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Calling on the UNSC
Published in Ahram Online on 23 - 06 - 2020

“It is incumbent on the UN Security Council, and the international community, to urge Ethiopia to act as a responsible stakeholder and conclude a fair and balanced agreement on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam, desist from undertaking unilateral measures in relation to this dam, and to abide by its international legal obligations and the principles and rules of international law,” read the letter that Egypt sent to the UN Security Council (UNSC) following Addis Ababa's announcement that it will move forward with filling the dam's reservoir whether or not a deal is reached.
The letter was sent to the UNSC on Friday after a series of online meetings between the ministers of irrigation of Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan failed to bridge outstanding differences.
The 63-page letter is a detailed and strongly worded document that reviews the history of GERD negotiations and details of previously signed agreements, said a diplomat speaking on condition of anonymity. “It is sad that this letter was not presented to the UNSC earlier, and even sadder that Ethiopia still insists on starting the initial filling next month,” he said.
Egypt sent the letter on the same day Addis Ababa announced that it would begin filling the reservoir next month despite the failure of the latest round of talks.
Egypt's letter refrained from engaging in a detailed refutation of Ethiopia's distortion of facts, instead highlighting “the reality that Egypt has engaged, in a spirit of good faith, for almost a decade in innumerable rounds of negotiations on GERD. These efforts, however, have not borne fruit due to Ethiopia's unilateralism and its desire to establish a fait accompli on its downstream co-riparians.”
Commenting on Addis Ababa's stand, it continued: “Ethiopia continues to insist on unilaterally commencing the impoundment of waters in the GERD reservoir… It would represent an alarming attempt by Ethiopia to establish and exercise an unfettered control over a vital transboundary river… and a material breach of the Declaration of Principles.”
That is why, according to Abbas Sharaki, a professor at Cairo University's Institute of African Research and Studies, it was important to send a letter that was stronger than the one Cairo sent to the UNSC in May.
“The letter called on the council to assume its responsibilities in order to preserve peace and security in the region and underline the importance of returning to the negotiating table and abiding by international law.”
Sharaki added that it would have been better had Egypt and Sudan, as downstream countries, acted in lockstep, and expressed his wish that Sudan now prioritises its own national interest and sends a similar letter to the UNSC.
Sharaki expects the UNSC will now examine the three countries' stated positions and recommend to Ethiopia that it refrain from filling the dam in the absence of an agreement.
Egypt's letter, addressed to the president of the Security Council, draws the attention of the council to the way recent developments pose “an imminent threat to international peace and security”.
Egypt's request to the Security Council is based on Article 35 of the UN Charter which allows member states to alert the council to any developments that might threaten international peace and security.
At the end of the letter, Egypt asked to take part in the UNSC meeting discussing the matter.
Four main annexes were attached to the letter. The first focused on setting the record straight, addressing a number of Ethiopian claims and explaining why they are wrong. It first cast light on the proposal that Ethiopia sent to the governments of Egypt and Sudan on 10 April after it declined to sign the final agreement reached at the end of four months of negotiations in Washington, and on the failure of Ethiopia to meet the recommendations to conduct studies on the socio-economic and environmental impacts of the dam made by the international panel of experts.
“In the absence of these studies there is no scientific evidence to define significant harm. Preventing harm is impossible without employing existing uses as a baseline to measure the impact of the dam and quantify its harmful effects,” argued Egypt.
Annex II included the agreement on the filling and operation of the dam that was supposed to be signed by the three countries in Washington on 28 February. Ethiopia failed to show up for the meeting, and Sudan declined to sign in Addis Ababa's absence. Egypt initialed the agreement.
In the draft agreement the three countries agreed that the filling of the dam be executed in stages, in an adaptive and cooperative manner that takes into consideration the hydrological conditions of the Blue Nile and the potential impact of the filling on downstream reservoirs.
It was agreed the initial filling stage of the dam would provide for the rapid achievement of a level of 625 metres above sea level and the early generation of electricity, and that an effective coordination mechanism and provisions for the settlement of disputes be established through a ministerial committee and a technical coordination committee. It included detailed mitigation mechanism for drought, prolonged drought and prolonged periods of dry years.
In Annex III of the letter Egypt included a copy of the Agreement on the Declaration of Principles signed by the three countries in Khartoum in March 2015.
Annex IV contained the document Addis Ababa had prepared on the guidelines and rules for the filling and the annual operation of the dam and presented to Egypt and Sudan earlier this month.
“In that proposal, Ethiopia substituted the Washington agreement that provided detailed measures for the filling, operation and conflict management of the dam with guidelines for the first filling that Ethiopia can amend at any time,” explained the diplomat.
Both Egypt and Sudan rejected the Ethiopian proposal on the grounds it backtracked on all previous negotiations and understandings between the three countries.
This month, following calls from Sudan the irrigation ministers of the three countries held seven rounds of negotiations by video conference but talks ended last week with no progress. No date was set for more negotiations.
In its letter to the UNSC, Egypt ascribed the failure of the latest talks to Ethiopia's refusal to “conclude an agreement that would be binding under international law”, and its desire to replace this with “guidelines and rules the content of which it could adjust at whim”.
In November, the US and the World Bank joined forces in an attempt to broker a deal. After months of talks the three countries reached an agreement, but Ethiopia failed to turn up to the signing ceremony in February.
Egypt, which relies on the Nile for more than 90 per cent of its water supplies, fears the impact of the dam if the filling starts without an agreement guaranteeing a minimum annual flow of water. Sudan also opposes initial filling beginning without an agreement.
The sticking points in the talks include finding a legally-binding mechanism for conflict resolution, provisions that reflect the legally binding nature of the agreement, technical issues related to the mitigation measures for droughts and prolonged droughts, the long-term operating process of the dam and the details of the technical committee that will run the dam.
Sharaki did not rule out the possibility of agreement being reached. “Ethiopia can fill the reservoir anytime from May to October. It could have started in May but it didn't, suggesting Addis Ababa realises such a step is tantamount to a declaration of war. It is repeatedly announcing that it will start the filling in July to absorb the anger of the Ethiopian opposition which is unhappy that general elections have been postponed to June 2021.”
*A version of this article appears in print in the 25 June, 2020 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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