By Mursi Online (University of Oxford),
THE US Agency for International Development (USAID) and the UK Department for International Development (DFID) have always claimed that there is no evidence of ‘systematic’ human rights abuses being carried out by the Ethiopian government in pursuit of its development plans in the Lower Omo.
What these agencies mean by ‘human rights abuses’, when they make these claims, is not always specified, but they probably have in mind reports of rapes, beatings and arbitrary arrests by military personnel and police. Such events have almost certainly occurred (as the aid agencies seem tacitly to acknowledge) but they may or may not have been part of a ‘systematic’ policy of intimidation.
What cannot be denied is that thousands of agro-pastoralists in the lower Omo have been and are being evicted, without consultation or compensation, from their best agricultural land along the banks of the Omo to make way for commercial irrigation schemes. This is a clear-cut abuse of the human rights of the affected people and a systematic and on-going feature of government development policy in the Lower Omo.
The US Consolidated Appropriations Act for 2014, which became public law on 17 January 2014, recognises this situation by specifically prohibiting US assistance from being used to support any activities in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions of Ethiopia which ‘directly or indirectly involve forced evictions’. It goes on to require US executive directors of international financial institutions to oppose the funding of such activities. The full wording of the relevant section is as follows:
Funds appropriated by this Act under the headings ‘‘Development Assistance’’ and ‘‘Economic Support Fund’’ that are available for assistance in the lower Omo and Gambella regions of Ethiopia shall—
(A) not be used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions;
(B) support initiatives of local communities to improve their livelihoods; and
(C) be subject to prior consultation with affected populations.
The Secretary of the Treasury shall instruct the United States executive director of each international financial institution to oppose financing for any activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Ethiopia.
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(Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2014 (H. R. 3547. Division K, Title VII, General Provisions, Africa, Section 7042, Ethiopia, paragraphs 3-4, p. 524)
Ethiopia receives more British development aid than any other country and the UK is the largest state contributor to the World Bank’s ‘Promoting Basic Services’ (PBS) programme in Ethiopia. This provides budget support to local government for road construction and for agricultural, educational and health services.
Resettlement activities in the Lower Omo are the responsibility of the local administration. It would not be surprising, therefore, if PBS funds were being used to support activities there which are ‘directly or indirectly’ involved in the forced eviction and resettlement of local people. Indeed this must be considered highly probable, in the absence of convincing evidence to the contrary.