Archive for the month “March, 2016”

UK funding Ethiopian security services who snatched Londoner & put him on death row


(RT) — The British Government is funding the training of Ethiopia’s security forces, responsible for the incarceration and rendition of a father-of-three from London who now faces the death penalty.UK “stands shoulder to shoulder” with Ethiopia

The funding has sparked concerns that the UK could be inadvertently supporting the covert Ethiopian intelligence operatives who kidnapped Andargachew ‘Andy’ Tsege in 2014.

Tsege, who has been branded Ethiopia’s ‘Nelson Mandela’ by his supporters, fled the country in the 1970s after becoming a target over his political beliefs, eventually gaining asylum in the UK.

Andargachew “Andy” Tsege was arrested in Yemen in June 2014, while en route to Africa from the Middle East. The whereabouts of the father of three, from London, were unknown until weeks later when it emerged he had been imprisoned in Ethiopia. A death sentence was passed against Mr Tsege – an opponent of the Ethiopian government who fled to Britain as a political refugee in 1979 – after a trial held in his absence six years ago.

His plight has been repeatedly raised with the Ethiopian government by British officials. But it has now emerged that the UK spent more than a million pounds subsidising security projects in Ethiopia while Mr Tsege has languished on death row.

The funding has been given by the Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO) and the Ministry of Defence (MoD), through a Conflict, Security and Stabilisation Fund set up by the Government last year.

Half a million pounds has been spent on a master’s degree programme in “security sector management” and £546,500 has been given to the Ethiopian Peace Support Training Centre, according to an FCO response to a Freedom of Information request.

The UK Government refused to divulge details of a human rights risk assessment made prior to the funding being given, citing “the need to protect information that would be likely to prejudice relations between the United Kingdom and other states”.

Mr Tsege’s partner, Yemi Hailemariam, mother of their three children, told The Independent: “Since Andy’s disappearance, our family has been in agony – all we want is for him to come home. It’s deeply worrying to think that, throughout all this, the UK is supporting the same Ethiopian security apparatus that has detained Andy.

“We sincerely hope that the Foreign Office is using its close links to Ethiopia’s government to secure Andy’s release – rather than supporting his kidnappers.”

Maya Foa, head of the death penalty team at Reprieve, said: “This funding raises potentially serious questions over the UK’s approach to Ethiopia’s security forces – forces who were responsible for the kidnap and rendition to Ethiopia of British national Andy Tsege in June 2014.”

Kevin Laue, legal advisor at the human rights charity Redress, said: “Instead of demanding his release and return, the UK Government appears to be bolstering the capacity of the Ethiopian security services – the very institution behind this continuing travesty of justice.”

This comes amid mounting concern over the welfare of the 60-year-old father of three.

In an analysis of a transcript from a visit by British officials to Mr Tsege at Ethiopia’s notorious Kaliti prison last December, Dr Ben Robinson, a psychiatrist at South London and Maudsley NHS Trust, said the Briton’s mental health “has declined precipitously since being detained in Ethiopia”.

David Cameron is under increasing pressure to intervene. The Prime Minister is planning to visit Ethiopia later this month. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, who is Mr Tsege’s local MP, said: “I have written to the Prime Minister asking him to demand his unconditional release. It is completely unacceptable that a British citizen should be treated in this way by a state that purports to be a respected member of the international family of nations.”

In a statement last night, a Government spokeswoman said: “The Foreign Secretary again raised Mr Tsege’s case with the Ethiopian foreign minister, in person on 13 February, making it clear the way he has been treated is unacceptable.

They added: “Separately, we support training courses that are designed to give members of the Ethiopian military an improved range of skills in non-combat areas while they serve on regional peace missions that are vital to UK interests.”

Background: ‘Ethiopia’s Mandela’

Andargachew “Andy” Tsege has been desecribed as Ethiopia’s Nelson Mandela by campaigners and suporters, including Clive Stafford-Smith, the director of Reprieve.

The head of an opposition movement called Ginbot 7, he  came to Britain as a political refugee in 1979. In June 2014, while he was on route from Dubai to Eritrea, he disappeared during a stopover in Sanaa, Yemen. Two weeks later, it emerged that he had been arrested by the Yemeni authorities on the basis of a security agreement between Yemen and Ethiopia. Mr Tsege had been transferred to Ethiopia, and remains in prison there.

Six years ago, at a trial held in his absence, Mr Tsege was given sentenced to death for allegedly plotting a coup and planning to kill Ethiopian officials – claims he has denied

posted by daniel tesfaye


Blood in the fields as big business eats up Ethiopia

Saudi Star Agricultural Development

AS AN orchestra of mosquitoes and crickets greet the dusk, Bedlu Abera looks out over fields of rice stretching across the Ethiopian lowlands.

A flicker of contentment crosses his face. “It’s satisfying,” he says. “We are making progress.”

