The U.N. Security Council voted unanimously Wednesday to lift sanctions against Eritrea after nearly a decade.
The targeted sanctions, in effect since December 2009, blocked arms sales to and from Eritrea, placed travel restrictions on senior government and military officials, and froze the assets of Eritreans found to support armed opposition groups, violate the comprehensive arms embargo, or commit other offenses specified in the resolution.
Allegations that Eritrea was providing material support to Somalia-based Islamist insurgent group al-Shabab, along with a separate border dispute with Djibouti, prompted the sanctions. Somalia and Djibouti were both vocal supporters of the 2009 resolution.
The Eritrean government has denied the allegations and, for nearly a decade, decried the sanctions. It had also blocked U.N. monitors from accessing the country, repeatedly calling the sanctions “illegal” and “immoral.”
The possibility that sanctions might be lifted emerged this July, after Eritrean President Isaias Afwerki and Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed met and declared an end to their countries’ 20-year border dispute.
Speaking a day later from the African Union headquarters in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, U.N. Secretary General António Guterres suggested the sanctions might no longer be necessary.
Tuesday’s resolution, passed on a 15-0 vote, said U.N. monitors have not found conclusive evidence that Eritrea supports al-Shabab.
It also urged Eritrea and Djibouti to work out their border dispute, which has sparked armed clashes between the countries and left Djiboutian prisoners of war unaccounted for.
How lifting the sanctions might affect Eritrea’s economy or its ongoing efforts for regional integration and global partnerships remains unclear.
For years, Eritrea has allowed the United Arab Emirates to operate a base from its port in Assab, training troops and flying sorties as part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen.
That conflict has come under increasing scrutiny in the wake of the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey last month and a humanitarian crisis in Yemen that has pushed millions to the brink of starvation.
In 2016, a U.N. monitoring group concluded the UAE’s use of Assab likely violated the arms embargo, but the group was unable to visit the country or provide concrete evidence, and the matter wasn’t pursued by the United Nations.
With sanctions now lifted, Eritrea could engage in arms deals, as well as expand the scope of the foreign military presence hosted in the country.
As of November 2018, two Eritrean nationals, Fitiwi Abdelrazak and Ermias Alem, appeared on a U.N. sanctions list for leading a “transnational trafficking network.” Their sanctions are unrelated to those against Eritrean government and military leaders.
Eritrea previously faced a comprehensive arms embargo, along with Ethiopia, in the waning days of a two-year border war between the countries. Those sanctions were lifted after a year, in May 2001.