Tag Archives: Ethiopia

Will the World Bank safeguard human rights in its new high-risk strategy?

by David Pred and Natalie Bugalski

There are big changes happening at the World Bank today, which will have far reaching consequences for millions of the world’s poor.

For the first time in over a decade, the Bank is undergoing a major review of its Safeguard Policies, which serve to ensure that Bank projects do no harm to people and the environment.  While civil society groups are pushing to strengthen the policies and upwardly harmonize them with international human rights and environmental standards, the view that seems to prevail within the Bank’s senior management is that the World Bank needs to become a more attractive lender, with fewer strings attached to its loans, in order to “stay relevant” in the face of increasing competition from Brazil and China.

The World Bank, under President Jim Yong Kim, is trying to redefine itself for the 21st century. Mr. Kim has admirably reoriented the Bank’s strategy around its original poverty reduction mandate, setting two ambitious goals for the institution: the elimination of extreme poverty by 2030 and promotion of ‘shared prosperity’ to boost the incomes of the poorest 40 percent of the population.

Yet Mr. Kim often speaks about the need for the Bank to be less risk averse and support more “transformational large-scale projects” in order to achieve these ambitious goals.  Many are starting to worry that this discourse is code for gutting the Bank’s social and environmental requirements, which are seen by some as inhibiting risk taking, while returning the Bank to the business of financing mega-projects.  The irony is that the world’s poorest and most vulnerable communities – the very people the Bank has pledged to work for – are the ones who will bear the greatest risks if these concerns are realized.

One of the primary ways in which these risks materialize is in the form of development-induced forced displacement. As described by sociologist Michael Cernea, forced displacement remains a “major pathology” in Bank-sponsored development around the world.  According the Bank’s Independent Evaluation Group, more than one million people are affected by forced displacement and involuntary resettlement from active Bank projects at any given point in time. Displacement is often accompanied by threats of and use of violence and results in loss of livelihoods and education, food insecurity, and psychological trauma.

Although the Bank has a resettlement policy aimed at avoiding these harms, local communities displaced in the name of “development” continue to face impoverishment and violations of their human rights due to Bank-financed projects. Revisions of the policy that harmonize it with international human rights standards, coupled with incentives for improved implementation could end put an end to this injustice.

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The World Bank adopts sound principles on land, but HRW points out gaps in practice

by Rhodri C. Williams

Two very interesting reports linked land, development and the World Bank’s role last week. Released on precisely the same day, the reports reflected a good deal of consensus on what should be done and rather less agreement regarding what is actually being done.

First, on 22 June, Human Rights Watch released a report criticizing the World Bank for failing to take human rights issues sufficiently into account in its development calculus – with one of the primary examples being the confiscation of land and villageization of its occupants in the Gambella region of Ethiopia. Then, almost as if in response, the Bank released a new study the same day asserting that pro-poor land reform in Africa could provide tremendous benefits at minimal costs by securing the rights of local communities and protecting them against encroachment by large investment projects.

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The World Bank must stop underwriting human rights abuses in Ethiopia

by David Pred and Natalie Bugalski

A leaked World Bank report calls for an investigation into allegations that a multi-billion dollar aid program in Ethiopia is underwriting the forced relocation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic minorities to free up fertile land to lease to investors. A meeting of the Bank’s board of directors to discuss the Panel’s preliminary findings was postponed on Tuesday due to objections from the Ethiopian government. Rights groups are watching closely to see how the new Bank president, Jim Yong Kim, will deal with sensitive questions about World Bank accountability and human rights in one of its most important client states.

Anuak indigenous refugees from Gambella region who fled human rights abuses in Ethiopia submitted a complaint to the Bank’s Inspection Panel in September claiming that they had been severely harmed by the flagship international aid program for the provision of basic services in Ethiopia, which is administered and partially financed by the World Bank.

Landlocked in the Horn of Africa and beset by periodic droughts and famine, Ethiopia remains one of the poorest countries in the world.  International relief and food assistance is still needed to feed between 10 and 20 percent of its roughly 85 million people.[1] Many Ethiopians, particularly rural dwellers, lack access to basic services, including water, sanitation and basic health facilities.

Since the ousting of the Soviet-backed “Derg” military regime in 1991, the Government of Ethiopia, led by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has implemented a vast program of economic recovery and reform meant to address the dire poverty and enormous social and economic needs of the population.

