News / Africa

HRW: Ethiopians 'Forced Off Land'

A Karo tribesman of the remote lower Omo valley guards his goats on a bank of the Omo, Ethiopia, April 2002.
A Karo tribesman of the remote lower Omo valley guards his goats on a bank of the Omo, Ethiopia, April 2002.
Selah Hennessy
LONDON - A report published Monday by Human Rights Watch says the Ethiopian government is forcing tens of thousands of people from their land in order to set up sugar plantations.

According to Felix Horne, a consultant to the New York-based rights group who was in Ethiopia’s Lower Omo Valley researching the report last June, approximately 245,000 hectares of land will be cleared for planting sugar.

"Studies show that approximately 200,000 people live on that area, so we can expect 200,000 people to be impacted in the lower Omo Valley," he said. "Across the border, in Lake Turkana, another 300,000 people rely on the lands around Lake Turkana for their livelihoods."

Irrigating the plantations, he added, will impact the flow of water from the Omo River to Kenya’s Lake Turkana, a move that comes amid disruption caused by construction of a dam that is set to open in 2014 and will aid in irrigation.

"In Lower Omo, this is just part of an integrated development plan that also considers the massive Gibe III dam, which [includes] a lot of road infrastructure," said Horne. "There is also drilling for oil and gas in the region now, so a lot of changes are happening to indigenous people at once."

The changes are exacerbating tensions between the government and the region's traditional inhabitants, agro-pastoralists whose livelihood depends on the ability to wander with their cattle.

"They are being told that they will have to reduce their cattle numbers, that they will have to settle in villages that the government is planning for them, is building for them, and there is a lot of frustration in the region because of this," said Horne.

While the report says the plan's Ethiopian opponents have experienced intimidation, arrest, and violence, the government denies the charge, saying that communication lines are open and that no one is being forced from their residence.

Government spokesman Bereket Simon, who calls the report "biased" and "patronizing," says the rights group is trying to “micromanage” Ethiopia, in part by continually opposing development.

"It's true that we are conducting investment in sugar plantations that we need badly, and it is based on human considerations in consultation with respective indigenous people," said Simon, adding that planning officials have considered the population's needs.

"It's an ongoing project, which will benefit all Ethiopians, with particular attention to the indigenous peoples, the historical and cultural treasures being maintained as well," said. "Land has been allocated for them to do their houses. So everything is line with the plan and it is a democratic, humanist approach that is exercised."

In May, Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi said that four million hectares of land had been made available to agricultural companies.

You May Like

Afghanistan, Pakistan Leaders to Hold Icebreaking Talks in Paris

Two sides are expected to discuss ways to ease bilateral tensions and jointly work for resumption of stalled peace talks between Afghan government and Taliban officials

Corruption Busting Is Her Game

South African activist is building 'international online community of thousands of corruption fighters'

Former SAF Businessman Gives Books, Love of Reading to Students

Steve Tsakaris now involved in nonprofit Read to Rise, which distributes books in Soweto, encourages lower-grade primary school students to read

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Sabrina from: US
June 18, 2012 11:44 PM
The above commenter need to understand that it is because people like him, native Ethiopians, fail to stand with their brethren that Human Rights Watch is doing what it is doing. It is a commendable job. HRW may still be working with the regime too, we don't have information indicating otherwise. Please make sure you know what you are saying before starting to criticize. And most of all please desist from using that old tired excuse, "you are dictating, are patronizing,...its because you are rich ...etc"
It doesn't work anymore.
In Response

by: Gideon from: Washignton, DC
June 20, 2012 3:21 PM
I agree that basic human rights are essential pillars of society and its quest for development; however I have grown increasingly suspicious of the real intentions by HRW. There isn’t a single development activity that HRW hasn’t opposed to. We are not building nuclear weapons but anything Ethiopia does is being criticized as if we are building nuclear weapons. Does the world want to condemn us to poverty forever? We build roads they criticize us, we build dams they criticize us, we allow commercial farming they criticize us, we build railroads they criticize us. What do these people want for us? Do they want us to be condemned to poverty, famine and begging forever? I don’t understand.
In Response

by: Mekdes Hagos from: Boston
June 19, 2012 5:45 PM
This comment is for Sabrina, we are not naive Ethiopians. You are the one who is being naïve by interfering in our country affairs. And you have the audacity to tell others to stop expressing themselves. We know what is best for our country and the people of Ethiopia are with the government on this. We are sick and tired groups like HRW crying crocodile tears. Stay way from our country, we don’t need you. You can talk about this and that until the cows come home. You cannot deter us what we want to accomplish for our country.

by: Ethiopian from: US
June 18, 2012 4:01 PM
The fact that the International community is concerned with the affairs of the indigenous people of the Omo Valley is great. However, how the community chooses to address and possibly resolve the issue is a matter I disagree with. Publishing articles implicating the government will not solve the problem. I am for the protection of the indigenous people, but I feel this article will contribute nothing that is positive for the locals. It will only aggravate the matter. As hard as it is, you need to work with the government in mediating and finding a solution that is mutually beneficial there is always a mid point where everyone can meet and resolve problems. But being from the rich countries, it sounds like you are planning to dictate your wishes on a country.

