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Victory for Ethiopian man in battle over UK aid money

Victory for man known as Mr O, after claims that UK aid money was funding human rights abuses in Africa

Ethiopian village

5 March 2015

Lawyers for an Ethiopian man who took the UK Government to the High Court over their funding of a controversial scheme linked to human rights abuses, have said their client will be delighted after the Government was forced to confirm it was withdrawing funding as 'a result of ongoing concerns related to civil and political rights at the level of operational partnership in Ethiopia'.

Despite the Government denying that their decision was directly linked to the controversial programme of villagisation, Leigh Day, the law firm representing the man known as Mr O, said that today’s decision should now ensure that UK overseas development aid is never used again to fund programmes linked to human rights abuses.

Last week the Department for International Development (DfID) announced it was stopping all aid funding to Promotion of Basic Services (PBS) Programme, which has been linked to the Villagisation programme by the Ethiopian Government.

Villagisation 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.

According to reputable human rights organisations including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty, villagisation has involved the forced movement of populations and other human rights violations including killings, rape and mistreatment.

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 large proportion of this aid contributed to the PBS 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 resettlement was forced. The harvest was ripe but the villagers were not given any time to bring it in.

It is alleged that several men were beaten, women were raped and some people disappeared during the forced resettlement.

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 food or water available. 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.

Rosa Curling, a member of the Leigh Day Human Rights team representing Mr O said: “We are extremely pleased by the judgment handed down in our client's claim today. Mr O's life and that of this family have been devastated by the conduct of the Ethiopian Government and especially the villagisation programme in Gambella, Ethiopia.

“We very much welcome the government's decision to confirm it decided to withdraw funding to PBS because of concerns regarding civil and political rights rights in Ethiopia. “We hope that this victory will mean the Government ensures it takes all necessary steps to carefully monitor and assess how our overseas aid is being spent in the future and ensure it is not again used in programmes that finance human rights abuses.”

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