Victim threatens action over UK’s ties to human rights abuses in Ethiopia – BBC

7 Sep
    Editor’s Note

    The United Kingdom is not only the third largest financier of aid in Ethiopia, after the US and the World Bank, with $2 billion for the period 2011-2015, according to Foreign Office Minister in charge of UK’s Africa affairs Henry Bellingham. But also the UK exercises huge influence in the country, as political advisor to the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi.

    The UK’s role in Ethiopia, especially its silence in the face of the regime’s violations of human rights of citizens has been troubling several Ethiopians and foreign experts. Some of these individuals in prominent positions in international organizations, such as the respected economist and author Prof. William Easterly, have made known on the international media their dismay with that policy.

    During his visit to Ethiopia from 20 -25 July 2011, Mr. Bellingham was interviewed by Journalist Asrat Seyoum of The Reporter covering Ethiopian and regional issues.

    Almost three-quarters of their conversation was about AU taking action against Gaddafi, the relations with Egypt and the Nile question, the ICC and whether the UK deals with leaders charged by the Court.

    Suddenly, Asrat Seyoum dropped the following question to the minister:

      UK’s way of doing business, as you have said, is to focus on the people and excluding indicted leaders. However, the Chinese are criticized for doing business regardless of any good governance or human right issues. Can you draw a clear line that differentiates the two countries with respect to working with undemocratic governments?

      Mr. Bellingham:

      You have mentioned the Chinese and the way they do business. As the position of the Chinese is well known I would not comment but what the UK won’t do is prioritize trade over basic human rights. With respect to human rights issues, the UK has its own set of standards and under any circumstances we shall not compromise them just to gain in trade and investment. UK is a trading nation; without trade we shall not survive. However, everywhere we go we have certain core values that we want to uphold and we do not compromise them.

    Truth be told that, in spite of its generosity in terms of aid, it is not within Ethiopian experience the UK being on the side of the people. Nonetheless, by the UK’s own admission in the 2011-2015 DFID’s Operational Plan, Ethiopia’s “approach to political governance presents both substantive challenges to sustainable development and reputational risks.”

    As can be seen from this plan, the UK acknowledges “Ethiopia has made progress toward establishing a functional democracy, but there is still a long way to go. The UK government continues to raise concerns about limitations on civl and political rights and the longer term sustainability of Ethiopia’s tightly controlled political model.”

    It is important to point out that the differences between the British and Chinese approaches to the human rights situation of the Ethiopian people and the future of democracy in the country one would be difficult to read for ordinary citizens.


Victim threatens action over UK’s ties to human rights abuses in Ethiopia – BBC

Story sourced from BBC

A new village of Bildak in Ethiopia’s Gambella region ( © 2011 Human Rights Watch )

An Ethiopian farmer could sue the UK government after claiming a project that received funding from Britain led to human rights abuses.

The man – known as Mr O – told his British lawyers he was evicted from his farm, beaten and witnessed rapes as part of a “villagisation” scheme.

Mr O’s lawyers say the programme receives funding from the UK Department for International Development (Dfid).

Dfid said it does not fund “any commune projects” in the country.

Ethiopia is among the biggest recipients of UK aid and in July 2011 received £38m ($61m) during the country’s worse drought in a decade.

The UK government is also one of the main partners in Ethiopia’s Protection of Basic Services programme, money from which lawyers for Mr O claim is helping to finance forced resettlement.
‘Men were beaten’

Mr O – whose identity has not been revealed – lived in the Gambella region, which is one of four areas in Ethiopia subject to villagisation. About 1.5 million people are being resettled.

The married farmer, who has six children, told lawyers at London firm Leigh Day & Co his family were forced from their farm in Novermber 2011 by soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF).

His lawyers said he claimed that “several men were beaten, women were raped and some people disappeared” during the resettlement.

They added that Mr O’s family were made to resettle in a new village where they were given no replacement farmland, food or water and could not earn enough money to live.

When he tried to return to his former home, he claimed he was hit repeatedly with a rifle butt and taken to a military camp by ENDF soldiers, then gagged and subjected to further beating.

The firm – who were approached directly by Mr O – wrote to the new International Development Secretary Justine Greening on Wednesday, asking for the release of several documents and further information about the role of Dfid in the villagisation process.

Lawyers are seeking to establish how far the UK government has gone to ensure British aid has not been used to contribute to human rights violations during the programme.

Rosa Curling, from the Leigh Day & Co team representing Mr O, said the government has “a responsibility for transparency”.

“The UK spends a considerable amount of money on international aid and Dfid has a responsibility to ensure that this money does not contribute in any way to human rights abuses such as the ones suffered by our client.

“Our government has a duty to ensure that the programmes it supports meet the highest compliance standards,” she added.

A spokesperson from Dfid said the threat of legal action meant they could not comment at length, but insisted the UK “does not fund any commune projects in Ethiopia”.

The department has 14 days to respond to the letter. Depending upon the outcome, lawyers could demand disclosure of the documents from the courts.

Mr O is currently a refugee in Kenya, while his family remains in Ethiopia.

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