by Rhodri C. Williams
Since early last year, Human Rights Watch has kept a weather eye on Ethiopia, where land concessions in the Gambella region and agricultural development plans in the Omo valley are giving rise to allegations of violent mass-displacement of local villagers and pastoralists. HRW also reported on the role of international development assistance actors in actively or passively facilitating such patterns of displacement.
The violent and systematic nature of the displacement alleged to have taken place in Ethiopia – and the government’s invocation of development priorities as a justification for them – place the country firmly within a broader global trend. Just as the 2004 tsunami forced humanitarian advocates for the global population of internally displaced persons (IDPs) to turn their attention from conflict to natural disasters, I have argued that the effects of new trends involving large scale investment in land – the global land rush – should prompt new humanitarian and human rights scrutiny of development-induced displacement.
In Ethiopia, such scrutiny has been quick to follow HRW’s reports. In September 2012, the NGO Inclusive Development International (IDI) alleged a link between World Bank projects in Ethiopia and the Gambella ‘villageization’ program and assisted affected indigenous persons in submitting a complaint to the Bank’s Inspection Panel. Now, as reported by Helen Epstein in the NYR Blog, the Panel has forced the Bank to decide whether to act on a finding that a full investigation is warranted:
In February, the Inspection Panel issued its findings, confirming that there was sufficient evidence to be concerned about abuses in the villagization campaign and about the overlap between it and the Bank’s Protection of Basic Services program. Now the Executive Board of the World Bank must decide whether to follow these recommendations and conduct a full investigation, or continue to do nothing. The Board is scheduled to make a decision about the Inspection Panel’s report at a meeting on March 19.
In the event, the meeting has been postponed (see the updated HRW PR, here), apparently due to Ethiopian demands to be permitted to negotiate with the Board over the scope of the investigation and the terms of the Panel’s visit. In light of its authoritarian bent as well as its undeniably impressive development track record, the Ethiopian government is likely to give rise to no less of a headache for the Bank than Cambodia, its other recent counterpart in Inspection Panel proceedings over development-induced displacement.
With the Board’s decision pending, I am very happy to announce that repeat TN-guest bloggers David Pred and Natalie Bugalski of IDI will provide a post this week providing more details on the background of the Gambella villageization case and arguing for a decision to proceed with a full investigation by the World Bank.