I feel a little lonely down at this end. Where is everybody else?
The Vice-Chair (Mr. Paul Dewar): I know. We should go down there and join you.
Mr. Philip Baker: My apologies to the interpreters. I think they're going to have to earn their keep today, because my French is a little rusty. But we'll get started and see where we go. I'll start with an opening statement, if I may.
To begin, thank you, Mr. Chair, and honourable members.
Thank you for your invitation to appear this afternoon. I am pleased to be here.
As Regional Director General for Southern and Eastern Africa under the Geographic Programs Branch at CIDA, I am responsible for overseeing CIDA country and regional programming in Southern and Eastern Africa, including Ethiopia.
I'd like to first update you briefly on the important context of Canada's international aid and development work in Africa. Then I'll move on specifically to Ethiopia.
First of all, CIDA is committed to making its aid more effective to ensure the achievement of positive and sustainable results that make a real and long-term difference in the lives of those living in poverty. CIDA is focusing its work both geographically and thematically in the areas of increased food security, children and youth, and sustainable economic growth.
Throughout Africa, CIDA is supporting national poverty reduction strategies so that our assistance is more effective and able to reach the largest number of beneficiaries possible.
While doing so, we recognize that Africa faces many challenges as it develops. CIDA continues to do its part to respond to humanitarian needs, as we did when the worst drought in 60 years hit the Horn of Africa region last year.
Considering that effective development work goes a long way to reduce the impact of disasters, CIDA is working to avoid humanitarian crises by increasing food security. We also recognize that food security is not only about getting food on the table; it's about getting the right food on the table. Nutrition is proven to be one of the most effective and cost-efficient ways of improving health and saving lives. That is why it is an integral part of the G-8 Muskoka initiative, which aims to improve the health of mothers, newborns, and children under five.
I'm now going to take a brief moment to zero in on and explain Ethiopia's development context in order to highlight the important progress that's been achieved over the last decade.
Despite being one of the world's poorest nations, Ethiopia has made major development strides in recent years. With an economic growth rate averaging more than 8% per year, the Government of Ethiopia remains committed to pro-poor growth, investing more than 60% of public expenditures toward poverty-oriented sectors. This is the highest rate in sub-Saharan Africa in terms of the portion of the budget committed to pro-poor sectors. This has translated into declining poverty levels—from 38% in 2004 to 29% in 2011, according to the Government of Ethiopia's own numbers.
Country-led investments to increase food security and expand the coverage of basic services such as health and education have contributed to rising human development indicators, and the country is on track to achieve six of the eight millennium development goals. Ethiopia's strong ownership of development priorities, combined with its commitment to anti-poverty programs, makes it a country where official development assistance produces results.
CIDA has contributed to these achievements—for example, through its support to increasing food security and securing the future of children and youth in Ethiopia. CIDA's contribution to food security and agricultural growth projects contributed to expanding access to fertilizer, improved seed, and credit services across the country. In 2010-11 these efforts resulted in an average yield increase of 100 kilograms per hectare of maize and wheat. Working with other donors, CIDA expanded training services to an additional 800,000 farmers so that a total of 4.9 million people now benefit from local agricultural services.
CIDA is also contributing to the health and well-being of mothers and children in Ethiopia. The proportion of births attended by local health workers rose to 25% last year versus 16% back in 2007. The proportion of children vaccinated against diphtheria, pertussis, and tetanus rose to 86% last year from 73% in 2007, and against measles, from 65% up to 77%. This data indicates that more mothers and children under the of five have access to and are using basic health services.
In addition, in Ethiopia CIDA focuses its efforts under the Muskoka initiative towards improving infant and child feeding practices, and providing supplements, key vitamins and minerals such as iodized salt and vitamin A, to women of children-bearing age and to infants.
So now let me mention in a few words how we choose to build our country programs.
In developing an overall country program, CIDA requires country-specific governance, gender equality, and human rights analyses to be conducted during the planning and implementation phases. These analyses help us to shape our development interventions. We then monitor all our initiatives and take action if and when the context changes. We expect, just as the public and honourable members do, that from a policy viewpoint CIDA programs will have a positive impact on the development context in any given country.
In addition, CIDA assesses the country's poverty situation and the level of citizen participation in the setting of national development priorities. Our programming is a product of this work, as well as of ongoing consultations with local and Canadian partners, with other donors, with UN agencies and, of course, with the Government of Ethiopia.
