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U.S., U.K. Ignore Ethiopian Rights Abuses, Advocacy Group Says

July 18, 2013
Bloomberg Businessweek

The U.K. and U.S. have ignored first-hand accounts of human rights violations in southern Ethiopia where the government is forcibly relocating people for commercial-scale sugar plantations, the Oakland Institute said.

The Western governments are “willful accomplices and supporters of a development strategy that will have irreversible devastating impacts on the environment and natural resources and will destroy the livelihoods of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people,” the California-based research and advocacy group said yesterday in a report.

The U.K.’s Department for International Development denied it was funding resettlement programs, while the U.S. Agency for International Development office in Ethiopia didn’t respond to questions e-mailed on July 16. Ethiopia’s government described allegations in the institute’s report as “pure rubbish.”

Increasing agricultural output and the transfer of land to private investors for commercial farming are part of the government’s five-year economic-development plan through mid-2015 to reach growth of as much as 15 percent a year. The Horn of African nation’s mixed economy relies on state companies to run telecommunications, banking and power, and private investment in farming and manufacturing.

Gross domestic product may expand 6.5 percent this year, faster than average 5 percent for emerging- and developing-nation economies and 5.1 percent in sub-Saharan Africa, according to an International Monetary Fund forecast.

An estimated 260,000 people from 17 groups in the Lower Omo and around Lake Turkana may be affected by the resettlement and large-scale farming projects, the institute said. A dam built for the sugar plantations has ended the annual flood that 170,000 people living by the Omo River used for cultivation.

Rights Abuses

“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,” the Oakland Institute said.

Officials from the U.S. and U.K. visited South Omo in January 2012. Will Hurd, the author of Oakland Institute’s report titled “Ignoring Abuse in Ethiopia,” translated interviews for the group, according to the report.

The community recounted stories of mass arrests, intimidation by security forces and the rape of women and a boy, according to an official statement about the visit on the website of the U.K. parliament. The accusations “could not be substantiated,” according to the donors’ statement, which recommended a more detailed investigation.

“International donors have been accused of supporting programs connected with the resettlement sites,” according to the Oakland Institute’s report.

Double Blow

The U.K. government addresses any reports of human rights violations at the “very highest level,” DFID said in an e-mailed response to questions from London on July 16.

“To suggest that agencies like DFID should never work on the ground with people whose governments have been accused of human rights abuses would be to deal those people a double blow,” it said in the statement.

The Oakland Institute has an “agenda of dragging Ethiopia back to the Stone Age,” Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said.

“They keep quoting themselves again and again, they make references and cross references to their own work,” he said by phone yesterday from the capital. “Simply because you’ve said something 1,000-times over it doesn’t make it true.”

Sugar plantations being developed in the Lower Omo Valley are part of the state-owned Sugar Corp.’s plan to invest more than $4 billion in the industry. The government intends to boost production almost 10-fold to 2.3 million tons by 2025.

Net official development assistance to Ethiopia totaled $3.8 billion in 2009, according to the website of the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.