የኢትዮጵያ ህዝብ የጋራ ትግል ሸንጎ [ሸንጎ] ኦፊሴላዊ ድረ ገፅ

Task Force's Letter To Saudi Arabia's King

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No Human Rights = No Development

Right to Livelihood, Right to Culture 

For much of Ethiopia’s population, access to land and natural resources is a requisite of their sustenance and survival. The primary issues of land administration in Ethiopia are grounded in government control, and represent inconsistencies between what is adopted in the legal framework and constitution, and what the implementation and reality on the ground, as well as a lack of respect for the rights of land access and customary tenure of indigenous communities. Moreover, the criteria for secure land tenure, in practice, appear to be different from region to region, leading to disproportionate dispossession of land-dependent peoples in Afar, BeniShangul-Gumuz, Gambella, Oromiya, SNNP and Somali regions.

The legal framework regulating land rests in two documents: the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Constitution,1which addresses land issues and other related rights, and Proclamation no. 456/2005, which addresses the administration of rural land. It is important to note that most of the land-related policies regulate rural land, and very little provisions exists for the governance of urban land. Each region is able to form its own regional land administration and policies; however, actual land registration can only be found in five of the nine regions in the country. 2

1  Ethiopian Constitution, http://www.africa.upenn.edu/Hornet/Ethiopian_Constitution.html.

2  Tony Burns and Kate Dalrymple, “Land Sector Corruption in Ethiopia,” in Janelle Plummer, ed., Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia (Washington: The World Bank, 2012), p. 298.

3  Federal Democratic Republic of EthiopiaRural Land. Administration and Land UseProclamation no. 456/2005, at: www.faolex.fao.org/docs/pdf/eth95459.pdf.

4See article 40(8) of the Constitution which states: “Without prejudice to the right to private property, the government may expropriate private property for public purposes subject to payment in advance of compensation commensurate to the value of the property” and Proclamation No. 456/2005, article 7(3):Holder of rural land who is evicted for purpose of public use shall be given compensation proportional to the development he has made on the land and the property acquired, or shall be given substitule land thereon. Where the rural landholder is evicted by federal government, the rate of cOI11'pensation would be determined based on the federal land administration law. Where, the rural land holder is evicted by regional governments, the rate, of compensation would be determined based on the rural land administration laws of regions.”

5  Tony Burns and Kate Dalrymple, “Land Sector Corruption in Ethiopia”, Diagnosing Corruption in Ethiopia, Ed. Janelle Plummer, The World Bank, 2012, p. 285.

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Read more: No Human Rights = No Development

In Ethiopia, more land grabs, more indigenous people pushed out

A journalist's visit to South Omo, where rights groups say police have raped women and otherwise pressured locals to leave an area tagged to become a huge sugar plantation, was quickly curtailed by authorities.

Hailewuha village, South Omo, Ethiopia

As night wore on in a remote valley in southern Ethiopia, one policeman dozed and another watched a DVD comedy on a battery-powered laptop

Close by, in a clutch of thorn trees and grass huts, an ethnic Mursi man tried to explain to outsiders why he is so concerned for his people, who have lived here as semi-nomads for generations but may soon be evicted to make way for a giant sugar plantation.

"We Mursi [people] do not accept this ambitious government ideology," the man said of an official state plan to house them in new villages in exchange for their compliant departure. He is speaking in the village of Hailewuha, his face lit by flashlight. Cattle shuffle and grunt nearby.

"What we want is to use our own traditional way of cultivation," he says.

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Ethiopian officials say the Mursi, like a growing number of ethnic or tribal groups in Ethiopia, are voluntarily moving out of their ancient lands; human rights groups say this is untrue.

The ongoing controversy is not new in Ethiopia, and "land grabs" by governments for lucrative leasing deals have become a story across the continent. 

For example, in Ethiopia's lush Gambella region, in the western area bordering Sudan, locals have been forcibly relocated to make way for the leasing of farms to foreign firms. This year, the World Bank and British aid agencies were swept into controversy over charges they helped fund the relocation including salary payments to local officials involved in the clearing of land. 

