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Ethiopian man wins right to take legal case forward

Lawyers for an Ethiopian man have said he is delighted after the High Court agreed his legal action against the UK government could go to a full hearing

Ethiopian donkey wagon

15 July 2014

Law firm Leigh Day on behalf of a man, known only as Mr O, launched legal proceedings against the Secretary of State for International Development, Justine Greening, earlier this year claiming that the Department International Development (DFID) has unlawfully failed to properly assess whether UK aid money has been involved in Ethiopia’s Villagisation programme.

This programme has been widely criticised as having driven people from their homes and led to severe human rights abuses.

UK overseas aid assistance is provided under the 2002 International Development Act and governed by policies developed in a Government policy paper entitled "Partnerships for Poverty Reduction: Rethinking Conditionality.”

In his judgment Mr Justice Warby said the policies "acknowledge the need for governments which are partners in the grant and receipt of aid to respect and uphold human rights, and the need for the UK Government as a donor to reconsider aid decisions if recipient countries are found to be in significant violation of human rights".

He ruled that Mr O had an arguable case against the Government on the basis that the Secretary of State "has failed to have in place any sufficient process to assess Ethiopia's compliance with the express conditions for receiving UK aid - or to follow such process".

Mr O claims he suffered severe abuse and had to flee his home, in the Gambella region of Ethiopia , as a result of the Villagisation Programme.

Mr O, who has a wife and six children, was a subsistence farmer and completely dependent on his land. He was also studying part-time.

In November 2011, soldiers from the Ethiopian National Defence Force (ENDF) arrived at his village.

They told the inhabitants to leave and move to a different location. The harvest was ripe but the villagers were not given any time to bring it in.

Mr O, along with his family and the other villagers, was taken to a new location and told to settle there. They were not given new farms or any farmland and there was no water or sanitation in the new village. The few menial jobs to be had did not provide enough income for survival.

There was no school and no healthcare facility in the area, both of which had existed in his previous home area. In order to survive, Mr O returned to his old village and attempted to continue farming there. Shortly after his return, he was captured by ENDF soldiers, who took him to a military camp.

There he claims he was gagged and then severely beaten for several hours. The soldiers used their rifles and their boots to beat him, causing significant injuries.

The Ethiopian Government’s Villagisation Programme seeks to bring about the resettlement of some 1.5 million people in four of Ethiopia’s regions, namely Gambella, Afar, Benishangul-Gumuz and Somali.

Ethiopia currently receives more than £300 million of aid from the UK government. It is one of the largest recipients of UK development aid and the UK is one of its main donors.

A proportion of this aid contributes to the Promotion of Basic Services (PBS) Programme.

Lawyers for Mr O claim that by contributing to this programme, which supports five sectors of services: health, agricultural support, roads, water and education, means it also contributes to the Villagisation Programme, by for example paying the salaries of district officials overseeing and implementing the Villagisation programme.

The NGO Human Rights Watch conducted an in-depth investigation into the practices used to implement Villagisation. This found extensive evidence of forced relocation to inadequate new settlements and significant human rights violations committed in the process.

Rosa Curling from law firm Leigh Day who is representing Mr O said:

“Our client is delighted the court has granted him permission today to proceed with his claim. He, and his family, have suffered terribly from the Villagisation programme in Gambella. The Government must put in place a proper process by which it can investigate whether allegations of human rights abuses, associated with UK funding, are true. The UK must ensure that our aid money is not misused for harmful purposes."

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