As an example of how CIDA adjusts its programming to the Ethiopian context, we channel our funding through non-governmental organizations, private sector entities, and multilateral development institutions, and focus primarily on food security, agricultural growth, and nutrition. To state it in another way, CIDA focuses on providing support that directly and positively impacts the food insecure, the rural poor, children under the age of five, and pregnant and lactating women in need of nutritional supplements such as vitamin A. In addition, on a responsive basis we provide humanitarian assistance to address specific emergencies such as the 2011 major drought in the Horn of Africa, which we've discussed in this setting before.
Even on this last example, to go beyond short-term emergency assistance, CIDA is contributing to efforts to build resilience, particularly with our work through multilateral development institutions on the development of social safety nets, such as the productive safety net program implemented in Ethiopia. It is designed to build the resilience of 7.8 million chronically food insecure people in order to improve food security and ensure protection from the effects of climate change and other shocks. This program helps communities to invest in sustainable land management while enhancing their natural resource base through transfers of food or cash in exchange for labour. Examples of results to which CIDA contributed include the decline in the annual food gap from 3.6 months per year in 2006 down to 2.3 months per year in 2010. That is the reduction in the amount of time that you see a food gap. Over 318,000 hectares of degraded land have also been rehabilitated through gated fields, which we can talk about that later, and 31,900 kilometres of rural roads have been constructed to improve access to markets and services.
We also support broader democratic and accountability processes, which we believe are integral to progressively improving human rights. Recent examples include support to the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, the Office of the Federal Auditor General, and Ethiopian civil society. Working with other donors, Canada engages in discussion directly with the Ethiopian authorities on such topics as human rights and gender equality. We participate in international mechanisms such as the universal periodic review, a process of the United Nation's High Commission for Human Rights. These are all areas in which we have clearly communicated our desire and expectation for improvement.
The contexts in which CIDA works are seldom perfect. I think members here would agree that we are there specifically because there are too many people living in conditions that are unacceptable to Canadians.
We continue to work toward the situation where the democratic and human rights conditions in Ethiopia will mirror the progress already achieved in social sectors such as health and education. This will allow the international community, including Canada, to consider resuming more direct support to the Government of Ethiopia in the future for the realization of its development agenda. But we are not there yet.
At this point I'll stop and would be happy to take some questions.
Thanks very much for the question.
As people recognize, the ODAA act explicitly says that for to be considered as ODA, it must contribute to poverty reduction, must take in the perspectives of the poor, and must be consistent with international human rights standards.
So at CIDA, in our approach to this act, this is job one, if you like. This is integral to everything we do. In our work, when we look at moving official development assistance through our programming, we must and we do—through a number of policy instruments and through our programming implementation as well—look at how we can ensure that there's no direct or indirect contribution to human rights violations through CIDA programming.
That's the key, I think, in answering both. The minimum requirement you've asked about is that, at the very minimum, there is no direct or indirect contribution to violations of human rights.
Then, in terms of our approach, we have policy instruments. At the same time, we take those policy instruments and, when we are doing our analysis to examine which program elements to add to a certain country, we make sure that we both build in the approaches that will avoid human rights violations and then—in answer to your last question—we look at setting up systems of safeguards that allow us to both evaluate and monitor to ensure we are achieving that goal.
If you like, I could talk a little bit more on that front of what those are, or we could continue. I'll leave it to the chair.
In regard to the Universal Periodic Review, I'll start by saying that in general, all the UN member countries, once every four years, will go through or will be subjected to—whichever way you want to look at it—a review of their human rights record or their track record.
In the case of Ethiopia, their last review was in 2009. A final report came out in 2010. There were, I believe—and correct me if I'm wrong—142 overall recommendations, 99 of which were accepted by the Government of Ethiopia. So there was a good step forward on that front.
These included a number that Canada had initiated, including the need to create a human rights action plan. That action plan in fact has led to support for the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, which in turn has led to regional offices around the country being opened up to allow better access for Ethiopians, for the public.
So on that front, with 99 out of 142, is it perfect? It's not perfect. It's progress, definitely. Each country that goes through these reviews has to do its best to look at what it can take on board, and with what priority, to improve its record on human rights as it gets ready to show progress, hopefully, by the next time it is reviewed.
In the case of Ethiopia, there has been a lot of progress, but there have also been concerns, as you've noted. The charities act and proclamation is of particular concern. It does tend to narrow the space for freedom of expression and the activities of those charities, the NGOs that are active in Ethiopia.
