Monday, June 18, 2012

Human Rts Watch: Lower Omo people suffering under irrigation, dam development

HRW's latest report on Ethiopia: "What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?"
Abuses against the Indigenous People of Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley
was released today in Kenya. The full report can be downloaded from:

The press release follows.

Ethiopia: Pastoralists Forced off Their Land for Sugar Plantations
Government Should Consult, Compensate Indigenous Communities
June 18, 2012

(Nairobi) � The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous
pastoral communities in Ethiopia�s Lower Omo valley without adequate
consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar
plantations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The
report contains previously unpublished government maps that show the
extensive developments planned for the Omo valley, including
irrigation canals, sugar processing factories, and 100,000 hectares of
other commercial agriculture.

The 73-page report, ��What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?�: Abuses
against the Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia�s Lower Omo
Valley,�documents how government security forces are forcing
communities to relocate from their traditional lands through violence
and intimidation, threatening their entire way of life with no
compensation or choice of alternative livelihoods. Government
officials have carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings,
and other violence against residents of the Lower Omo valley who
questioned or resisted the development plans.

�Ethiopia�s ambitious plans for the Omo valley appear to ignore the
rights of the people who live there,� said Ben Rawlence, senior Africa
researcher at Human Rights Watch. �There is no shortcut to
development; the people who havelong relied on that land for their
livelihood need to have their property rights respected, including on
consultation and compensation.�

The Lower Omo valley, one of the most remote and culturally diverse
areas on the planet, is home to around 200,000 people from eight
unique agro-pastoral communities who have lived there for as long as
anyone can remember. Their way of life and their identity is linked to
the land and access to the Omo River. The Omo valley is in Ethiopia�s
Southern Peoples, Nations, and Nationalities Region (SNNPR), near the
border with Kenya, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in

The significant changes planned for the Omo valley are linked to the
construction of Africa�s highest dam, the controversial Gibe III
hydropower project, along the Omo River. Downstream, the sugar
plantations will depend on irrigation canals. Although there have been
some independent assessments of the Gibe dam project, to date, the
Ethiopian government has not published any environmental or social
impact assessments for the sugar plantations and other commercial
agricultural developments in the Omo valley.

Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 35 residents in June 2011,
along with 10 donor officials and at least 30 other witnesses since
that time. At the time of Human Rights Watch�s visit, military units
regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress
dissent related to the sugar plantation development. Soldiers
regularly stole or killed cattle.

�What am I going to eat?� a man of the Mursi ethnic group told Human
Rights Watch. �They said to take all my cattle and to sell them and to
only tie one up at my house. What can I do with only one? I am a
Mursi. If hunger comes I shoot a cow�s neck and drink blood. If we
sell them all for money how will we eat?�

The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch since its visit
demonstrates that in the past year regional officials and security
forces have forcibly seized land from indigenous communities living
and farming within the areas slated for sugar production. Reports of
forced displacement and the clearing of agricultural land have
gathered pace.

Access to the Omo River is critical for the food security and way of
life of the pastoralists who live in the valley. Several community
representatives said that state officials had told them, without any
other discussion, that the communities would need to reduce the number
of their cattle and resettle in one place, and that they would lose
access to the Omo River.

As of June 2012, irrigation canals have been dug, land has been
cleared, and sugar production has begun along the east bank of the
river. Government maps photographed by Human Rights Watch indicate
that the area where sugar cultivation is under way is a fraction of
what is labeled as �Sugar Block One.� Two additional �blocks� of land
that will be taken for sugar cultivation are to follow. Ethiopia�s
existing assessments of the impact of the Gibe dam do not include the
impact of sugar cultivation and irrigation on the flow of the Omo
River, or the downstream impact on Lake Turkana. The massive network
of irrigation canals indicated on the maps suggests that the previous
assessments are insufficient.

The full implementation of the plan could affect at least 200,000
people in the Omo valley and another 300,000 Kenyans living across the
border around Lake Turkana, which derives up to 90 percent of its
water from the Omo River. Human Rights Watch said Kenya should press
for new environmental and social impact assessments that examine the
cumulative impact of the Gibe III dam and the irrigated commercial
agriculture scheme.

These developments � which threaten the economic, social, and cultural
rights of the Omo valley�s indigenous inhabitants � are being carried
out in contravention of domestic and international human rights
standards, which call for the recognition of property rights, with
meaningful consultation, consent, and compensation for loss of land,
livelihoods, and food security, and which state that displacement,
especially of indigenous peoples from their historic homelands, must
be treated as an absolute last resort.

