Sarkozy Should Highlight Rights Issues on Ethiopia Visit

(Paris, France, January 28, 2011) – The French president, Nicolas Sarkozy, is scheduled to arrive in Addis Ababa on January 30, 2011, for an official visit to Ethiopia. Human rights concerns, including the misuse of development aid to repress dissent, should be high on Sarkozy’s agenda, Human Rights Watch said.

The ruling party of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, the Ethiopian Revolutionary People’s Democratic Front (EPRDF), won 99.6 percent of parliamentary seats in the May 2010 general election. Space for independent civil society and media has diminished sharply over the past five years, but particularly since 2009 when Ethiopia passed a restrictive law regulating civil society activity. Most independent human rights groups and media outlets have been forced to close, and the ruling party operates a system of cell structures in the country that monitor the political activity of every household.

While repression in Ethiopia has increased, so has development assistance to Ethiopia from the European Union, the United States, and other major donors.

In October 2010, Human Rights Watch published a report, “Development without Freedom,” which described how international development aid is used by the Ethiopian government to discriminate against political opponents and dissenters. Government services, funded by the European Union and other donors, are administered in a partisan way so that essential agricultural inputs, land, and even food for work programs are used as tools to reward loyal supporters and punish the families of members of the opposition, with serious humanitarian consequences.

International donors, especially the European Union and its member states, are aware of this partisan discrimination in some areas but have not conducted an independent investigation into the serious allegations contained in the report. President Sarkozy has the authority and the responsibility to demand that Ethiopia allow donors to assess independently how their money is being used, Human Rights Watch said.

“President Sarkozy should make clear that Ethiopia’s worsening human rights situation is a major concern not just in France, but throughout Europe,” said Jean-Marie Fardeau, Paris director at Human Rights Watch. “He should stress that Ethiopia’s crackdown on independent civil society and the media is unacceptable, and needs to be reversed.”

For Human Rights Watch’s October 2010 report on the misuse of development assistance by Ethiopia, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/node/93605

For Human Rights Watch’s criticism of the donors’ response to the report, please visit:
http://www.hrw.org/en/news/2010/12/17/ethiopia-donors-should-investigate-misuse-aid-money

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