Bedlu is overseeing Saudi Star Agricultural Development’s first substantial harvest, and there is an urgency to his work. The land must be cleared and planted swiftly before the rains return.

This remote spot is a frontier in a contest for land that stretches from Myanmar to Saskatchewan. Investors are betting billions on an asset that is both more abundant and more fiercely contested than any other. The struggle playing out in the Ethiopian lowlands is a glimpse of others to come in a crowded, warming world.

Bedlu took over as Saudi Star’s farm operations manager in 2014. The company’s proprietor, Saudi-Ethiopian tycoon Mohammed al-Amoudi, has spent more than $200m turning a swathe of bush into a farm the size of 20,000 soccer pitches. That puts the sheikh, as he is known, in the vanguard of a global land rush.

AS THE populations of better-off countries move to cities in greater numbers, the gap between the amount they grow and the amount they eat widens. Agricultural trade has long filled this gap.

But a price shock in 2007, when rates for staple crops doubled in months, showed that global markets for food can break down. When the financial crisis created demand for safer investments, governments, multinational companies and institutional funds started to pour billions into other countries’ land.

From Southeast Asia to Latin America and sub-Saharan Africa, investors are seeking to profit not simply by trading the fruits of the earth, but by controlling the land itself. Few countries have attracted such attention as Ethiopia.

Saudi Star’s harvest was long overdue. In 2009, the firm took a 50-year lease on 10,000 hectares in the poor region of Gambella. Later, it added another 4,000 hectares by buying an adjacent farm.

The deal was one of the most high-profile transactions of an investment drive in which Ethiopia’s government leased 2.5-million hectares, an area slightly smaller than Belgium.

More than the same is again on offer now. The government’s stated goal is to bring in modern farming technology to generate exports that would help a serious balance-of-trade problem. Doing this, some say, would also cement the ruling elite’s control over Ethiopia’s lowlands.

November’s harvest was initially forecast to yield 10,000 tonnes of rice. But Saudi Star halved the outlook after poor rains. The company plans to spend another $100m by 2018 on more irrigation canals and machinery.

IF ITS engineers succeed, the farm’s yield will double, allowing annual production of 140,000 tonnes. That would be more than enough to supply the entire Ethiopian market. Beyond that lie lucrative markets in Saudi Arabia, the Arab emirates and East Africa.

Bedlu was part of a team Amoudi installed in 2014. The 4,000-strong staff includes 1,300 locals: 300 on permanent contracts and 1,000 seasonal labourers.

Saudi Star’s management has brought in commercial farming expertise and is trying to improve community relations. Bedlu is learning the language of the Anuak, the main ethnic group in the area.

But armed guards on the perimeter are a reminder of what happened in April 2012, when decades of lowlander grievances were unleashed on the sheikh’s farm. A group of gunmen, widely held to have been Anuak militants, opened fire at the company’s compound, killing at least five employees before fleeing.

Reprisals followed. According to Human Rights Watch, the military rounded up villagers, beating the men and raping the women.

The attack was a lesson for the new lords of the land. They can come with the promise of jobs and progress, but land is like the lion that prowls near Saudi Star’s farm: hard to tame.

ETHIOPIA is a nation of smallholders: 85% of employment is in agriculture and 95% of all agricultural produce comes from small farms. Of that, 80% is consumed by the farmers; only 20% is sold. A mere 5% of agricultural output comes from big commercial farms. Yet they are central to the government’s strategy.

Official figures show more than a decade of double-digit growth, with strong exports of coffee, livestock and cut flowers. Some question the numbers, but there is evidence of advancement too: new roads, telecoms infrastructure and dams.

The country is a self-styled “developmental state”: a nation, like China, Singapore or Rwanda, in which an authoritarian government sets a strict economic path.

The ruling Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took power when it toppled the communist regime in 1991. Dominated by highlanders, as those from central and northern Ethiopia are known, it established a record for economic competence and intolerance of dissent.

For years, the EPRDF was opposed to the idea of commercial farms. That changed about a decade ago as donors encouraged foreign investment in agriculture. Since then, Ethiopia has been at the forefront of a global phenomenon.

Lorenzo Cotula, a senior researcher at the UK’s International Institute for Environment and Development, notes that population trends, climate change, urbanisation and other factors will keep piling pressure on valuable land.

“Land might be seen as an asset class by a fund manager,” he says, “but for many rural people, it is a foundation for social identity and food security.”

YET, OF the 2.5-million hectares leased in Ethiopia so far, only 35% has been developed. That is partly because of the difficulty of getting machinery and skilled manpower to remote corners of a landlocked country.

The government has cancelled seven leases after investors failed to deliver on their promises. Some domestic investors, who cumulatively have taken much more land than foreign ones, have simply stripped their plots for charcoal.

Abera Mulat, head of Ethiopia’s land investment agency, insists that no one with a rightful claim has been moved forcibly to make way for investors.

