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Donor balancing act on human rights in the Lower Omo Valley

The Development Assistance Group (DAG), a body of 27 development agencies working in Ethiopia, has written to the Ethiopian Government about assessment visits it has made over the past two years to resettlement sites in the west, south and east of the country, including the Lower Omo Valley. The letter manages a delicate balancing act.


On the one hand, it lists six basic rules of best practice in development-forced displacement and resettlement which DAG officials  must know have not been followed in the past and are unlikely to be in the foreseeable future. On the other hand, the overall tone of the letter is supportive of the government's resettlement programme or, as it is now called, 'Commune Development Programme' .The signatories (Mr Denis Weller, USAID Ethiopia Mission Director and Mr Guang Z. Chen, World Bank Ethiopia Country Director) admit that they have heard reports of human rights abuses, but deny that the reported abuses have been either ‘systematic’ or ‘widespread’.

In the Lower Omo, thousands of agro-pastoralists are being forcibly evicted from their most valuable agricultural land to make way for government-run sugar plantations. No compensation, benefit sharing or livelihood reconstruction schemes have been announced and no feasibility studies or impact assessments have been released for public discussion. DAG officials, who have visited the Lower Omo four times since January 2012, presumably know this.

They must also know that by flouting the lessons learned from over fifty years of research on development-forced displacement and resettlement, the Ethiopian Government is needlessly putting at risk the economic well-being and physical and mental health of the affected population. It is difficult not to see this as a ‘systematic’ and ‘widespread’ abuse of human rights in the name of development and, in the words of Michael Cernea, formerly Senior Advisor for Social Policy at the Word Bank,  a ‘disgracing stain on development itself’ (Cernea, 2008, p. 1).

Posted by David Turton, 25 June 2014

More information

The DAG letter

The Ethiopian Government’s reply


Cernea, Michael, (2008)  ‘Reforming the foundations of involuntary resettlement: Introduction’ in Michael M. Cernea and Hari Mohan Mathur (eds.), Can compensation prevent impoverishment? Reforming resettlement through investment and benefit-sharing, Oxford University Press, Oxford.

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