The government and its development partners claim impressive strides towards meeting the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) and significant progress in key human development indicators over the past two decades, including a quadrupling in primary school enrollments, halving of child mortality, and a doubling of the number of people with access to clean water.[2]

Yet, in parallel to its economic reform agenda the government has become increasingly oppressive and intolerant of criticism and dissent.  As Human Rights Watch has reported, the government has “severely restricted the rights of expression and association, arbitrarily detained political opponents, intimidated journalists, shuttered media outlets, and made independent human rights and election monitoring practically impossible.”[3]

These human rights abuses are rarely openly acknowledged by the bilateral and multilateral donors to Ethiopia.  Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of foreign aid, receiving approximately US$3 billion in funds annually from external donors, including the World Bank, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the European Commission, Germany and the Netherlands.[4]

Largely turning a blind eye to the increasingly repressive political climate, donors justify their support by both the enormity of the need and the reported inroads achieved in reducing poverty since the EPRDF came to power.[5] Ethiopia’s late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi forged close alliances with Western nations based on a common interest in combatting Islamic extremism and establishing greater stability in the volatile region.[6]

Throughout the 1990s and the early 2000s, the World Bank and other donors supported the Ethiopian Government by providing direct budget support through a series of Structural Adjustment Credits and Poverty Reduction Support Operations, in addition to several specific purpose projects. In 2004/05 direct budget support from all donors constituted approximately one third of total aid to Ethiopia,[7] placing significant aid amounts directly in government hands with minimal control and oversight, despite evidence of egregious human rights abuses being perpetrated by the government and military.[8]

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Upcoming guest posting on the World Bank and ‘villageization’ in Ethiopia

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:

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Week in links – Week 27/2012 – grab some sugar (or water) with your land?

Incredibly, its been about 7 months since my last WIL, but I thought I might dust the institution off now that the summer is upon me. As usual, it would be more accurate to describe this as a month in links, but here goes.

First, a moment to note the passing last month of Elinor Ostrom, a pioneering economist who decided that the commons might not actually be so tragic after all. At the top of my list of readings for whenever I eventually become an actual rather than frustrated academic. One of those scholars where even if one has yet to read her, one suspects she has colored analysis of these issues so thoroughly that her works will seem familiar.

Next, on the familiar theme of the global land rush/grab, a few items of interest recently. First, Grain just came out with a new report arguing that much of the land investment going on in Africa is actually targeting the scarce water resources necessary for large-scale agriculture – and in a manner heedlessly destructive of local, sustainable water management systems. Second, the Journal of Peasant Studies has been cranking out an amazing amount of analysis of the land grab phenomenon in all three issues of this year’s volume 39 (many articles available for free download).

And finally, Human Rights Watch released a grim report last month detailing the Ethiopian government’s self-inflicted land grab in the southern Omo valley, where a dam and state-run sugar plantations are expected to run 300,000 indigenous persons off their land, while ruining the livelihoods of a further 200,000 to the south in Kenya’s Lake Turkana region:

These developments – which threaten the economic, social, and cultural rights of the Omo valley’s indigenous inhabitants – are being carried out in contravention of domestic and international human rights standards, which call for the recognition of property rights, with meaningful consultation, consent, and compensation for loss of land, livelihoods, and food security, and which state that displacement, especially of indigenous peoples from their historic homelands, must be treated as an absolute last resort.

If that doesn’t drive home the message that sugar is the new palm oil, this video from Cambodia may. David Pred, who is pushing for the EU to take a more rigorous approach to human rights abuses related to Cambodian land concessions will hopefully guest post on the blood sugar phenomenon shortly.

Not that palm oil has reformed, mind you. The Economist provided a timely reminder of the inverse relationship between the money to be had from this lucrative form of monoculture and the chances of Indonesian-controlled West Papua ever being able to achieve ‘external’ self-determination in the manner East Timor did. Meanwhile, the ICTJ rather bravely attempts to promote a transitional justice approach to a situation in West Papua where the only transition seems to be toward more oppressive and militarized control and less chances of even meaningful internal self-determination (e.g. autonomy).

Update: See David Pred, Is the European Commission sweet on land grabbing? How trade benefits to sugar companies displace Cambodian farmers (23 July 2012)

Someday, none of this will be yours: the predatory state eyes ‘public’ land

by Rhodri C. Williams

In trying to keep track of even a fraction of the local and regional flare-ups over land rights these days, I keep thinking back to times when I was working in Bosnia and a  particularly infected property dispute would come up in the course of the restitution process. My colleague Charles P (one of the unsung geniuses behind the famous ‘PLIP‘) would shake his head wearily and mutter the climactic phrases of a classic quote from Gone with the Wind:

Why, land is the only thing in the world worth working for. Worth fighting for, worth dying for. Because it’s the only thing that lasts.