So what does CIDA do about that? On several fronts.... As I said, we're bolstering the strength of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. We also do have a very strong network called CANGO in Ethiopia. It is a network of Canadian NGOs that are active with their Ethiopian partners in Ethiopia. We work closely with them in bolstering their capacity.
When we do a program, we look for opportunities where we can strengthen the opportunities for Ethiopian citizens to play a role. You may have heard talk of the protection of basic services initiative. It's a very large one that has been led by the World Bank for a number of years in Ethiopia. Within that, there's a subcomponent of the program that CIDA made a contribution to in years past. That actually built the right of citizens' participation within the whole notion of monitoring how the district administrations divvy up the moneys that are largely coming through the infrastructure support program, which is called PBS, or protection of basic services.
That was an example of CIDA successfully getting a mechanism built in that actually encourages the better monitoring of human rights, and then redress if things are looking like they might start to go wrong.
I'll make it very brief, then.
First of all, I'll speak to my area of the world only. I'll say that it wasn't my decision; it was a cabinet decision, which is the way that the reductions were designed.
Within our neck of the woods, southern and eastern Africa, there were several closures suggested for country programs and several reductions. Within that front, the driving force for the closures was the matter of cost-effectiveness, of running some of these important but smaller programs that are quite expensive to run, relatively speaking. I'm speaking now of our Zambia and our Zimbabwe program, which will be closing by April 1, 2014.
In the case of Malawi, which was also listed for closure in my area, the Malawi program will be coming for closure by April 1, 2014, but the Muskoka programming will continue to completion. So it was an exception on that front. Muskoka programming continues in all the countries.
There were several other reductions in other countries as well for some of our larger programs in Africa.
CIDA is a very strong proponent, as I am as an RDG, of the point that doing extremely effective development derives from the notion of country ownership. You've mentioned the plan. In the case of Ethiopia, what we call a growth and transformation plan from 2010 through 2015 is basically their poverty reduction strategy paper, which is, in the lingo of the development world, the key paper that each country pulls together to rally support from other countries and from donors.
In this case, through that plan, they take a very serious look at how they've done so far over the last series of plans—there have been several in the case of Ethiopia—and then we take a look at how we mesh best with our own country strategy to dovetail with that planning. The notion is that whatever they are saying are their priorities, we want to look for a piece of it that is an appropriate fit for Canadian talents and skills. But most importantly, it is driven by that recipient country.
In this case, what has come up with this new plan is very interesting. They've had a realization and made a recommendation that if they want to have sustainable growth, they're going to have to see a bit more strength and shift towards bolstering the private sector. Over the past few years there has been very strong growth in Ethiopia, but it's largely been public sector driven. This has been a really interesting development in this new five-year plan.
There are many donors in discussion with the government now. That's the second part of the answer. Through discussion with the government, we have developed options on where we can fit in as a piece of the puzzle.
We've been extremely strong on food security, both on the notion of areas for growth in food-secure opportunities for growing more small business, for example, and in food insecure areas, like some of the programs that we discussed today, such as the productive safety net. Food security has been a strong front for us.
Children and youth is another theme for CIDA, and we have been very strong on the notion of the procurement of health commodities. That has taken us a certain distance, but I'll bring it back to one of the key issues we raised earlier about controls. The Government of Ethiopia is moving its health commodities purchasing towards more of a direct budget support request. Canada, since 2005, has not given any direct funding to the Government of Ethiopia; therefore, on that front of health commodities, we would not propose to continue with that support because of the mechanism they're going to use for the future.
We've got a little bit of room right now to look at possible new directions in this five-year plan. That work is underway.
I mentioned in my opening remarks the notion of not just getting food on the table, but the right food on the table. We talk about human rights, the rights of children and the protection of the rights of children as an important aspect for our programming wherever we work. In the case of nutrients for both pregnant and lactating women and for children, that's a key tenet of our work in Ethiopia.
Through the Muskoka initiative, there's been a very large, $50-million initiative on nutrition designed to assist three million children and pregnant and lactating women right across the country that will allow the right micronutrients to get to them, such as vitamin A, so that they've got their best start on life and for mothers to stay healthy and be able to raise their children better. On that front, nutrition has played a really important role for us.
