The man, known only as Mr O, accuses Britain’s Department for International Development (DFID) of financially supporting a “villagisation” scheme in western Ethiopia, a government-led plan to settle pastoralists in sedentary communities.
The case – itself funded by British legal aid – has been brought before London’s High Court, but no trial date has yet been set.
“Mr O claims he suffered severe abuse and had to flee his home,” in western Ethiopia’s Gambella region under the villagisation programme, his British lawyers Leigh Day said in a statement.
Under the scheme, the government plans to settle 1.5 million people across the country, which it says will improve access to key services such as education and healthcare.
Ethiopian government spokesperson Getachew Reda dismissed the allegations of abuse, saying it was “absolutely outrageous because it doesn’t have any factual basis”.
Devastating and tragic impact
But Mr O claims he was forced to leave his home and move to a village with no farmland, schools or clinics before he was finally arrested and beaten by the army.
His lawyer Rosa Curling claimed the villagisation programme has had a “devastating and tragic impact”, warning that a misuse of aid money can “devastatingly undermine the very aims it is trying to achieve.”
DFID denied the charges, saying in a statement that “it is wrong to suggest that British development money is used to force people from their homes”.
Britain, one of Ethiopia’s largest donors, plans to spend an average of $550m per year until 2015, including direct budgetary support to the government.
About 30% of the Ethiopia’s budget comes from donor money, crucial in one of the world’s poorest countries, where the majority of the 91 million people earn less than two dollars a day, according to the World Bank.
Human Rights Watch has accused Ethiopia of forcibly displacing thousands of people under the villagisation scheme.