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Southern Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley is one of the most culturally and biologically diverse areas in the world, yet the Ethiopian government is transforming more than 375,000 hectares (1450 sq. miles) of the region into industrial-scale plantations for sugar and other monocrops. A vast resettlement scheme for the local ethnic groups is accompanying these plans, as 260,000 local people from 17 ethnic groups who live in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana—whose waters will be taken for plantation irrigation—are being evicted from their farmland and restricted from using the natural resources they have been relying on for their livelihoods.
The plantations are being installed and ethnic and pastoral communities are being forcibly resettled with the help of the Ethiopian military, which has become a central player in the implementation of the Ethiopian government’s development plans. Forced evictions, denial of access to subsistence land, beatings, killings, rapes, imprisonment, intimidation, political coercion, and the denial of government assistance are all being used as tools of forced resettlement. Meanwhile, international donors have been accused of supporting the programs connected with the resettlement sites.
In response to these criticisms, a group from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) conducted a joint field investigation in the Lower Omo in January 2012. Although this group heard many credible accounts of abuses connected to the resettlement or “villagisation” program, the official stance of the United Kingdom government has since been to repeatedly insist that the “the Department for International Development was not able to substantiate the allegations of human rights violation it received during its visit to South Omo in January 2012.” Similarly, the US State Department’s Ethiopia 2012 Human Rights Report released in April 2013 indicates that donors’ visits “did not find evidence to support this claim [of human right violations] during visits.” DFID and USAID also reported this unsubstantiation of allegations of human rights abuses to the Development Assistance Group (DAG), which is made up of 26 of the major aid agencies that donate to Ethiopia including the UNDP, IMF, and the World Bank.
This report provides unique insight into the investigation conducted by the donor agencies in January 2012. In stark contrast with the official discourse, testimony from the affected communities shows that egregious human rights violations have taken place. The author accompanied the assessment team as its translator and has audio recordings of the interviews conducted in several Lower Omo communities. Transcripts of these recordings, made public with this report, leave no room for doubt that the donor agencies were given highly credible first-hand accounts of serious human rights violations during their field investigation and they have chosen to steadfastly ignore these accounts.