The Mursi have lived in Omo for centuries. Partly for this reason they get frequent visits by tourists and anthropologists alike. Tall and elaborately decorated, their scarified bodies are daubed with paint and ornamented by hooped earrings and bicep bangles.

But now the Mursi may be those most affected by government operations to overhaul South Omo, an area that officials in Addis Ababa are calling economically and socially backward.

The plan would turn this scrub and savanna into about 700 square miles of state-owned sugar plantations that would in turn require building Ethiopia’s largest irrigation project.

The water to feed the sugar cane year-round is to come from the Omo river, and is made possible by Gibe III, a partly Chinese-funded hydropower dam that may be completed as early as next year. The cane will be processed at some five local factories.

The people of this valley, the Mursi, Bodi, and Karo, some of whom number only a few thousand, would need to reduce their cattle -- their most prized possessions. Then many if not all will move into enlarged permanent villages.

Controlling the flow of the river will mean the end of an annual flood that makes fertile a strip of land for crops once the seasonal waters recede. An ongoing attempt to control Mursi traditions now means that at public meetings, state authorities implore the group to end “very bad” cultural practices like stick fighting and their characteristic lip-plates.

To be sure, Ethiopian authorities promise new jobs, public services, and plenty of irrigation for every Omo household that agrees to move out.

But this is not the view of international human rights groups who claim that Ethiopia is broadly and constantly harming locals as part of an authoritarian model of development.

In the most recent salvo, the Oakland Institute accused the state of using killings, beatings, and rapes as methods of forcing South Omo residents to accept the sugar cane projects. The California-based advocacy group also accused Western aid agencies and some US and British officials of covering up evidence of the abuses they heard about on research missions.

Instead of investigating claims made by Survival International, Human Rights Watch, and the Oakland Institute, Ethiopian authorities smear them as anti-development.

These groups help "drag Ethiopia back to the Stone Age," is how the prime minister's spokesperson, Getachew Reda, recently described Oakland's agenda.

“We have a scar from them [critics]," says the chief administrator of South Omo, Molloka Wubneh Toricha, about the activists and journalists who make the 400 mile journey from Addis Ababa to the Kenya-border area, hoping to monitor developments. "They try and blacken our image."

Yet in the single nighttime interview the Monitor was able to conduct with the Mursi, the criticism of the rights groups were echoed: "The government uses our ignorance and backwardness to control us,” said the Mursi man. “They force us to do farming…. Those who have been in the bush shall settle together in common village and be brothers. But our leaders do not accept this."

It is impossible to verify whether these comments reflect the community's opinion since officials and police prevented further inquiries by reporters in a trip there in August. 

 While regional officials at first permitted access to the Mursi, a few hours later, the administration backtracked.

Reporters on an independent visit were forced to camp next to the Hailewuha police station. A security commander regularly called in on a shortwave radio to check that the journalists were still corralled. Senior regional police arrived the next morning to escort them back to the regional capital, Jinka.

Later, apologetic officials in Jinka all had the same explanation: there had been a "misunderstanding." 

Yet rather than a genuine mix-up, the obstruction seemed to stem from a basic mistrust of outside eyes and voices. Mr. Molloka said journalists frequently "divert" the views of residents: "This is what burns our hearts," he says, "at public meetings we told all the people not to give information to journalists."

With media muzzled and most civil society initiatives stifled by restrictive laws, there is little independent information about what is happening in South Omo.

Along with the plight of the Mursi, for example, little is known about the impact of as many as 700,000 migrant workers that may move here to work on the sugar cane plantations.

Tewolde Woldemariam, a scholar and senior figure in the ruling party, who left in 2001, and an academician, Fana Gebresenbet, argue that the people, cultures, language and rights of South Omo people, which are theoretically protected by the constitution, are threatened by the new influx of migrant workers.

