30 March 2014
The Daily Mail
The farmer claims aid is funding a despotic one-party state in his countryAlleges regime is forcing thousands from their land using murder and rapePrime Minister David Cameron says donations are a mark of compassionIf farmer is successful, Ministers might have to review overseas donationsBy Ian Birrell
An Ethiopian farmer has been given legal aid in the UK to sue Britain – because he claims millions of pounds sent by the UK to his country is supporting a brutal regime that has ruined his life.
He says UK taxpayers’ money – £1.3 billion over the five years of the coalition Government – is funding a despotic one-party state in his country that is forcing thousands of villagers such as him from their land using murder, torture and rape.
The landmark case is highly embarrassing for the Government, which has poured vast amounts of extra cash into foreign aid despite belt-tightening austerity measures at home.
Prime Minister David Cameron claims the donations are a mark of Britain’s compassion.
But the farmer – whose case is set to cost tens of thousands of pounds – argues that huge sums handed to Ethiopia are breaching the Department for International Development’s (DFID) own human rights rules.
He accuses the Government of devastating the lives of some of the world’s poorest people rather than fulfilling promises to help them. The case comes amid growing global concern over Western aid propping up corrupt and repressive regimes.
If the farmer is successful, Ministers might have to review major donations to other nations accused of atrocities, such as Pakistan and Rwanda – and it could open up Britain to compensation claims from around the world.
Ethiopia, a key ally in the West’s war on terror, is the biggest recipient of British aid, despite repeated claims from human rights groups that the cash is used to crush opposition.
DFID was served papers last month by lawyers acting on behalf of ‘Mr O’, a 33-year-old forced to abandon his family and flee to a refugee camp in Kenya after being beaten and tortured for trying to protect his farm.
He is not seeking compensation but to challenge the Government’s approach to aid. His name is being withheld to protect his wife and six children who remain in Ethiopia.
‘My client’s life has been shattered by what has happened,’ said Rosa Curling, the lawyer handling the case. ‘It goes entirely against what our aid purports to stand for.’
Mr O’s family was caught in controversial ‘villagisation’ programmes. Under the schemes, four million people living in areas opposed to an autocratic government dominated by men from the north of the country are being forced from lucrative land into new villages.
Their land has been sold to foreign investors or given to Ethiopians with government connections.
People resisting the soldiers driving them from their farms and homes at gunpoint have been routinely beaten, raped, jailed, tortured or killed.
‘Why is the West, especially the UK, giving so much money to the Ethiopian government when it is committing atrocities on my people?’ asked Mr O when we met last year.
His London-based lawyers argue that DFID is meant to ensure recipients of British aid do not violate human rights, and they have failed to properly investigate the complaints.
Human Rights Watch has issued several scathing reports highlighting the impact of villagisation and showing how Ethiopia misuses aid for political purposes, such as diverting food and seeds to supporters.
Concern focuses on a massive scheme called Protection of Basic Services, which is designed to upgrade public services and is part-funded by DFID.