By the Numbers

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continuesi
Ayesha Tanzeem
November 25, 2015 10:46 PM
One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Belgium-Germany Border Remains Porous, Even As Manhunt For Paris Attacker Continues

One of the suspected gunmen in the Nov. 13 Paris attacks, Salah Abdeslam, evaded law enforcement, made his way to Belgium, and is now believed to have fled to Germany. VOA correspondent Ayesha Tanzeem makes the journey across the border from Belgium into Germany to see how porous the borders really are.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video After Paris Attacks, France Steps Up Fight Against IS

The November 13 Paris attacks have drawn increased attention to Syria, where many of the suspected perpetrators are said to have received training. French President Francois Hollande is working to build a broad international coalition to defeat Islamic State in Syria and in Iraq. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video US, Cambodian Navies Pair Up in Gulf of Thailand

The U.S. Navy has deployed one of its newest and most advanced ships to Cambodia to conduct joint training drills in the Gulf of Thailand. Riding hull-to-hull with Cambodian ships, the seamen of the USS Fort Worth are executing joint-training drills that will help build relations in Southeast Asia. David Boyle reports for VOA from Preah Sihanouk province.

Video Americans Sharpen Focus on Terrorism

Washington will be quieter than usual this week due to the Thanksgiving holiday, even as Americans across the nation register heightened concerns over possible terrorist threats. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports new polling data from ABC News and the Washington Post newspaper show an electorate increasingly focused on security issues after the deadly Islamic State attacks in Paris.

Video World Leaders Head to Paris for Climate Deal

Heads of state from nearly 80 countries are heading to Paris (November 30-December 11) to craft a global climate change agreement. The new accord will replace the Kyoto Protocol on Climate Change that expired in 2012.

Video Uncertain Future for Syrian Refugee Resettlement in Illinois

For the trickle of Syrian refugees finding new homes in the Midwest city of Chicago, the call to end resettlement in many U.S. states is adding another dimension to their long journey fleeing war. Organizations working to help them integrate say the backlash since the Paris attacks is both harming and helping their efforts to provide refugees sanctuary. VOA's Kane Farabaugh reports.

Video Creating Physical Virtual Reality With Tiny Drones

As many computer gamers know, virtual reality is a three-dimensional picture, projected inside special googles. It can fool your brain into thinking the computer world is the real world. But If you try to touch it, it’s not there. Now Canadian researchers say it may be possible to create a physical virtual reality using tiny drones. VOA’s George Putic reports.

Video New American Indian Village Takes Visitors Back in Time

There is precious little opportunity to experience what life was like in the United States before its colonization by European settlers. Now, an American Indian village built in a park outside Washington is taking visitors back in time to experience the way of life of America's indigenous people. Carol Pearson narrates this report from VOA's June Soh.

Video Even With Hometown Liberated, Yazidi Refugees Fear Return

While the northern Iraqi town of Sinjar has been liberated from Islamic State forces, it's not clear whether Yazidi residents who fled the militants will now return home. VOA’s Mahmut Bozarslan talked with Yazidis, a religious and ethnic minority, at a Turkish refugee camp in Diyarbakır. Robert Raffaele narrates his report.

Video Nairobi Tailors Make Pope Francis’ Vestments

To ensure the pope is properly attired during his visit, the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops asked the Dolly Craft Sewing Project in the Nairobi slum of Kangemi to make the pope's vestments, the garments he will wear during the various ceremonies. Jill Craig reports.

Video Cross-Border Terrorism Puts Europe’s Passport-Free Travel in Doubt

The fallout from the Islamic State terror attacks in Paris has put the future of Europe’s passport-free travel area, known as the "Schengen Zone," in doubt. Several of the perpetrators were known to intelligence agencies, but were not intercepted. Henry Ridgwell reports from London European ministers are to hold an emergency meeting Friday in Brussels to look at ways of improving security.

Video El Niño Brings Unexpected Fish From Mexico to California

Fish in an unexpected spectrum of sizes, shapes and colors are moving north, through El Niño's warm currents from Mexican waters to the Pacific Ocean off California’s coast. El Nino is the periodic warming of the eastern and central Pacific Ocean. As Faiza Elmasry tells us, this phenomenon thrills scientists and gives anglers the chance of a once-in-a-lifetime big catch. Faith Lapidus narrates.

Video Terrorism in Many Forms Continues to Plague Africa

While the world's attention is on Paris in the wake of Friday night's deadly attacks, terrorism from various sides remains a looming threat in many African countries. Nigerian cities have been targeted this week by attacks many believe were staged by the violent Islamist group Boko Haram. In addition, residents in many regions are forced to flee their homes as they are terrorized by armed militias. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Study: Underage Marriage Rate Higher for Females in Pakistan

While attitudes about the societal role of females in Pakistan are evolving, research by child advocacy group Plan International suggests that underage marriage of girls remains a particularly big issue in the country. VOA’s Ayesha Tanzeem reports how such marriages leads to further social problems.

VOA Blogs