“Unless the problem is realized and mechanisms to tackle it are put in place, this demographic change puts the cultural and linguistic rights of the indigenous ethnic groups…at great risk," they wrote for a conference in April at the Institute for Peace and Security Studies at Addis Ababa University. 

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The sugar and resettlement projects are well-intended but the scholars note there is little official response about possible adverse effects.

“The attitude of lumping everyone who raises the possibility of negative consequence of the development project on the local culture as one who wants to permanently perpetuate the pastoral lifestyle for tourist purposes is rampant at all levels of the region," they said.

The Mursi man that was interviewed at night said this: "If we will be mixed with external people, perhaps we will be exposed to some contagious diseases like HIV/AIDS which we have never experienced in life."

One important failing of trying to engineer and control the future of Omo, say analysts sympathetic to the nomads, is that local residents are kept from the design and involvement in policies concerning them. 

The Mursi man who we spoke to asked: "The government forces us to accept this project. Do you think this is a good way?" 

 

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A year on, NGOs still struggle in Ethiopia without Zenawi

A year after the death of former Ethiopian leader Meles Zenawi, hopes for change in the African country remain bleak, including for local aid groups struggling to cope with a wide range of restrictions over their work.

The Ethiopian government passed in 2009 a law that restricted NGO fundraising activities and operations, and imposed stricter requirements for registration, like asking charities and civil society organizations to secure a letter of recommendation from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Four years later and with the dictator out of the picture, the law remains a burden to aid groups, whose numbers have decreased since. Prior to 2009, there were reportedly some 3,822 registered civil society organizations in Ethiopia, but today there are no more than 1,500, according to a local aid official.

In fact, the official told Devex the situation for NGOs has “worsened” under the current regime.

NGOs still targeted

A year later, sources inside the country note the government of current Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn has failed to make it easier for these organizations to do their job.

“The majority of Ethiopian local NGOs are in depression” due to limited funds and registration difficulties, noted the official. 

Many groups depend heavily on a small pool of foreign donors. And the Charities and Societies Agency, created in 2009 to regulate CSO activities, implements according to this source “double standards” during registration, being more welcoming to NGOs that support the ruling party.

“Some optimists hoped that with new leadership the Ethiopian government would change track and carry out human rights reforms, including amending the abusive CSO and anti-terrorism laws,” Laetitia Bader, a researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Devex. “Disappointingly, instead we see much the same patterns on the human rights front — including large scale arrests of peaceful protestors and prosecution of dissenting voices.”

But what seemed to particularly upset the local official is that donors do not seem to be helping to ease these restrictions on CSOs.

For instance, the official finds British support to build the capacity of the CSA as helping the government weaken the CSO sector: “DFID [is] repeatedly helping the Agency while civil society [is] in crisis.”

The U.K. Department for International Development has a program whose aims include improving the dialogue between the government and civil society sector, and bridging the gap between the two. The program began in 2010, a year after the NGO law was passed, and eventually included capacity building for CSA to meet the program’s objective. 

But an annual review of the program concluded in November 2012 noted: “CSO perception of a conducive political and legal environment is not improving; the Agency database is neither publicly accessible nor currently up to date; federal-regional cooperation is not moving forward (to our knowledge); Agency understanding of the civil society sector is not improving (partly due to high staff turnover); and the guidelines and regulations have only received a very minor amendment due to pressure from CSOs and DPs.”

This is not the first time that DfID has been subject to criticism over its work in Ethiopia. The agency made headlines last year following its alleged plans to use part of its foreign aid budget for Ethiopia to train a police force accused of committing human rights abuses. DfID has dismissed the issue.

Bader said: “We are concerned about any approach to the CSO law that is based on negotiating individual exemptions or waivers. This just allows the government to cherry-pick agencies, which completely undermines freedom of association. The law violates Ethiopia’s constitution and international human rights standards and needs to be amended; without fundamental changes it will be impossible to achieve a significant improvement in the working environment for NGOs.”

Misunderstanding

Michael Shiferaw, communications officer for the Civil Society Support Program, which is managed by the British Council in Ethiopia and is also receiving some criticism, noted they are aware of these concerns, sometimes perhaps due to some misunderstanding or miscommunication.

