3 November 2010, MEDREK Press Release — Human Rights Watch (HRW), an advocate of democratic and human rights, has officially issued a timely report supported by evidence saying that the aid donated by the International Community to feed and assist the poor in Ethiopia is being used for the purpose of repressing the democratic and human rights of the aid recipients. Following the report, the ruling party has joined hands with its Lords of Charity that it, at times, disparages as “Neoliberals” and, when it pleases it at other times, terrorizes them by telling them “to throw themselves down the Lemalimo Canyon, if they so wanted” (the ruling party’s equivalent of saying: “Go to hell!”). The two forces have issued, simultaneously and with lightning speed, statements uniformly condemning the report of the democratic and human rights advocate.
Human Rights Watch is well known for its exposing and condemning the human rights violations perpetrated on prisoners at Guantanamo Bay and the Abu Ghraib prison houses and on the infamous method called “Rendition” designed to make it convenient for torture agents to violate prisoners’ rights by moving them from country to country. It is also known for its unrelenting effort in condemning perpetrators of human rights violations anywhere in the world without making any distinction between the strong and the weak or between the poor and the rich, thus earning the credibility and respect of the International Community.As a result, the reports that it issues officially are given wide coverage by international media. It is known that the United Nations, the United States Congress, the European Parliaments, as well as the taxpaying international community give their ears to the reports it issues and follow them attentively. If there is one thing that is indicated by the reciprocal responses of DAG and the ruling regime to the Human Rights Watch Report, it is that, whatever the difference that might otherwise exist between them, when it comes to the trampling of democratic and human rights of poor Ethiopians, they have very closely similar positions. Had it been otherwise, the Donors would not have come out with such a grotesquely biased response, knowing full well the repressive political space in Ethiopia and what actually happened during the 2010 election.
When donors suspended their direct budgetary support and replaced it by the PBS and PSNP programmes, the reason for their doing so was the widespread international condemnation of the cruel measures taken by the repressive regime following the 2005 election. After this change, donors have been saying all along that they had put in place a variety of dependable control mechanisms, first to ensure strictly that the aid would be used only for the purpose it was intended and second, that it would not be used as a political weapin for repressing people.
It is clear that the control mechanisms the donors said they had put in place have not worked. EPRDF has used aid to impose its absolute rule in rural Ethiopia. Opposition parties have been providing evidence to prove this. For example, it is to be recalled that a group of peasant farmers from Tigrai, who had come to Addis to present themselves as living witnesses against the maltreatment they had suffered, were abducted by plainclothes security agents and then forced to return to where they had come from.
It is also to be recalled that journalist Jason, Bloomberg Newspaper reporter, who had gone to Tigrai to report on the truth concerning the said peasant farmers, was detained in Makele by security agents and forced to return to Addis. Furthermore, he was ordered to leave Ethiopia within twenty-four hours but the order was later rescinded as a result of the intervention by the American Embassy in Addis. We mentioned these incidents only as examples. Wherever there a Safety Net programme throughout our country, the magnitude and pattern of abuse is the same.
It is indicated in the DAG report issued in July 2010 that, given the repressive condition prevailing in Ethiopia, it is extremely difficult for any citizen to testify on the abuses committed by the government. DAG knows full well the experience of the citizens who had come to give their testimonies in this fearful condition and of the journalist who had tried to investigate their case. As if it was not bad enough for DAG not to have the moral courage to speak out about the awful truth that it knows full well, it has hastened to denounce Human Rights Watch for exposing the harsh truth that DAG itself should have condemned in the first place. Furthermore, it has made DAG appear as if it is a supporter of the repression that is prevailing in Ethiopia.
In a statement issued on October 22, DAG says that it had investigated the complaint that aid was being used as a political weapon and that, following an investigation, it had ascertained that the complaint was unfounded. DAG had said earlier that the investigation would be carried out in two stages. We have examined the July 2010 statement, which was issued before that two-stage investigation was fully completed. The hurry to come out with such a report on the first stage only sends a clear message of its own. We feel that the authors of the report had known in advance that Human Rights Watch would come out with a report on the prevailing reality and we are forced to ask if DAG’s July report is not a preemptive act designed to neutralize the Human Right Watch report.
It is clearly indicated in the report itself that the work of the first chapter of the investigation involved deskwork that focused on examining the adequacy and effectiveness of the mechanisms of control agreed upon between the donors and the Ethiopian government and not on examining and investigating the alleged complaints. DAG knows full well that only desk work had been done and that no step had been taken towards the actual investigation of the charges. It is with this knowledge that DAG has labeled the Human Rights Watch report as being far from the truth and rushed to issue a counter report.
The core issue that is on the table for discussion is the serious connection between the aid given to Ethiopia and the violation of democratic and human rights. What should have been given a priority by those donor countries that claim to have deep respect for human rights is exerting positive pressure through the aid they give so that violations would be stopped. The main concern of DAG’s July report, however, was not finding a remedy for the widespread complaint that there are democratic and human rights violations in Ethiopia. DAG’s primary concern was sweeping the truth under the carpet and continuing aid to the poor people as an excuse for turning a blind eye to the violation of democratic and human rights that is rampant in our country.
The opposition — and MEDREK in particular — have been making efforts, on the one hand, to see that democracy prevails in our country and that democratic and human rights are respected and, on the other hand, to convince donors that they could give aid and at the same time tangibly contribute to the prevailing of democracy and the respect of democratic and human rights. But EPRDF, that gives precedence to clinging to power at the expense of the suffering of the people and knows full well that it does not have the capacity to feed its people, has been heard telling those that call for the respect of democracy and human right to “throw themselves down the Lemalimo Canyon, if they so wanted.” Despite the fact that the donors are being told off thus, they have chosen to go beyond remaining silent to the extent of condemning the Human Rights Watch report. This act indicates that the relationship between the dictatorial regime and its lords of charity is guided not by the grand principles that govern human rights and democracy but by the principle of scratch my back and I scratch yours.
The fact that the conscience of the donors was not touched by the repression against the democratic and human rights of our people has saddened us. We or the Ethiopian people may not be able to stop donors from “chumming up” with dictators by isolating development from democratic and human rights but they are aware that the taxpayers of their countries who give them the aid money are able to do so. DAG hurried to discredit the Human Rights Watch report because it knows that when the taxpayers see the report, they would ask what it was doing while democratic and human rights were being violated so blatantly and hold them accountable. How much they will succeed, time will tell but the struggle of our people for the respect of democratic and human rights will continue with greater determination despite the fact that donors, that have so much potential for being active agents for democratic change, are at times being part of the problem.
Ethiopian Federal Democratic Unity Forum (MEDREK)