Border Verdict [Archives:1999/51/Interview]

December 20 1999
Text of the interview with Mr. Al-Saidi

Q: Could you please give us an idea about the international arbitration on maritime boundary between Yemen and Eritrea?
A: The most important aspect of the award at the second stage as you know according to the agreement of principle and the arbitration agreement between the Republic of Yemen and the State of Eritrea, it was decided that the award should be given into two phases: phase I is the sovereignty phase and phase II is delimitation of the maritime borders.
Phase I award was issued October 10th 1998, and that award stipulated that Yemen has unconditional sovereignty over the islands constituting Hunnish , Zubair and Jabal Attair. Second stage of the award must be predicated on the First award. That its to say sovereignty is already resolved in favor of Yemen, what remains is the border issue, delimitation. The second award was issued in London Friday, 17th December and there are two important aspects to this award. First, it comes very close to what Yemen had argued in its written and oral pleadings to the tribunal that delimitation must be just and equitable. The medium line is now in the west of the island of Hannish, Zobair and Jabal Attair. That is to say from the Yemeni cost to the west of the islands, this is Yemen waters and from the line as you see in the map to the west that is Eritrea. Yemen is very happy with that lining. You can see there are many points.
From the south as we come close to Bab Al-Mandab there is no island between Yemen and Eritrea. So the line goes from coast to coast. Then when you go up north you have to take consideration of the islands because they happen to have territorial rights according to the United Nations convention law of sea. and then as you go northward also you will see the coordinate shifts either east or right according to the approximation of the isles between the two parties. The third award was somewhat equivocal about the question of traditional fishery. In this award, and I must say at the insistence of the state of Eritrea in its written and oral pleadings, they wanted precise definition of what constitutes traditional fishing, what it is.
The tribunal came with a special chapter called the traditional fishing regime, defining what is traditional fishing, and you can look through the different pages but I want to cite two paragraphs in this respect first the court elaborates what it said in the first award of traditional fishing then they said because of lack of clarity and because of the insistence of Eritrea which wanted a precise definition. In this award paragraph 102 tells you what traditional fishing is according to the first award it says in the last sentence of paragraph 102 “the correct answer is indeed to be gleaned from the pages of the award itself, attention in particular be drawn to paragraphs I02, 126, 228, 340, 350, 357 and 526. All of these paragraphs in the award speak about fishing for everyone in the southern part of the Red Sea. The court said they are not going to impose western law and arbitrarily divide the area and to the detriment of the fishermen from both sides from the east and west coast of the Red Sea. So they decided that this whole area should be for traditional fishermen where they can fish. Now there were some questions from the part of Eritrea as what does that mean? does it mean, when the court said “Eritrean traditional fishermen have the right to fish on the water of the Yemeni islands,” does that mean it is sharing? The court said no, Yemen sovereignty is unconditional, but they are saying that traditional fishermen can fish and they can take refuge in he islands because they are midsea islands they can take refuge from northwinds and so and so. To make things very precise, the court come with paragraph 109 in this award. First it said, “traditional fishing regime is not limited to the territorial waters specified islands nor are its limits to be drawn by reference to claimed past pattern of fishing, it is, as Yemen itself observed in its answer to the tribunal’s question, a regime that has existed for the benefit of the of the fishermen from both countries throughout the region. The traditional fishing regime operates throughout those waters beyond the territorial waters of each the party.” Note of each of the parties not only Yemen and also in the territorial waters and ports to the extant and in the manner specified in paragraph 107. In other words is for both Yemeni and Retrain all over the southern part of the Red Sea. Around the islands in the territorial water of Eritrea and of Yemen and in their ports. This is a very seminal point in so far as we are concerned and we are grateful to the tribunal because it clarified this position which was stipulated in the first award.
Q: Are the tow parties going to define their sea boundaries?
A: the tribunal with the help of the admiralty of the UK and help from the Dutch has already done that. There is nothing Yemen or Ertrea can do in this regard because the tribunal already did that.
Q: What are the still pending issues between the two countries?
A: Nothing.
Q: What do you think of what has been published in the “Eritrea Al-Hadithah”?
A: The ” Modern Al-Hadithah” said that the award was based on their argumentation. We are very happy that it was based on their argumentation. But we believe that after careful study and analysis that it is closer to Yemeni prediction, but as to the assertion that Yemen whenever it wants to legislate for the use of this island it has to consult Eritrea, I think this is far from the truth. There is nothing in the award and I challenge you to examine nothing in it. But if they want to tell their public that is what it is, it is up to them.
Q: Are there any reservations from the two parties about the reservation?
A: In the arbitration, even if you have reservation you can not change it. It is binding, it is compulsive. No one can re negotiate. That is the nature of the arbitration.
Q: Any last word?
A: I think what is important is the signification of the process of arbitration which is in novelty in our part of the world. I think what Yemen and Eritrea did is very civilized. Instead of a recourse to arms and clashes which ultimately will destroy and damage the relationship and the interests of the two peoples. I think recourse to arbitration was a civilized manner consistent with international norms and principles of international law. I think this is a good precedent for the countries of the region. Whenever there is a border dispute, there is nothing shameful or harmful about resorting to arbitration when you reach a dilemma when you are in a deadlock. Instead of pursuing the deadlock whose consequences is going to be grave for bilateral relations, for the interests of the peoples involved. I think a recourse to arbitration is a good manner. I know for sure that in our part of the world, our part of the world is rife with questions of conspiracies. You remember in the beginning of our arbitration there were so many conspiracies. I think peoples in our region must know that international arbitration is fair and objective. They certainly did not take everything we said nor they took what everything Eritrea said. I think international arbitration after the Yemeni award has vindicated itself as a process which is conducive to bringing about peace and stability.