In a historic move, the U.S. Congress has taken a stance on land grabs-related human rights abuses in Ethiopia. The 2014 Omnibus Appropriations Bill contains provisions that ensure that U.S. development funds are not used to support forced evictions in Ethiopia.
The bill prevents U.S. assistance from being used to support activities that directly or indirectly involve forced displacement in the Lower Omo and Gambella regions. It further requires U.S. assistance in these areas to be used to support local community initiatives aimed at improving livelihoods and to be subject to prior consultation with affected populations.
The bill goes further and even instructs the directors of international financial institutions to oppose financing for any activities that directly or indirectly involve forced evictions in Ethiopia.
According to Anuradha Mittal, executive director of the Oakland Institute, “We welcome this move as it aims to address one major flaw of U.S. assistance to Ethiopia. The step taken by the U.S. Congress is very significant, as it signals to both the Ethiopian government and the U.S. administration that turning a blind eye to human rights abuses in the name of development is no longer an option.”
Several reports from the Oakland Institute have raised alarm about the scale, rate, and negative impacts of large-scale land acquisitions in Ethiopia, which would result in the forced displacement of over 1.5 million people. The relocation process through the government’s villagization scheme is destroying the livelihoods of small-scale farmers and pastoralist communities. Ethiopian security forces have beaten, arrested, and intimidated individuals who have refused to relocate and free the lands for large-scale agricultural plantations.
Ethiopia’s so-called development programs cannot be carried out without the support of international donors, primarily the U.S., one of its main donors. Oakland Institute’s on-the-ground research has documented the high toll paid by local people as well as the role of donor countries in supporting the Ethiopian policy.
This bill represents an important first step toward Congress’ initiating a comprehensive examination of U.S. development practices in Ethiopia. As the oversight authority of the State Department, Congress must now ensure that the provisions are fully upheld and implemented. This warrants thorough scrutiny of USAID programs to Ethiopia and their contribution to forced resettlements and human rights abuses.
With this bill, USAID, the State Department, as well as the World Bank, will have to reconsider the terms and modalities of the support they provide to the Ethiopian government. According to Frederic Mousseau, Oakland Institute’s policy director, “This is a light of hope for the millions of indigenous people in Ethiopia who have sought international support from the international community to recognize their very destruction as communities and people.”