You mentioned livestock, as well, and the notion of the food gap, which I mentioned earlier, is a critical one. It even links to the human rights discussion. If you talk about the amount of the food gap, the length of time that a family is without security on the food front, it leads them to measures such as selling off their livestock, in order to survive that short-term gap of getting across that absolute lack of food.
If we can shorten and reduce that food gap, then we avoid the need for them to sell off livestock that could have provided a long-term productive route to food security for that family. It's another key aspect of both food security and nutrition for families.
If I may, I will refer to two areas. We work closely with the AU, and it's a fact that our ambassador sitting in Addis has the most direct contact with the AU given that the headquarters is in Addis as well.
There are several mechanisms within the AU, such as what they call CAADP or the comprehensive Africa agriculture development programme. CAADP applies right across the continent. Each country looks to build its plan on how it will improve its agricultural productivity.
That's an AU initiative that's driven and lead by the AU in terms of policy, but then implemented at the country level by each country. CIDA works hard to assist in developing those CAADP plans. For example, in Mozambique we were the lead for the past two years in helping the government pull together its agricultural work. In Ethiopia we are trying to help on CAADP as well.
Then, you have the other issue of mechanisms within the AU, such as the various regional economic communities. IGAD is one of them, the Intergovernmental Authority on Development. With IGAD there's another arm of the AU that's looking at the Horn of Africa specifically. They are trying to build on the notion that there's an emergency response required, but there's a long-term resilience issue too.
With IGAD's supporting network, it tries to pull together all the neighbourhood players to try to get some coherence in their policy and decisions. We support that work as well as a donor. On that front you can see progress on something like the Horn. In fact Nairobi, under the auspices of IGAD, hosted a large meeting just after the summer responses on the drought in the Horn of Africa, trying to pull together some longer-term solutions. A specific program we've done in Ethiopia called the productive safety net program was highlighted as a key sample showing how you can achieve resilience in food security in the region with some innovative work.
You mentioned climate change shock or disasters. On the climate change front there's a very large and successful program called MERIT, which leads work in Ethiopia. It rehabilitates the land and allows it to be put back into productive agricultural use. CIDA has been a huge supporter on that front, with great success. In fact there is over 500,000 kilometres of retainer walls that allow you to hold the moisture in place from flooding to allow previously drought-ridden land to become more productive. You can fence it in a bit to keep grazing livestock out so that you don't harm that market access possibility for poverty reduction.
If I may, the Ethiopians describe themselves as a proud people in the midst of a pretty tough neighbourhood. There are a number of political and environmental issues, such as climate change and drought, as you see. The fact that Ethiopia has stepped up to receive a lot of environmental refugees, if you like, people seeking the right to keep their families alive, is laudable. Other countries in the neighbourhood, as well, have taken in refugees. But largely, you see cross-border movement from Sudan and Kenya coming into Ethiopia.
As for the programs you mentioned, yes, there has been an extremely good uptake from Canadians in terms of the matching funds offers. I won't go so far as to try to pretend I know all of the detailed numbers that my international humanitarian assistance partners within CIDA would know, but I can promise to get you those exact numbers and supply them to the committee.
In terms of results so far, the notion is to try to stave off the immediate hunger and the gaps. As a result of that, as I understand it, the characterization of the famine has been downgraded to that of a drought and emergency. I don't have all of the terms correct, and I'd have to talk to my colleague Leslie Norton to get that right. I think she's been with you here before. She'll shoot me if I get it wrong, so I better be careful. But on that front, there have been good results.
Kenya has been impacted heavily; so has Ethiopia, and so has Somalia. Security issues are still very much a concern in trying to make a direct response in Somalia, and hamper the abilities of international NGOs to get in and actually respond. But the work is happening. Progress is happening, and now there's a nice parallel whereby we're looking at an early response in the Sahel, where similar signs have been emerging over the past year, and we're trying to act now, so that we're in before there's too much of a famine crisis. On that front, there is good progress happening. I'd be happy to have my colleague help me supply the exact numbers to you here.
Thank you very much for inviting Human Rights Watch to participate. It's a great opportunity to discuss some of these issues that we've been concerned about for some time at Human Rights Watch.
I'd like to touch briefly on three issues in my opening remarks. One is that I would just like to give a very brief picture of the human rights situation in Ethiopia as we see it at Human Rights Watch. Secondly, I'd like to talk about the challenges of monitoring in Ethiopia, because some of these challenges are very unique and severe. Thirdly, I'd like to describe, very briefly, the research that we've done in the last few years on the manipulation of development aid.
