The Irish Times – PAUL CULLEN, Political Staff, January 20, 2011 — IRISH OVERSEAS aid to Ethiopia is being used to shore up the power of the regime and marginalise its opponents, an Oireachtas committee has been told.
Money from Ireland and other donors flows through government structures in Ethiopia and is used by a highly partisan, politicised and authoritarian ruling party to jail and torture people who disagree with it, according to Ben Rawlence of Human Rights Watch.
Mr Rawlence told the Oireachtas committee on foreign affairs that international donors, including Ireland, were aware this was happening but found it hard to get independent information.
Ethiopia has been a priority country for Irish Aid since 1974 and received more than €35 million last year. None of this goes directly to the central government. Overall, according to Mr Rawlence, it is the world’s biggest recipient of aid, amounting to over €2 billion a year.
Human Rights Watch last year published a report written by Mr Rawlence which alleges that aid underwrites repression.
While the aid provided by western governments is passed on to regional and village administrations in Ethiopia, the human rights group says it has found evidence of systematic discrimination in its administration. Government supporters were favoured in the distribution of seeds and the allocation of land, and trade union members were discriminated against in schools, which were also used for the indoctrination of children with the ruling party ideology.
The group also found widespread problems with the administration of a food-for-work scheme funded by Ireland and other donors. Mr Rawlence said that in every area he visited, the programme was being used to target opponents of the regime.
He said villages were grouped into cells of five families and the leader of each cell was a member of the ruling party. People had to have a party card and pay dues to get food aid.
“All the donor agencies know this is going on. We have reams of off-the-record testimony from donor officials,” said Mr Rawlence, who was arrested and deported towards the end of his visit to Ethiopia. However, donors didn’t have monitoring mechanisms in place to capture what was happening.
Minister of State for Overseas Development Peter Power said Irish Aid’s assessment did not support Human Rights Watch’s allegation of widespread, systematic abuse of aid. However, Irish Aid was concerned about any allegation of abuse of aid at local level and had raised the claims in the report with Ethiopian ministers.
Fine Gael TD Seán Barrett called for a thorough investigation of Human Rights Watch’s allegations by the EU. Ireland couldn’t do such an investigation alone.