Ethiopia using aid to suppress dissent

2010-10-19 20:03

Nairobi - Ethiopia, one of the world's top donor aid recipients, is using the assistance to suppress dissent by denying opponents government support, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday.

Farmers who do not support the ruling party are refused loans, fertilisers and seeds, while families of opposition members are barred from a food-for-work programme which supports seven million poor people, HRW said in a report.

"The Ethiopian government is routinely using access to aid as a weapon to control people and crush dissent," said Rona Peligal, the rights watchdog's Africa director.

"If you don't play the ruling party's game, you get shut out. Yet foreign donors are rewarding this behaviour with ever-larger sums of development aid," added Peligal in a statement.

The rights group cited one rural farmer as saying "leaders have publicly declared that they will single out opposition members and those identified as such will be denied privileges.'"

"By that they mean that access to fertilisers... and even emergency aid will be denied."

More than 200 people in three Ethiopian regions were interviewed in six months last year for the 105-page report: Development without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia.

Ignoring suppression

Ethiopia, a key western ally in the troubled Horn of Africa region, received more that $3bn in aid in 2008 alone, the watchdog said.

The World Bank and other donors briefly suspended direct budget support to the Ethiopian government after the disputed 2005 elections when violent protest led to the death of around 200 people.

But donors later resumed and increased support to Ethiopia. The rights group said international aid doubled between 2004 and 2008.

"In their eagerness to show progress in Ethiopia, aid officials are shutting their eyes to the repression lurking behind the official statistics," Peligal said.

"Donors who finance the Ethiopian state need to wake up to the fact that some of their aid is contributing to human rights abuses."