To start off with, let me just say that Ethiopia is a country of great promise, but one that we see as moving in the wrong direction. The worsening human rights trend that we see today did not begin in 2005, but with hindsight, 2005 was a very critical moment when the Ethiopian government chose a path of greater repression and, unfortunately, that's been the path that it's stuck to until today.
As you know, the elections in 2005 ended in controversy with a government crackdown and leading opposition politicians alleging election fraud. The security forces arrested an estimated 30,000 people and beat to death or shot nearly 200 people in Addis Ababa.
Since 2005, many observers, including me, have hoped that the government would reverse course after the next parliamentary elections in May 2010, but unfortunately we haven't seen that trend reverse.
The repression in Ethiopia today affects both prominent dissidents and ordinary citizens alike. Across Ethiopia and particularly in sensitive areas like Oromia and the Somali region, we have documented local officials harassing, imprisoning, or threatening to withhold government assistance from perceived critics.
Critics are often accused of serious crimes such as membership in insurgent or terrorist organizations. Most are released without being brought to trial due to the lack of any evidence against them, but generally only after they have spent extremely long periods in prison and sometimes torture or mistreatment.
Even more alarming than this pattern, though, is the fact that Ethiopia's military has committed serious abuses amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity while responding to security threats. Those responsible for these crimes have enjoyed almost complete impunity from prosecution or even investigation. The abuses and the impunity seem to be systematic. From western Gambella region to Somali region in the east, as well as in neighbouring Somalia, the security forces have, in recent years, responded repeatedly to insurgent threats with atrocities against civilians.
To date, the Ethiopian response to serious allegations of international crimes such as these has been to deny the allegations and disparage the sources, be they Ethiopian human rights groups, my own organization, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, or even the U.S. State Department. Instead of responding with genuine efforts to investigate and address these issues, the Ethiopian government has denied the allegations and conferred impunity upon the perpetrators.
Today, Ethiopia has become one of the most intolerant environments on the continent for independent voices. The government consistently uses violence, intimidation, and repressive legislation to silence political opposition, independent media, and civil society activists. Since 2009, as you know, it has enacted two new laws, one on non-governmental organizations called the CSO law, and one on anti-terrorism that effectively criminalized human rights work in the country and undermined political and civil rights. Taken together, these laws contain provisions that give the government powerful tools to criminalize human rights work, treat public protests as acts of terrorism, and broadly expand government power to curtail the rights of free association, assembly, and expression.
Prior to the passage of both of these laws, Human Rights Watch published detailed analyses of both bills, and we highlighted the worst provisions. Many of our concerns were echoed by donor governments, and some of those recommendations, of course, came out in the UN universal periodic review process on Ethiopia in the last few years.
We predicted that these laws could restrict non-governmental activity in Ethiopia and that the anti-terrorism law could be used to prosecute journalists and political opponents and, regrettably our fears have proven to be accurate. Just last year, as you may know, more than a hundred political opposition members, journalists, and others were arrested and detained. Many of them are being tried on the basis of the anti-terrorism law essentially for expression that would be covered by the Ethiopian Constitution as part of freedom of expression.
The effects of the CSO law, the NGO law, on Ethiopia's civil society have been devastating. The leading Ethiopian human rights groups have been crippled by the law, and many of their senior staff have fled the country. Some organizations changed their mandates to stop doing any kind of human rights work at all; others such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Ethiopia's oldest human rights monitoring organization, and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, which had launched groundbreaking work on domestic violence and women's rights, were forced to slash their budgets, their staff, and their operations.
The effects of the CSO law are particularly important for donors because of the social accountability component of many of the large aid programs to Ethiopia. That social accountability component, as I'm sure you know, was intended to bolster monitoring of aid programs on the ground. So the fact that many of the independent organizations that would have been expected to provide information and monitoring on the effects on the ground are no longer able to function is a very serious problem for monitoring of human rights generally, as well as in terms of the development aid programs taking place in the country.
Meanwhile, while we have seen on the one hand this devastating blow to civil society we've also seen the government encouraging a variety of ruling party affiliated organizations to fill the vacuum. These include the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a national human rights institution that has been set up by the government. In theory it should be independent, but, unfortunately, in Ethiopia it's not.
