Indigenous Peoples in Southwest Ethiopia have implicated the World Bank in grave human rights abuses that are being carried out as part of a resettlement programme headed by the Ethiopian Government.
The government is currently working to resettle approximately 1.5 million peoples across the country by 2013. “Villagization” is supposed to be a voluntary process that offers increased access to basic services and improved food security. However, according Anuak who reside in the Gambella region, nothing could be further from the truth.
The Anuak say they are being dispossessed of their fertile, ancestral lands and forced into new villages where there is little access to food or arable land. They also report a daunting list of abuses that are being carried out by the Ethiopian National Defense Forces (ENDF). These abuses include intimidation, beatings, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture in military custody, rape and extra-judicial killing.
In a letter to the World Bank Country Director for Ethiopia, one person detailed his experience,
“The relocation was not voluntary, I was not asked if I wanted to be relocated nor did I give my consent to being moved. My village was forced by the government to move to the new location against our will. I refused and was beaten and lost my two upper teeth. My brother was beaten to death by the soldiers for refusing to go to the new village. My second brother was detained and I don’t know where he was taken by the soldiers.”
“The shear scale of the forcible dislocation of people in Gambella by the villagization program and the gross human rights abuses that have accompanied it are indicative of crimes against humanity under international law,” said David Pred, a Managing Associate at Inclusive Development International (IDI).
IDI recently carried out an in depth policy and legal analysis of the situation. According to that analysis, The International Development Association (IDA), headquartered in Washington, D.C., has thus far contributed $1.4 billion USD in grants and loans to the Government of Ethiopia (GoE) through the World Bank-financed and administered Protection of Basic Services Project.
“Bank funds are helping to make possible the villagization process which is violently uprooting tens of thousands indigenous people from their ancestral lands,” said David Pred.
“The PBS project’s aims to expand access to and improve the quality of basic services including education, health, and water supply are indisputably laudable,” added IDI Legal Associate Natalie Bugalski. “However, forced relocation as a means to deliver basic services, and the use of international public development funds to carry it out, is totally unacceptable.”
“Most Anuaks consider this process to be the realization of the Dec 13/2003 mass killing that left more than 424 educated male civilian Anuaks; wounded more than a thousand and forced many more to seek asylum”, said a group of Anuak Community leaders, in a recent appeal to World Bank President Jim Yong Kim.
“Out of the estimated four thousand and five hundred (4,500) refugees and asylum seekers based in Kenya around 20% fled the country due to the current forced villagization programme with an average of 2 to 3 families arriving every day… The situation is getting worst every day given the fact that there is no media [revealing] the truth and the intimidating environment”.
Meanwhile, amidst the extrajudicial killings, the rapes and the hundreds of families who are leaving everything behind, the government of Ethiopia is awarding land left and right to domestic and foreign investors.
Perhaps that was the point all along.