Monday, December 3, 2012

Ethiopia: rape and brutality, but UK aid continues

Ethiopia: rape and brutality but UK aid continues

The minister Justine Greening has been accused of covering up human
rights abuses
by Flora Bagenal

Published: 2 December 2012

� THE international development secretary, Justine Greening,
has been accused by an anthropologist of covering up human-rights
violations in Ethiopia. The anthropologist said he had witnessed
members of her department being told about the abuses.

Greening said in parliament last month that the Department for
International Development (DfID) could not �substantiate the
allegations of human-rights violations� allegedly carried out by the
Ethiopian government in the south, where an aggressive resettlement
programme is under way.

Will Hurd, an American academic, had translated during meetings in
January held by officials from DfID and USAid, the American
development agency, with communities in South Omo. Hurd insisted they
were clearly told about rapes, beatings and forced evictions and that
they promised to raise the issue with the government.

He accused Greening of covering up violations to avoid angering the
Ethiopian authorities, which have attacked aid agencies for
interfering in domestic affairs. �They are trying to cover for the
Ethiopian government. They have strategic ties and they are denying
the truth,� he said.

Britain gave �324m to Ethiopia last year, more than to any other
country, despite long-standing human-rights abuses.

The department has come under increasing pressure to investigate
allegations of mistreatment in tribal areas where the authoritarian
government has been launching ambitious plans for a dam and
agricultural development.

Hundreds of thousands of farmers and nomadic cattle herders have been
told they must leave their land and move to government-built villages,
where they have been promised better access to water, education and

The tribes say they have not been consulted and that the new sites are
unsuitable for agriculture or herding. They allege that resistance to
resettlement has been met with violence by police and the army.

In transcripts of meetings held by DfID and USAid, men and women from
the Mursi and Bodi people in South Omo are recorded describing the
ordeals they have undergone. �They [government soldiers] went all over
the place and they took the wives of the Bodi and raped them. Then
they came and they raped our wives, here,� said a man from the Mursi

Others said they had been forced out of their homes by soldiers at
gunpoint. They also claimed food aid intended for Omo communities had
been held back by local officials. The DfID and USAid representatives
were recorded expressing concern about the allegations.

�Obviously we agree that it�s unacceptable, beatings and rapes and
lack of consultation or proper compensation,� said a DfID official,
who promised to raise the complaints �very strongly with the
government�. Since the meeting 11 months ago there is no evidence that
either organisation has put any public pressure on the Ethiopian

Information from the mission was used to compile a report. In the
Commons, Greening said she was �considering� whether to make it
public; DfID has since said it will release the document.

�Donors supply money to Ethiopia with no strings attached,� said Felix
Horne, a consultant to Human Rights Watch (HRW). �Providing massive
amounts of aid is just increasing the repressive capacity of the

Horne has spent months compiling testimonies from victims of the
resettlement programme. He said he has seen the suffering it has
caused: �We have anecdotal accounts of people being killed, subject to
arbitrary arrest, severely beaten and tortured.�

While DfID and other donors do not directly fund the resettlement
programme, they do fund local government officials, including teachers
and health workers who, according to HRW, are driving people off their
land and denying them access to services if they refuse to comply.

In September a farmer known as Mr O, from the Gambella region in
Ethiopia, began legal action against Britain over its role in the
resettlement campaign.

�Our people are suffering. Our people are dying. We are frightened of
the future and we are frightened of the government. Britain must stop
helping these abuses go on,� said another claimant.

A DfID spokeswoman said: �We have visited the South Omo region twice �
in January and again recently � and while we have been unable to
substantiate these specific claims, we are publishing the allegations
we heard and have raised this matter with the government of Ethiopia.

�We continue to monitor the situation and to discuss with the
government both these claims and how best to ensure the long-term
prosperity of these communities.�

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