I mention the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission again specifically because it is one of the institutions that has received considerable donor funding under the democratic institutions program, which CIDA, among others, has funded over the past few years. Human Rights Watch has called on donors to suspend funding for the democratic institutions program because of the problems and concerns we have with funding these institutions within this grim broader picture of the human rights environment and our concerns about how effective this kind of program can be when you see this worsening trend of repression affecting core rights.
Human Rights Watch has considerable experience working with human rights commissions across the world, including in many other countries in Africa. In our view independence is an absolutely critical component for the effective functioning of such an institution. Another component that is generally acknowledged to be essential is the ability of such an institution to work with civil society. Again, when we have the problems that we see in Ethiopia today in terms of the ability of independent organizations to function this raises serious questions about any donor program that funds this institution in the absence of core conditions for success.
Ethiopia's government has also had very little tolerance for the independent media. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia has driven more journalists into exile over the past decade than any other nation in the world—79 at last count—and today seven journalists are in jail, a number that's only rivaled in Africa by Eritrea. That of course includes two Swedish journalists who were arrested and convicted of terrorism charges in December because they went into the eastern Somali region to investigate allegations of abuses.
I want to touch very briefly on the challenges of monitoring in Ethiopia against this backdrop, because this is a core concern that we've raised repeatedly with donors about the development programs taking place in Ethiopia. I've worked in Africa for 15 years doing human rights work and Ethiopia is without question one of the most difficult places to work. That is based on a number of factors. One reason is the Ethiopian government's restrictions on independent access and monitoring by independent organizations trying to investigate abuses, particularly in areas that it deems to be sensitive such as the Oromia or Somali regions.
It's partly also a problem because of the extensive security apparatus that's deployed at every administrative level of the country. The surveillance machine extends into almost every household in the country and as a stranger, be you Ethiopian or non-Ethiopian, if you go into a village in rural Ethiopia, your presence will be noted almost immediately. This of course has very important implications for how you can collect information in a confidential way, in which witnesses and victims of abuse will feel comfortable talking openly and confidently about what they've experienced.
I want to talk very briefly about the development aid work we did in 2009. This was research that we conducted across 53 kebeles in three different states of Ethiopia. Essentially we found that opposition supporters were routinely barred from access to government services, including agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers, access to microcredit loans, and job opportunities. To give you one example, our researchers interviewed an elderly man who, when he went to register for humanitarian assistance, was told that he had to provide the receipts for his ruling party, the EPRDF Party fees, in order to actually receive food in the distribution.
We also found that capacity-building programs were used to indoctrinate school children in party ideology, to intimidate teachers, and to purge the civil service of dissenters. Many of the officials implementing or tolerating these policies are being paid through the basic services program, their multi-donor funded program that provides funding to regional governments.
In our conversation with donors since that report was released, unfortunately we have not yet received any real assurances that our concerns have been addressed. We raised a number of very specific points about the monitoring mechanisms in place and the need for field investigation by donors to investigate these allegations. To date, there have not actually been any such field investigations. That is one of our core recommendations, which we would urge all donors, including CIDA, to act upon as soon as possible.
We published a report in January, looking at large-scale resettlement programs in Gambella. This is part of a broader national scheme also taking place in Benishangul and other areas where whole communities are being resettled, purportedly for part of a development program where they would receive better services. Our research finds that people are being forced to move without compensation, without consultation. This underlines some of the concerns we have about continuing large-scale abuses, where donors in Addis, involved either directly or indirectly in some of these programs, are not investigating and really highlighting concerns with these programs in the way that we feel would be appropriate.
Thank you very much. I'm happy to answer any questions you have.
There are several issues here. One is that when we say that aid is continuing to increase but that we're not seeing any resulting influence. Even since 2008, the aid figures now are up to $4 billion or more per year going into Ethiopia. Yet on the other hand, you see the human rights situation getting steadily worse. These very clear benchmarks in terms of the treatment of civil society, the media, the political opposition, the impunity of officials, all of these points that I mentioned, indicate that the increasing aid is not translating into any improvement in the human rights situation.
When donors say that by maintaining or increasing aid they will have more leverage, it begs the question: What message are donors actually giving about the human rights situation and what kinds of strategies are they pursuing? Clearly quiet diplomacy, which to my understanding has been the strategy used by donors so far, is not resulting in any positive change. The situation is actually getting worse.
Now, Human Rights Watch is not calling on donors to cut off all aid to Ethiopia. We recognize that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, that there are huge needs. However we don't think it's an either/or situation. We do think that if donors were to unite behind strong messaging and a very united and strong strategy towards the Ethiopian government, we could see more progress than we've seen so far.