The rights of indigenous peoples are addressed by Ethiopia�s own laws
and constitution, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of
Indigenous Peoples and regional human rights treaties and mechanisms
such as the African human rights charter as interpreted by the African
Commission on Human and Peoples� Rights. Under these laws and
agreements, indigenous peoples have property rights over the land they
have historically occupied that must be recognized by the state, and
they can only be displaced with their free, prior, and informed
consent. Even when such consent is given, they must also be fully
compensated for any loss of land, property, or livelihood.

In fact, Ethiopia has not recognized any rights over the land of the
indigenous communities of the area, including tenure security, Human
Rights Watch found. Neither has it taken steps to adequately consult
with, let alone seek the consent of, the indigenous peoples of the Omo
valley, in particular taking into account the scant formal education
of most of the population.

The Ethiopian government has responded to concerns raised by Human
Rights Watch by noting that the plantations will bring benefits to the
indigenous populations in the form of employment. Employment may be a
welcome benefit for affected communities. But the prospect of some
jobs does not remove the urgent need for the government to suspend
plantation development until rigorous assessments have been carried
out, the rights of the indigenous communities over their land has been
recognized and consent sought, and any displacement or acquisition of
land is shown to be strictly necessary, proportionate, and
compensation provided, Human Rights Watch said.

Many international nongovernmental organizations have raised concerns
about potential social and environmental impacts of the Gibe III
hydropower project and have criticized the Ethiopian government for a
lack of transparency and independent assessment. The Ethiopian
government withdrew its request of the World Bank and African
Development Bank for financing of the Gibe dam project but has not
publicized its reasons for doing so. UNESCO�s World Heritage Committee
has recommended suspending the project pending further independent
evaluation of the effect on Lake Turkana.

The Ethiopian government relies on international aid for a significant
percentage of its budget. Security forces and officials from the
regional and district administrations are implementing the plans for
the sugar plantations and telling local residents they must move,
without any consultation or recognition of their rights. A multi-donor
funded program called Protection of Basic Services (PBS) provides
hundreds of millions of dollars to support health, education, and
other sectors and funds the salaries of district government officials
across Ethiopia, including SNNPR region. The main donors to PBS are
the World Bank, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the
Netherlands, and Germany.

Human Rights Watch called on the Ethiopian government to suspend the
construction of Gibe III and the associated sugar plantations until
these developments can be carried out in a manner consistent with
national laws and international human rights standards. The Ethiopian
government should recognize the rights of the Omo valley�s indigenous
communities over their historic homelands and engage in meaningful
discussion with them over the future use of their land and
compensation on that basis, prior to further industrial development in
South Omo. Donors should ensure their funding is not supporting forced
displacement or unlawful expropriation of indigenous lands, Human
Rights Watch said.

�Ethiopia�s desire to accelerate economic development is laudable, but
recent events in the Omo valley are taking an unacceptable toll on the
rights and livelihoods of indigenous communities,� Rawlence said. �The
government should suspend the process until it meets basic standards,
and donors should make sure their aid is not facilitating abuses.�

Selected Accounts from �What Will Happen if Hunger Comes�
�People disagree with the government on the sugar, but are afraid of
the possible use of force to resettle people and so do not say much.
[We have a] big fear of government here. If you express concern, you
go to jail.�
� Bodi man, June 2011.

�There will be a problem during the dry season. Now there is water,
but when there isn�t if we do not go back to Omo we will need
government to bring water. If they do not, [we] and our cattle will
die. We will go to Omo anyway, if not, we will die, they can kill us
there if they want.�
� Mursi villager, June 2011.

�What am I going to eat? They said to take all my cattle and to sell
them and to only tie one up at my house. What can I do with only one?
I am a Mursi. If hunger comes I shoot a cow�s neck and drink blood. If
we sell them all for money how will we eat? When we get married we
marry with cattle. What will we marry with? What will we eat? When
hunger comes what will we feed our children with? If we just keep
chickens will we eat soup or milk them�? �This land is my land,� say
the highland Ethiopians. �Run to the forest like a baboon.��
� Mursi man describing the importance of cattle, December 2011.

�They [the government officials] cleared out their [Kwegu and Bodi]
gardens. They cleared far and dug up their sorghum. The sorghum was
near ripening; a truck plowed it and cast it away. The Kwegu gardens
were plowed and some Kwegu are now without anything. If their sorghum
is plowed what are they going to eat? What will they give to their
� Man describing what happened to Bodi and Kwegu farmland that was
cleared in December 2011.

�There will be big problems in the areas if all the cattle are given
to the government. What will these people eat, now the drought is
really badly affecting the Horn of Africa? Now the dam has been built,
no water in the river, land has been taken away, the cattle given to
the government, what will happen to the poor people in time of the
famine? Those people who want to wipe out the pastoralists eat three
times a day. What will happen if hunger comes?�
� Mursi man, May 2011.

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