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Should Ethiopia Sue the United Kingdom in the International Court of Justice for the Terrorist Attack on Its Embassy in London?

By Alemayehu G. Mariam

Author’s Note: Last week, a gang of thugs, hooligans and hoodlums launched a violent terrorist attack on the Embassy of Ethiopia in London in an apparent attempt to occupy the premises and quite possibly take hostages.

The terrorist attack on the Ethiopian Embassy could easily have become a repeat of the Iranian Embassy siege that took place in London in May 1980 when a group of armed terrorists stormed the Iranian Embassy and took hostage over 26 embassy staff and visitors. A year earlier in Tehran, Iran, so-called students seized the U.S. Embassy and took 50 American diplomats and staff hostage for 444 days. On September 11, 2012, the U.S. Consulate in Benghazi, Libya was attacked by an “armed angry mob” resulting in the death of the U.S. ambassador.

This threat of embassy sieges and takeovers by terrorist groups should not be underestimated nor discounted. Neither should such attacks be euphemistically dismissed as “the actions of angry mobs”. Terrorists are angry mobs willing to kill innocent people and wantonly destroy property for their political ends.

In the London attack on the Ethiopian Embassy, ethnonationalists groups in the Ethiopian diaspora with their counterparts in  Ethiopia manipulated unemployed, vagrant and refugee youth in London to do their dirty deeds. Just like Al Qaeda, Al Shabaab and ISIS recruit impoverished, jobless and refugee youth to commit terrorist acts.

There is another clear and present danger posed by these ethnonationalists. They do not plan to make London their last stop. They plan to undertake sieges and attacks on Ethiopian Embassies at critical locations including Washington, D.C. in the coming weeks.

Such attacks must be characterized as terrorist attacks, not as “actions by angry mobs”. Host countries have a legal obligation to gather intelligence on such terrorist groups and take preemptive action and vigorously prosecute suspects as they are required to do under international law.

Regrettably, the UK Government has spectacularly failed in its international obligations to protect the Embassy of Ethiopia.

Following a formal protest by the Government of Ethiopia, “The UK government has now assured the Ethiopian government that measures have been taken to guarantee the safety and security of the Embassy under the UK’s obligations as per the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations.”

The fact that the UK Government must issue such an assurance is utterly appalling to me.

Did the UK Government need a formal complaint from the Ethiopian Government to remind it of its international obligation under the Vienna Convention?

Is the UK Government so ignorant of its international obligations that a formal diplomatic complaint must be registered before it can take action?

Precisely because the UK Government is so nonchalant and manifestly indifferent to its solemn international obligations, diplomatic assurances should not be regarded as sufficient.

To underscore the gravity of the breach of international obligation, I believe the  Government of Ethiopia should serve formal notice on the UK Government that it will institute proceedings in the International Court of Justice should another terrorist attack be attempted or committed on its Embassy in London.

Indeed, I would urge the Government of Ethiopia to proactively give notice to all countries where it maintains diplomatic missions of their obligation to protect Ethiopia’s diplomatic agents, staff and premises against foreseeable terrorist attacks.

While I appreciate the promises of the Government of the United Kingdom to prevent future incidents, there is one big question that has not been answered: Will the UK Government prosecute the offenders and under what laws will the charges be made? Is the UK Government prepared to charge the persons involved in the Ethiopian Embassy attack on terrorism charges?

Let there be no mistake.

Strictly from the legal perspective, the video documented fact of the group attacking the Ethiopian Embassy, climbing the portico and pulling down the Ethiopian flag and raising the flag of a terrorist group listed in the Global Terrorism Database is prima facie evidence of a terrorist attack. No additional evidence is required to establish probable cause for terrorism charges. 

A terrorist attack on the Embassy of Ethiopia and its diplomatic agents in London

Under the British Terrorism Act of 2000, terrorism is defined as “the use or threat is designed to influence the government or an international governmental organisation or to intimidate the public or a section of the public, and the use or threat is made for the purpose of advancing a political, religious, racial or ideological cause.

Last week, a gang of thugs, hooligans and hoodlums in broad daylight attempted a physical takeover of the Embassy of Ethiopia in London for the “purpose of advancing their ethnic political cause.”

The attack took place as the famed London Police (Bobbies) looked on with arms folded. The Bobbies looked helpless and clueless as the terrorists pushed and shoved them and in some cases engaged them in hand to hand combat. London police did nothing as the terrorist thugs climbed the embassy portico and pulled down the Ethiopian flag and raised the flag of a terrorist group listed in the Global Terrorism Database.

According to one report, “A mob of radical ethnic Oromo nationalist took down the Ethiopian flag at the Ethiopian Embassy in London and replaced it with the flag Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).”

The report citing a statement by the Ethiopian Embassy in London stated, “a group of angry and violent protesters committed an unprovoked physical assault on one of our staff members and prevented customers from obtaining the embassy’s service.” It

was further reported that “the group was camping in the parking lot of the embassy hassling embassy staff and disrupting service delivery.” Investigation has yet to confirm if the group was armed.

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