Eritrea/Djibouti: Repatriation of POWs
Case prepared by Mr. Tadesse Kebebew, LL.M., student at the Geneva Academy of International Humanitarian Law and Human Rights, under the supervision of Professor Marco Sassòli and Ms. Yvette Issar, research assistant, both at the University of Geneva.
N.B. As per the disclaimer, neither the ICRC nor the authors can be identified with the opinions expressed in the Cases and Documents. Some cases even come to solutions that clearly violate IHL. They are nevertheless worthy of discussion, if only to raise a challenge to display more humanity in armed conflicts. Similarly, in some of the texts used in the case studies, the facts may not always be proven; nevertheless, they have been selected because they highlight interesting IHL issues and are thus published for didactic purposes.
A. Djibouti Eritrea Border War
[Source: Djibouti Eritrea Border War,African Volunteer Network, available at: http://www.african-volunteer.net/djibouti_eritrea_border.html]
 The Djibouti Eritrea Border War was of short duration from 10th - 13th June 2008, however reflected an ongoing uneasy tension between the two neighbours for many years.
 In the course of the conflict forty four Djibouti soldiers were killed and some fifty five were injured. The war centred on the disputed Ras Doumeira area on the Red Sea coast; an area Eritrea had launched a surprise 'attack' on in April prior to the war.
 Although there had been simmering resentment between the two nations over the Djibouti Eritrea border since independence, the first major crisis came in April 1996 when Djibouti accused Eritrea of shelling Ras Doumeira almost leading to all out war however the two nations stepped back from the precipice until 2008 when Eritrea crossed the Djibouti border claiming it required sand for road building.
 Djibouti claimed that far from crossing the border merely for sand Eritrea dug ditches and set up fortifications on both sides of Ras Doumeira to claim it as its own. Both sides then moved their troops into the area and a standoff ensued before the inevitable fighting broke out during which Eritrea suffered heavier casualties with a reported hundred soldiers killed and a further hundred captured.
 […]. However in this short war some reports indicated that that the French Foreign Legion in Djibouti provided logistical support to the Djibouti troops.
 Following the conflict Djibouti approached the UN and requested assistance in patrolling the disputed area. They concurrently withdrew to territory held before June 10th 2008 and the UN requested that Eritrea do the same, however Eritrea refused.
 It took until June 2010 for Eritrea to pull out and both sides agreed to allow Qatar to mediate the dispute with Qatar deploying its troops in the interim until the dispute can be resolved […].
B. Djibouti hands Eritrean prisoners of war over to UNHCR
[Source: ‘Djibouti hands Eritrean prisoners of war over to UNHCR’, SUDAN TRIBUNE, Wednesday 16 April 2014, available at: http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article50664]
 April 15, 2014 (ADDIS ABABA) –The government of Djibouti says it has handed over 267 Eritrean prisoners of war to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), ending an incarceration that began in 2008, when the two neighbouring countries engaged in a territorial dispute.
 The announcement on Monday comes after years of international campaigning led by Human Rights Concern Eritrea (HRCE), an exiled Eritrean human rights organisation.
 The human rights group had been calling for the immediate release of the prisoners arguing that the prisoners of war (POWs) were forcibly conscripted into the Eritrean army by president Isaias Afeworki’s regime.
 According to human right groups, most of the former Eritrean soldiers joined the army in order to deliberately surrender to Djibouti defense forces, hoping to secure refugee status in neighbouring Djibouti.
 However Djiboutian authorities refused to free them, suspecting that they might be a threat to national security as the border row between the two East African neighbours remains unsettled.
 "We have made them talk to the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to facilitate their return to their country, and we’re doing this despite the fact that we never heard of Djibouti’s POWs,” Djibouti presidential adviser Najib Ali Tahir told reporters on Monday.
 However an Eritrean activist, Yemane Bereket, who is based in Ethiopia, told Sudan Tribune that if they were returned to Eritrea the PoWs turned asylum seekers might face prosecution at home and called upon the UNHCR to resettle them to a third country for their safety.
 Bereket said the Eritreans who were held as POWs opted to join the army as a means to escape political oppression at home including, extra judicial killing, forcible and indefinite national military conscription.
 "They fled to escape the unjust and inhumane imprisonment at home only to end up in another prison" he said.
 The Eritrean politician further urged Djiboutian authorities to release the remaining 19 Eritrean prisoners of war still kept in detention at at Nagad Detention Centre in Djibouti.
 Some of those freed are said to have been military deserters.
C. Eritrea: AU and UN welcome release of Djibouti prisoners
[Source: ‘Eritrea: AU and UN welcome release of Djibouti prisoners’, Sudan TRIBUNE, Monday 21 March 2016 available at: http://www.sudantribune.com/spip.php?article58376]
 March 20, 2016 (ADDIS ABABA) – The African Union and United Nation[s] have welcomed the release by Eritrean authorities of four prisoners from Djibouti.
 The four Djiboutian prisoners of war, who had been in Eritrean jail since 2008, were released after long mediation efforts from Qatar.
 They were flown to Djibouti Friday by a Qatari plane accompanied by Qatar’s foreign minister, Mohamed bin Abdul Rahman Al Thani. The four were detained in connection to a border dispute between Djibouti and Eritrea.
 The Chairperson of the African Union Commission, Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma has welcomed the move taken by Eritrean authorities and commended Qatar for the role it played in this respect.
 “The Chairperson of the Commission considers that the release of the Djiboutian prisoners is a positive step in the right direction within the process of normalization of relations between the two countries and in this context, she calls on the parties to clarify the fate of any remaining prisoners and to also release them,” said Zuma.
 In 2008, Eritrea and Djibouti engaged in armed conflict over territorial disputes.
 In 2010, Eritrea and Djibouti signed a peace deal in Doha and hundreds of Qatari peace keepers were deployed to their disputed borders.
 Zuma called for the full implementation of the peace deal, which the two neighbours signed in 2010 under the auspices of Qatar and underscored needs for continued and expedited efforts in this respect.
 In 2014, the Djiboutian government freed over 260 Eritrean prisoners of war and handed them over to the UN refugee agency (UNHCR).