For example, we've felt for some time that suspending aid to the democratic institutions program would be an important message to the Ethiopian government that these efforts to improve governance are not going anywhere. With that program we're only bolstering the government, ruling party's capacity, and not actually seeing improvements for the average Ethiopian. So on that score, for example, with the democratic institutions program, we think that would send a very strong message, which donors have not done.
I think the other issue is that quiet diplomacy is clearly not working. We would like to see much stronger statements from donors, ideally in a united way, to draw a line about some of the human rights abuses and trends we've been seeing. So far I think the message has been—and Addis Ababa well understands this—that donors are not actually going to act in a way that has consequences. There are not going to be consequences for the increasing repression, and there need to be some consequences.
Yes, as you say, it's a very grim picture. It's a very difficult situation. I don't want to minimize the challenges there are in dealing with Ethiopia. I recognize it's a very difficult context.
I think that too many red lines have been crossed already. I think that when the charities and societies law, the CSO law, and the anti-terrorism law were in the process of debate and coming up for passage, I fear that donors lost an opportunity then to really stand together and say, “This is a red line that is going to have significant implications for our aid programs.”
Now I think we saw calls or recommendations in Geneva at the UN, at the universal periodic review, from a variety of donors, to amend the law. Since then there hasn't really been any kind of statement, as far as I've seen, from donors, bilaterally or together. I think it's not too late for donors to exert their leverage and say, okay, when these programs end, we will have to reassess whether we are going to commit to new aid programming if certain conditions are not met.
Improving the environment for civil society and the media should be an absolute priority condition in any discussion, and it should be a core point of every discussion that donors are government representatives are having with the prime minister and other members of the Ethiopian government. And I fear it's not.
Well, in a way, I think 2005 was Ethiopia's voted Arab Spring, as that was when you really had, for the first time in its history, a really popular movement around the elections. I think most Ethiopians learned a very harsh lesson from those events and from the repression that has taken place over the last seven years.
But I do think that the Arab Spring also is a lesson that repressive governments can only repress for so long. Eventually there will be some kind of movement, whether it's armed or peaceful.
As I said, Ethiopia is a country of more than 80 million people. It's incredibly diverse. There are, as you know, very serious fault lines within the country on religious and ethnic grounds. The worst-case scenario would be some kind of implosion. Again, I think it's in the interests of Ethiopia's friends, donors, and diplomatic partners to apply the pressure and the leverage they have to ensure that scenario doesn't happen.
Again, I think it's a concern that the strategic thinking is sometimes very short term, such as the thinking that Ethiopia is considered to be more stable when you look at Somalia, when you look at Eritrea, and when you look at Kenya in 2007. It's seen as, okay, we can hold off on dealing with the problems there, because we have other more urgent emergencies and fires to put out.
But this is very short-term thinking. Ethiopia is too important to ignore—or not to ignore, but to shelve. It's too important, really, for the region, as well as of course domestically. That's I think even another reason why this very grim and worsening human rights situation must be addressed in a serious way.
Yes, we've had a number of discussions recently with the World Bank, because our research, in Gambella in particular, on the forced resettlement of communities is linked to the provision of basic services program. Officials from that program are implementing this policy of resettlement, and the World Bank, of course, has quite strong guidelines on involuntary resettlement and human rights abuses affecting indigenous communities and so on.
As far as we know, the World Bank and several other donors were involved in site visits to Gambella and to Benishangul, where similar villagization processes have been taking place. We have not seen the reports of those assessments. Those have not been made public or shared with us.
We do have concerns about some of the methodology of those assessments. If I may, I'll just take one second to give you a little anecdote. Our researcher who conducted the research in Gambella interviewed over a hundred people over four weeks across 14 different villages, seeing villages on site and going in and having confidential one-on-one interviews, in secure conditions, with victims and witnesses of these abuses.
When he went one day with a regional official to one village and spoke to a man about whether the resettlement was voluntary, the man said, “Yes, everything's fine, no problem”. When he went back two days later with a community activist, whom the man knew and trusted, he got a totally different story about the fact that they were being forced to move, that there was violence, and that threats and detentions were being used by local officials.
I mention this because if you have diplomatic or donor representatives from Addis turning up with government officials in these communities, you're not going to get the real story, which again points to my concerns about how these programs are being monitored and what more donors should be doing to really make sure they're getting the full story.