The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations, Human Rights Watch said in its report.
The report documented how government security forces are forcing communities to relocate from their traditional lands through violence and intimidation, threatening their entire way of life with no compensation or choice of alternative livelihoods.
Government officials have carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence against residents of the Lower Omo valley who questioned or resisted the development plans.
The Lower Omo valley, one of the most remote and culturally diverse areas on the planet, is home to around 200,000 people from eight unique agro-pastoral communities who have lived there for as long as anyone can remember. Their way of life and their identity is linked to the land and access to the Omo River.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 35 residents in June 2011, along with 10 donor officials and at least 30 other witnesses since that time. At the time of Human Rights Watch’s visit, military units regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress dissent related to the sugar plantation development. Soldiers regularly stole or killed cattle.
“What am I going to eat?” a man of the Mursi ethnic group told Human Rights Watch. “They said to take all my cattle and to sell them and to only tie one up at my house. What can I do with only one? I am a Mursi. If hunger comes I shoot a cow’s neck and drink blood. If we sell them all for money how will we eat?”
The rights of indigenous peoples are addressed by Ethiopia’s own laws and constitution, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and regional human rights treaties and mechanisms such as the African human rights charter as interpreted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights. Under these laws and agreements, indigenous peoples have property rights over the land they have historically occupied that must be recognized by the state, and they can only be displaced with their free, prior, and informed consent. Even when such consent is given, they must also be fully compensated for any loss of land, property, or livelihood.
In fact, Ethiopia has not recognized any rights over the land of the indigenous communities of the area, including tenure security, Human Rights Watch found. Neither has it taken steps to adequately consult with, let alone seek the consent of, the indigenous peoples of the Omo valley, in particular taking into account the scant formal education of most of the population.
“There will be big problems in the areas if all the cattle are given to the government. What will these people eat, now the drought is really badly affecting the Horn of Africa? Now the dam has been built, no water in the river, land has been taken away, the cattle given to the government, what will happen to the poor people in time of the famine? Those people who want to wipe out the pastoralists eat three times a day. What will happen if hunger comes?”
Source: Human Rights Watch