It has long been understood that land is fundamental to the material needs and identity of just about anyone not yet caught up in the great wave of urbanization that characterizes our time (as well as many of those who have). The Endorois decision by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights also represents the latest in a long line of affirmations that recognition of the rights of those with longstanding claims to land through use and attribution is a precondition for them to participate in the life of the state on equitable terms.

It has also long been axiomatic that states retain the final word on land use, and that even where formal nationalization never took place, post-colonial states often inherited – and maintained – laws that held all land not formally owned in a state of inchoate expropriation. Shaun Williams writes on the ongoing challenges presented by ‘state land’ administration in post-colonial urban settings in a recent TN guest-posting, while Liz Alden Wily describes the rural consequences of the ‘public land’ problem in a pithy contribution to ODI’s 2009 research on land and conflict issues.

After the Cold War, the notion that individual and community rights to land might come to be seen as on a par with the state claims to eminent domain were buoyed on the rising tides of human rights and human security. Even if few dared to go as far as to posit a general right to land, there was a sense that policy was pointing in a protective direction. The rise of the post-conflict restitution discourse as symbolized by the Pinheiro Principles has been one example. Another has been the tendency for development standards and instruments to give property rights greater prominence. For instance, The Atlantic recently inferred a paradigm shift in international views on property rights from the post-Cold War proliferation of bilateral investment treaties (BITs) incorporating protections of private property rights:

While the specifics often differ, many BIT provisions protecting foreign investments have become near universal. Both the Turkey-Turkmenistan and U.S.-El Salvador agreements protect foreign investments from direct or indirect expropriation, nationalization, or similar measures “except for a public purpose, in a non-discriminatory manner, upon payment of prompt, adequate and effective compensation, and in accordance with due process of law.” Some countries’ more recent BITs also contain provisions designed to protect environment, labor, public health, and other public policy concerns in addition to the property rights of foreign investors.

However, the Atlantic’s declaration of a post-Cold War “worldwide revolution in how we think about international law and private property” seems premature, precisely because the line between “private” and “public” property remains so heavily contested. Meanwhile, a host of new factors have pushed many states from simply maintaining the status quo (e.g. allowing their populations to continue using ‘state land’ largely unmolested but without the prospect of genuine tenure security) to active predation. The combination of a general economic downturn, rising food and commodity prices, and new forms of state-backed investment have led many states to put their hand in the cookie jar, allocating nationalized and public land to domestic and international investors at a handsome (and typically highly untransparent) profit.

However, the basic dependence and attachment of families and communities to land they consider their own remains, leading to what must be an unprecedented proliferation of sharp and often violent confrontations between states (particularly less representative ones where governments may stand for ethnic or economic elites) and their own citizens over territory. The problem is not limited to states that have nationalized their land or ‘inherited’ public land from prior colonial regimes. However, it seems particularly acute in such settings precisely because the ordinary devices for protecting property from state intrusion assume the prior grant or recognition of rights in such property. Where such rights were ostensibly extinguished by nationalizations or colonial declarations of public land, legality is shifted to the side of the state and communities with every possible equitable right to their land are implausibly – but legally – reframed as squatters.

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Overlapping land uses and indigenous groups – two’s a crowd?

by Rhodri C. Williams

A bit more evidence came this week that even as regional human rights bodies build up indigenous land rights in theory, global warming, population pressure and competing land uses are breaking them down in practice. In a law and society vein, the current situation raises the concern that decisions like that in the recent Endorois case (by the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights) risk serving only to raise expectations on the part of threatened indigenous groups in all corners of the world that cannot possibly be met given the resources, attitudes and capacity in many of the states involved.

The most alarming reports are currently coming out of a cluster of Sahel states in Africa where indigenous pastoralist groups are facing severe recurring drought conditions. The FAO reported recently that 9.8 million people are  vulnerable to severe hunger in Niger and Chad, with “thousands more under threat in the north of Burkina Faso and northeast Mali.” Further east, WFP notes that 23 million people remain subject to food insecurity in Ethiopia, and the Famine Early Warning System Network has warned that half the rural population of Djibouti will require humanitarian aid through the remainder of this year.

The news for pastoralists in Africa is not entirely bleak, however. Most of the above reports highlight new or existing aid programs meant to provide for both short-term food distribution and longer-term resumption of food security through measures such as seed improvement for animal feed, cash for work programs to improve pastureland, and stocking or de-stocking, as need be. In some countries, such as Mali, there is evidence of both improved government response and local resilience. Other hopeful signs come in the way of innovations such as the development of rain calendars meant to both serve the narrow purpose of helping communities understand changing precipitation patterns and the broader purpose of supporting more informed local risk management strategies.

