciliation and Healing:

Perhaps the most profound impact of the Algiers Agreement has been its failure to engender reconciliation and healing in the hearts and minds of the Irob. The wounds of war run deep, tearing apart the social fabric and eroding trust between neighbors. Without meaningful dialogue, truth-telling, and justice, the path to reconciliation remains elusive, perpetuating cycles of resentment and division that undermine efforts to build a more inclusive and peaceful future. The lack of acknowledgment of past injustices and the absence of efforts to promote healing and reconciliation have hindered efforts to build trust and foster social cohesion within and between communities.

Implications for Sustainable Peace:

For the Irob and other indigenous communities like the Kunama, sustainable peace in the Horn of Africa can only be achieved through the recognition of their rights, meaningful inclusion in decision-making processes, and the addressing of historical grievances. The Algiers Agreement, with its top-down approach and neglect of indigenous voices, represents a missed opportunity for genuine peace. Moving forward, any meaningful peace efforts, including today’s efforts to completely end the genocidal war on Tigray, must prioritize the participation of affected communities, promote dialogue and reconciliation, and address the root causes of conflict to forge a path towards a more just and equitable future for all. The inclusion of the Irob and other border communities, including the Kunama, in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes is essential to addressing the underlying drivers of conflict and building a sustainable peace that respects the rights and aspirations of all.

Conclusion:

As we reflect on the legacy of the Algiers Agreement, it is imperative that we center the voices and experiences of indigenous peoples like the Irob in our collective efforts to build a more peaceful and inclusive Horn of Africa. Their resilience, wisdom, and aspirations for justice offer invaluable insights into the complexities of conflict and the possibilities for peace. By amplifying their voices, acknowledging their rights, and working in genuine partnership with indigenous communities, we can chart a course towards a future where peace, dignity, and equality prevail for all. Only through genuine dialogue, reconciliation, and respect for diversity can we hope to build a more just and sustainable peace in the Horn of Africa—one that honors the rights and aspirations of all its peoples, including the Tigrayan Irob and Kunama communities.

Source፡Omna Tigray

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