Review needed of the way Irish aid is channelled through Ethiopian regime
The Government here continues to channel millions of euro in aid through Ethiopian government structures despite the administration's poor record on human rights, writes John O'Shea.
As Ethiopia marks the first anniversary of the massacre of 46 innocent protesters by government forces on the streets of Addis Ababa, one might find it hard to understand why the Irish Government continues its policy of channelling more taxpayers' money through structures of the Meles Zenawi regime than any other African country.
Last November saw the second wave of post-election protests marked by excessive brutality, following June protests in which 36 demonstrators were killed in broad daylight. Major donors - which include the World Bank, the European Union and the UK - withheld direct budgetary support worth about $375 million (€292 million) from Ethiopia following the government's crackdown on opposition supporters. With the exception of a diplomatic wrist slap for the Ethiopian charge d'affaires, a proportional response from the Irish Government was notable in its absence.
This year alone, the Government has channelled close to €40 million through Ethiopian government structures, despite the administration's plummeting record on human rights. Although Minister of State for development and human rights Conor Lenihan is adamant that no Irish aid monies go directly to the Ethiopian government, the reality is that Irish aid is allocated to sector ministries and local government.
Last February, the Minister said he intended to keep the Republic's aid programme for Ethiopia under constant review. "Our action will depend on Ethiopia's performance and on whether the situation in that country improves or deteriorates," he said. "A key question relevant to our development co-operation relationship with Ethiopia is whether recent events represent a temporary blip on an otherwise positive trend, or the beginning of a downward spiral. The answer to this question is not clear at this point."
In the wake of a damning report leaked this month which showed that 193 people were killed by Ethiopian police during post-election violence - triple the official toll - the Government must accept that the current Ethiopian regime is repressing its people and the events Mr Lenihan alludes to amount to more than just a "temporary blip".
At the start of the year, the Minister indicated that the Republic's future aid policy would be guided by the outcome of the report of an independent investigation commission, establishment by the Ethiopian parliament, to examine the post-election violence of June and November, and to determine whether excessive force was used by the police and the army.
This report, which described the post-election violence as "a massacre", was leaked to the media in recent days. "These demonstrators were unarmed yet the majority died from shots to the head . . . there is no doubt that excessive force was used," Wolde-Michael Meshesha, an Ethiopian judge and the vice-chairman of the official inquiry, states in the report.
Rather than embracing the report and using it as a chance to demonstrate its commitment to democratic principles, the Ethiopian government is trying to suppress the findings. The draft report was to be presented to parliament last July, but two days earlier Mr Meles demanded that the inquiry team reverse its findings. When the team refused, the report was suppressed. Judge Wolde-Michael Meshesha has since fled Ethiopia and is claiming asylum in Europe after receiving death threats.
Mr Lenihan has said human rights in recipient countries are linked to the Republic giving aid, and this approach informs our aid programme to Ethiopia. "The link between the donation of aid and performance in terms of democracy, human rights and respect for the law and the opposition should be much clearer than it has been heretofore," he said at the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Foreign Affairs, when the Republic's aid programme to Ethiopia was under discussion.
At the time of these comments, the EU had yet to issue its recommendations or conclusions on the election of May 2005. Three months later, the EU deemed Ethiopia's parliamentary elections to have fallen short of international standards because of irregularities and post-electoral violence, confirming the concerns of the demonstrators that were massacred. The report identified a range of electoral offences, including harassment of opposition politicians, lack of transparency in the exercise, and massive delays and irregularities in vote counting in several polling stations across the country.
Now, more than a year after the post-election demonstrations, almost the entire opposition leadership remain on trial, on charges ranging from treason to genocide and conspiracy after calling for nationwide protests against the results of the elections.
Amnesty International has called the defendants "prisoners of conscience who have not used or advocated violence".
Another leading Ethiopian judge came forward last week criticising the regime and seeking asylum in the UK as a result of government intimidation. Teshale Aberra, Ethiopia's supreme court president, has likened the Meles administration to that of Mengistu Haile Mariam, the Marxist dictator, and he has accused the Ethiopian government of being responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of students over the past 15 years. "They detain people even after the decision is rendered that they should be released. They persecute people and, in some areas, they kill people. There is massive killing all over. There is a systematic massacre," he said.
In light of recent events, what action has the Irish Government taken, given the espoused link between the donation of Irish aid and performance in recipient countries in terms of democracy, human rights and respect for the law, which allegedly informs our approach to aid to Ethiopia?
Mr Lenihan has said that he is prepared to do "unpalatable things" in Ethiopia should circumstances worsen, or if the Ethiopian government ignores the concerns donors might express. "I am prepared to be robust because the public expects the taxpayers' money to be spent well . . . the public does not expect the Government to fund autocrats, dictators or those who abuse human rights. If the worst comes to the worst, we will end our involvement with countries where we see the trajectory toward democratic norms going into reverse."
Minister, in the run up to an election, the onus is on you to make good your promise and ensure that rhetoric translates into coherent action where aid to Ethiopia is concerned. The lives of millions of vulnerable Ethiopians and the continued generosity of the Irish taxpayer depend on it.

John O'Shea is chief executive of Goal, which has been operational in Ethiopia since the famine of 1984

posted by Ethiounited Moderator at8:46 PM


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