UN urges commitment to international law in GERD crisis

Zeinab El-Gundy , Tuesday 23 Jun 2020

The UN called upon Egypt, Sudan, and Ethiopia to resolve the differences over GERD in accordance with the principles of international law

This satellite image taken Thursday, May 28, 2020, shows the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile river in the Benishangul-Gumuz region of Ethiopia AP

The spokesperson of the secretary-general of the United Nations Stéphane Dujarric said on Monday the UN is urging Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan to peacefully resolve the outstanding differences over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) in accordance with the principles of international law.

On the recent war of words between Egypt and Ethiopia, Dujarric said the UN is watching closely GERD developments and statements released by the three countries. 

“I think, for us, it's important to underscore the importance of the 2015 Declaration of Principles for the dam, and that the declaration emphasised cooperation based on common understanding, mutual benefit, good faith, the win-win aspect and the principles of international law,” he said, adding that at this point, "the UN is encouraging progress towards an amicable agreement in accordance with these principles."

Earlier on Monday Ethiopia submitted a 78-page letter to the United Nations Security Council (UNSC), of which Ahram Online obtained a copy, as Ethiopian officials tried to refute the letter presented by Egyptian foreign minister Sameh Shoukry on Friday when Cairo said that Addis Ababa engaging in unilaterally filling the dam without agreement with downstream countries will inflict clear and present danger on Egypt which could be of “serious repercussions that could threaten international peace.”

In its letter, Ethiopia claims Egypt falsely accuses it of not wanting to be bound by the rules of negotiations. 

The Ethiopian letter also accuses Egypt of violating the 2015 Declaration of Principles on GERD concerning the disputes and differences between the three countries where the “disputes should be settled through consultation or negotiation in accordance with the principle of good faith.

“The three countries may jointly request for conciliation mediation or refer the matter for the consideration of their heads of states and government, ” states Article 10 of the declaration.

The three countries resumed talks on 9 June via video conference after more than three months of deadlock. Officials from the US, EU and South Africa, the current chairman of the African Union, attended as observers.

The days-long talks between the water ministers of the three countries that were brokered by Sudan reached a deadlock due to Ethiopia’s "intransigent positions" on both the technical and legal aspects of the deal.

Ethiopia rejected the conclusion of a binding agreement in accordance with international law between the three countries, insisting on drafting “guiding rules that [it] can unilaterally amend,”Egypt said

Addis Ababa also refused to include in the agreement a legally-binding mechanism to settle disputes between the three nations, or effective measures to cope with drought.

Sudanese Irrigation Minister Yasser Abbas suggested last week to refer the contentious issues to the prime ministers of the three countries to reach political consensus that would allow talks to resume as soon as possible.

But Egypt said Ethiopia had opposed this proposition.

Egypt has repeatedly said it totally supports Ethiopia's development plans in a way that does not harm Egypt’s water needs.

“I tell the Ethiopian people. I spoke to you in front of your parliament five years ago. I said we appreciate development in Ethiopia; however, you should respect life in Egypt,” Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi said in a speech last Saturday in Marsa Matrouh, Egypt. 

Egypt, which is almost entirely reliant on the Nile for agriculture and drinking water, fears the filling of the dam will significantly cut the river’s flow, while Ethiopia says the project is key to its development efforts.

Some 85 percent of Nile waters that reach Egypt flow from Ethiopian highlands, mainly from the Blue Nile, one of the Nile’s two main tributaries.

Egypt says it currently has a water share of around 570 cubic metres per person annually, well below the water scarcity level of 1,000 cubic metres per person per year. The figure is expected to drop further to 500 cubic metres by 2025.

The country releases 55.5 billion cubic metres of water annually from its High Dam in Aswan, while it needs over 80 billion cubic metres. It bridges the gap by water recycling and reuse.

Egyptian foreign minister Shoukry said on Monday that Egypt has participated in negotiations over the GERD in good faith over the past decade, and stressed that Egypt will always be willing to engage in negotiations to reach an agreement that meets the interests of all sides.

Last month, Egypt sent a letter to the UNSC to inform it about the developments of the years-long diplomatic spat, but had stopped short of demanding an intervention. Both Sudan and Ethiopia sent similar letters to the UN body.





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