London, July 14, 2014 – A legal battle has been launched by an Ethiopian citizen who claims to be the victim of human rights abuses linked to a “brutal” resettlement programme the UK has helped to fund in his country.
The man, who can only be referred to as “O”, won permission to seek a declaration from the High Court in London that the British Government has acted unlawfully by providing overseas aid without assessing – or having a proper assessment process for – Ethiopia’s human rights record.
The application for judicial review arises from an Ethiopian government programme for resettling individuals from rural communities in new and larger “communes”, known as the Commune Development Programme (CDP) and also as “villagisation”.
Today, Mr Justice Warby ruled that O had an arguable case against the UK’s secretary of state for international development that should go to a full hearing.
The judge said it was O’s case that he had fled to Kenya, leaving his family in Ethiopia, following “brutal treatment” in 2012 in the course of being subjected to the CDP.
The judge said: “The claimant alleges he is far from being alone in suffering in this way and refers to evidence gathered by human rights organisations and NGOs of widespread human rights abuses in Ethiopia in the context of the villagisation programme and otherwise.”
O maintains that UK development assistance money provided to the Ethiopian government “contributes to such violations”.
In particular, said the judge, O alleged there was evidence that the villagisation programme was partly funded by UK payments into a programme called the Promotion of Basic Services Programme (PBS).
This was a very large programme currently in its third phase with a budget of some £510 million allocated until the end of January 2018 and aimed at channelling money to regional and district governments.
UK assistance was provided under the 2002 International Development Act and governed by policies developed in a Government policy paper entitled “Partnerships for Poverty Reduction: Rethinking Conditionality”.
The judge 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 gave O permission to argue at a full judicial review hearing 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”.
The judge said there was “clearly force” in the argument and the issue “deserves a full hearing”.
He rejected as unarguable a claim that the secretary of state had committed herself to publishing her most recent assessment on Ethiopian human rights.
But he said he was not ruling out an argument that “the publication of aspects of Government assessments of Ethiopia’s record were a necessary component of a lawful process of assembling and assessing relevant evidence”.