However, as if it was not enough that Sahel pastoralists must contend with recurrent drought and food insecurity, other factors such as population pressure and competing land uses appear to compound these threats in many regions. In its above-cited press release, the FAO notes that food security for both farmers and herders in Chad is impacted by the “influx of refugees from Sudan’s Darfur region and the Central African Republic, estimated at over 300 000 people”.

At least in the case of Darfur, it is already well known that displacement, both internal and across the border to Chad, has been fueled by competition between agricultural villagers and pastoral nomads for land. In light of the fraught conditions for agrarian livelihoods throughout the Sahel, displacement from open land conflict in any one part of the region risks intensifying land competition elsewhere and creating a cascade effect. Well away from all the publicity around Darfur, for instance, IRIN reports that land disputes in Burkina Faso between pastoralists and farmers have been aggravated by development projects and “threaten to spill into neighbouring countries as herders seek grazing pastures”:

Communities – mostly in the south – with no formal land rights have been pushed out by hydro-agricultural irrigation projects and migrants from other parts of the country that have formed sedentary farming communities, [Livestock Ministry director] Guissou told IRIN. “Indigenous groups are often left to their own resources in this [development] process and there has been no systematic effort to involve them, which frustrates them and leads to conflicts.”

Pastoralists pushed off the land are forced to travel farther across borders to find suitable pastures, Guissou added. “What were yesterday’s pastures have become hydro-agriculture projects in the south, which are not taking into consideration pastoralists,” the Ministry of Livestock director told IRIN.

There are eight million cows and 19 million other smaller cattle nationwide. Following the droughts of the 1970s, the government designated 185 pastoral zones covering two million hectares – which is more than one million hectares short of what is needed now, Guissou told IRIN.

He added: “Our herding and farming methods are still traditional and take up a lot of land. Since the 1970s drought, and [ongoing] climate change, there has been an increase of humans and animals on limited space with limited resources.”

To minimize the risk of conflicts between farmers and herders, the Ministry of Livestock has outlined a land clearing plan that takes into account herders’ migration patterns and animals’ water needs, but only a fraction of the millions of dollars needed to finance the plan has been raised by the government, said Guissou.

Meanwhile, in the other hemisphere, the New York Times reports on a brewing conflict between the Pemón indigenous group in Venezuela, which practices a form of ‘prairie swidden’, periodically burning patches of savanna for hunting and agricultural purposes, and an increasingly assertive non-indigenous population that has followed roads and economic opportunities into their territory. The article describes a scientific debate over whether traditional burning practices reduce or increase the risk of larger fires spreading to nearby cloud forests crucial to Venezuela’s important hydro-electric energy sector. While arguments against burning raise shades of similar assertions that have severely impacted on indigenous groups in Southeast Asia (see the final section of a report on Cambodia I wrote for COHRE a few years back, for instance), the scientific debate appears at risk of being overtaken by facts on the ground:

The Pemón face a backlash over the fires beyond the realm of scientific debate. Nonindigenous Venezuelans here often call them “quemones,” a play on the Spanish word for someone who burns a lot. “The Pemón are pyromaniacs by nature, and this year we’ve seen some of the worst fires in memory,” said Raúl Arias, 54, who operates a helicopter service in the area.

Some Pemón chafe at such statements. “Outsiders come here and leave their excrement and trash on the tepuis [local rock formations], then complain to us about fires that spoil their view,” said Miguel Lezama, 46, a leader near Mount Roraima.

New motivations for some Pemón to light fires complicate matters further. Scholars have seen an increase in fires to protest the installation of electrical towers and the opening of the satellite-monitoring base. Other Pemón sometimes start fires to harass the government into meeting demands for services.

Few experts know how these fires will affect the Gran Sabana, aside from sowing dissent.

“The government is wrong if it thinks the Pemón are its docile sheep in the savannas,” said Demetrio Gómez, 36, a Pemón leader who took part in a violent protest near Santa Elena de Uairén this year to dislodge squatters from Pemón land. “We burned these lands long before anyone else arrived,” he said, “and we’ll keep burning them into eternity.”

The article notes that the increasingly violent confrontation over traditional savanna burning in Venezuela “is part of a broader debate over the sovereignty and proper management of indigenous lands” and that much of the area in question has not been recognized as belonging to the Pemón but is rather “cordoned off as either national park or military territory”.

In fact, the failure of the Venezuelan authorities to recognize the land rights of the Pemón flies directly in the face of rulings by the Inter-American Court of Human Rights that were, in turn, heavily relied upon by the African Commission of Human and People’s Rights in their recent ruling in favor of the Endorois pastoralists in Kenya. However, the truly disconcerting question human and indigenous rights advocates must ask themselves is whether these hopeful but infrequent episodes of jurisprudential progress fly in the face of current reality – and if so, what can be done.