“We try to bridge the gap between the agency does and what CSOs in general are doing by finding a common ground,” he told Devex.

These realities are not helping address the country’s multiple problems, such as unemployment, high cost of living and corruption.

Zenawi dreamt of Ethiopia someday becoming a middle-income country. And while the current regime may be trying to reach that by trying to improve infrastructure, many see this dream as far-fetched. 

“It looks like an illusion … still we are in agrarian society and majority of rural areas are food insecure … When [I] go to rural Ethiopia I consider myself as if we are living inhuman way of life,” explained the official. “For example, I was born from farmers family [and they are still] depending on me. I monthly send [them money]. If I quit even for one month, they can’t exist.”

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EU group: Ethiopia should release jailed report

By    KIRUBEL TADESSE, Associated Press :

 Wednesday, July 17, 2013, 10:20 AM EDT

ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia (AP) — A European Union parliament delegation on Wednesday called on Ethiopia's government to release jailed journalists and activists, but in a sign the call may not be heeded the delegation was denied from visiting a prison it had been approved to see.

The head of the delegation, Barbara Lochbihler, said Ethiopia is jailing journalists and activists for "exercising their legitimate right to freedoms of expression, association and religion." The group is concerned by reports of misuse of the country's anti-terrorism legislation to stifle dissent, she said.

"Despite the country's excellent constitution, we note flaws in the impartiality of the judicial system," Lochbihler told journalists at a press conference Wednesday.

A spokesman for the Ethiopian Prime Minister said the country doesn't have any political prisoners and that prisoners would not be released "just because some European Union members said so."

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Ethiopian government criminalizes the coverage of any group the government deems to be a terrorist group, a list that includes opposition political parties.

"Among those jailed is Eskinder Nega, an award-winning blogger whose critical commentary on the government's extensive use of anti-terror laws led to his own conviction on terrorism charges," the group said in its latest survey, which placed Ethiopia among the world's top ten worst jailers of journalists.

The EU parliament delegation said certain broadcasters are jammed in Ethiopia and that access to the Internet and social media are "regularly restricted." The practice is at odds with the Ethiopian constitution, the delegation said in a statement.

The four-person delegation, drawn from the parliament's subcommittee on human rights, said the Ethiopian government must guarantee freedom of speech and the right to peaceful assembly at all times in accordance with its constitution and obligations under international law. The delegation met top government officials, activists and leaders of the opposition.

Earlier on Wednesday the delegation was scheduled to visit to the country's Kaliti prison where most activists are believed to be serving their sentence. But the prison director turned the group back on arrival, saying "he didn't have time to work with you," according to a member of the delegation, Jorg Leichtfried.

Leichtfried told a news conference their visit was "overshadowed" by the incident. He described it as an episode he doesn't wish to experience again. All four delegation members spoke about the incident, which appeared to have frustrated them.

The delegation said Ethiopia itself has requested international assistance to improve its detention centers and their visit was to have a firsthand experience of the detention conditions.

Getachew Reda, a spokesman for Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn, said he was not aware of any decisions either to grant permission to see the prison or to deny it. Getachew said only family members can visit the prisoners.

"We don't have any single political prisoner in the country. We do have, like any other country, people who were convicted of crimes including terrorism who are currently serving their sentence. They would only be freed when either they complete their sentence or probation on good behavior," Getachew told the Associated Press on Wednesday. "We are not going to do release anyone just because some European Union members said so."

He criticized the delegation's statement, calling it "unhelpful" to relations between Ethiopia and the EU.

The EU is one of Ethiopia's largest donors with millions of dollar spent on development projects across the country.

Hailemariam was scheduled to meet the visiting delegation on Wednesday night.

The European lawmakers also met with African Union officials. Lochbihler criticized Nigeria and the AU for allowing Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir to travel to Abuja earlier this week. The International Criminal Court has an arrest warrant out for Bashir.

 

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