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Britain 'Turning a Blind Eye' to Expulsion of Ethiopians from their Ancestral Lands

July 18, 2013

Britain is "turning a blind eye" to the forcible expulsion of people from their ancestral lands in Ethiopia, while giving the country £345 million of aid this year, a study has found.


According to the Oakland Institute, a US think tank, the resettlement of 260,000 cattle-herders in Ethiopia, so their land can be used for industrial farming, has been accompanied by rapes and violence.

However, its report alleges that while Britain's Department for International Development (DFID) and its American equivalent are fully aware of what is happening, they are deliberately turning a "blind eye". Ethiopia is the biggest recipient of British aid in the world.

When the first reports emerged of abuses surrounding the eviction of nomads in southern Ethiopia, Justine Greening, the International Development Secretary, told Parliament in November that Britain was "not able to substantiate" the claims.

But 10 months earlier, her own staff in Ethiopia had listened to firsthand accounts of how soldiers had attacked women and threatened men with guns while clearing nomads from land in the Omo Valley they had inhabited for centuries.

DFID's willingness to ignore the "human rights violations and forced evictions that accompany the so-called development strategy of Ethiopia is shocking," the Oakland Institute's report says.

The author is Will Hurd, an American academic who accompanied four aid workers from DFID and the US to the South Omo region of Ethiopia in January 2012. Mr Hurd translated meetings between the aid staff and elders from the Mursi and Bodi tribes.

One Mursi man told the British and American officials: "Many vehicles came driving through our area when we were sitting in the shade. When they got out of the cars they were carrying their guns in a threatening manner. They went all over the place, and they took the wives of the Bodi, and raped them, raped them, raped them, raped them. Then they came and raped our wives here."

Another man warned of the consequences of forcing cattle herders into settled villages. "We are waiting for death, we are only waiting for death," he told the aid officials. "There is no food anywhere. The only things we have to put in our stomachs come from our cattle."

One DFID representative at the meeting said that "beatings and rapes and lack of consultation and proper compensation" would be raised "very strongly" with the Ethiopian government, according to Mr Hurd's transcripts.

DFID duly compiled a report, but it was shelved for 11 months. Even when it was circulated, the unnamed authors concluded that the allegations "could not be substantiated" - despite having heard them directly from the alleged eyewitnesses.

"It's up to the officials involved to swiftly re-examine their role and determine how to better monitor funding if they are indeed not in favour of violence and repression," said Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute.

The Ethiopian government defends this "villagisation" scheme by saying that it will allow children to go to school and sick people to see doctors. Once cleared of cattle-herders, the land will be used for commercial farming and the production of export crops like sugar cane. Ethiopia is the biggest recipient of British aid in the world and DFID has been accused of indirectly funding this programme.

A DFID spokesman said that Britain was at the "forefront" of advocating human rights in Ethiopia "both publicly and privately". In May, Ms Greening met Hailemariam Desalegn, the new Ethiopian prime minister, to "raise our concerns", he added.

"We condemn all human rights abuses and, where we have evidence, we raise our concerns at the very highest level," said the spokesman.