“There have been cases where people have come and said: ‘This is my land.’ If we are mistaken, then we will leave that land,” he says.

There have, however, been forced relocations under the government’s separate “villagisation” programme. This, the government says, is designed to group scattered communities into larger settlements to make it easier to deliver services.

Some Anuak have spoken to human rights activists about beatings and rapes by soldiers who enforced their resettlement.

Saudi Star CE Jemal Ahmed is resentful that, when a company such as Saudi Star tries to invest, it comes under attack from foreign activists. Saudi Star has tangled for years with activists from the Oakland Institute and Human Rights Watch, who have compiled reports on Ethiopia’s land investment programme and the heavy-handed ways in which, they allege, the government shifts locals out of the way.

Ahmed denies such claims. “No one was living in this area,” he says. He objects to attempts to portray Amoudi as “a man who came to take advantage of Ethiopia’s people, to take their ancestral land”.

FOR Ahmed, the land venture is part of a plan to drive Ethiopia into the 21st century. “All the indigenous groups have had a rough time. They need more investment. And better governance. And civilisation.”

In a cramped one-storey house in Nairobi, 14 Anuak men and women from Gambella gather. One after another, the refugees recall how they fled. Some arrived recently, driven by evictions linked to the villagisation programme.

Others, such as Omot Oluwoch, 37, came to the Kenyan capital after the pogroms of 2003, when mobs of highlanders attacked the Anuak. The Ethiopian military joined in, according to human rights groups. More than 400 died.

“The reason why we are being killed is because of the land,” Omot says. “The government looks down on us; they don’t want us to live there. It is like what happened under apartheid.”

Anuak leaders who opposed Addis Ababa were simply swept aside. The refugees rattle off names of Anuak intellectuals consigned to Addis Ababa’s jails. In some cases, the detentions appeared to be linked to criticism of the land deals.

One was a relative of Omot’s who worked as a translator for World Bank inspectors probing allegations of forced evictions in Gambella. He was arrested in March last year and faces what Human Rights Watch calls “spurious” charges of terrorism.

Okello Akway Ochalla, an Anuak former governor of Gambella who fled into exile in 2003, was detained and handed over to Ethiopian agents in 2014 during a trip to South Sudan, part of a tour to organise Anuak resistance to Addis Ababa.

He was flown back to Ethiopia and has been in jail there since. He faces charges under the counterterrorism law. The maximum penalty is death.

Akoth Adhom, a woman in her 60s, claims she knows of villages that have been relocated forcibly.

Asked who controls the land now, she says: “Al-Amoudi.”

THERE  is little evidence, even anecdotally, of evictions specifically to make way for investors. But the Anuak’s claim to their land is not based on titles to specific plots, explains Ojunni Ojulu Ochalla, a former nurse. “It does not mean that there is someone on every piece of land. Even in the bush, you have demarcated land: for hunting, conserving the forest, farming.

“The narrative is that this place is empty, (but) if you take the whole world, you are living only on a small part. That doesn’t mean someone can walk in and do what they want.”

A fault line of history — or, perhaps, of modernity — has opened up in Gambella. The forces of global markets have come up against the instinct to preserve a homeland.

If a global land rush is at hand, Gambella’s rift will not be the last.

Financial Times Limited 2016

posted by daniel tesfaye

Ethiopia: Increasing human rights violations in the Omo Valley


Increasing human rights violations and deaths from careless state-owned sugar plantation in the Omo Valley!

Ethiopians are being threatened with human rights violations

(SMNE News Alert) — We in the Solidarity Movement for a New Ethiopia (SMNE) sounds an urgent emergency alert regarding the present endangerment of the people of the Omo Valley.

These fellow-Ethiopians are being threatened with human rights violations and atrocities by the TPLF/EPRDF’s troops in the region as the regime moves ahead to remove the people from their land in another crony development scheme for a state-owned sugar plantation on245,000 hectares of land with an additional 100,000 or more hectares of some of the most fertile land committed for other agricultural projects. Those who resist, face state-sponsored human rights crimes.Ethiopians are being threatened with human rights violations

In all of Ethiopia, the 500,000 people of the Omo Valley may be among the most neglected of Ethiopians by the current TPLF/EPRDF regime.

These dark-skinned and marginalized tribes—the Bodi, the Mursi, the Kwego, the Suri, the Hamer, the Karo as well as others—have only been valued in Ethiopia for the tourism business they attracted due to their unique and primitive customs that have remained unchanged for centuries. Now, the TPLF/EPRDF has found a better use for their land and it does not include them.

The previous and present government of Ethiopia never did value them and even now, they do not see them as their own people. In the entire Diaspora of about a million Ethiopians, some experts suggest that only one person from Omo Valley is among them. This is an example of how marginalized these people are.Ethiopians are being threatened with human rights violations

Not only have they been intentionally denied access to entering the 21st century—it would negatively impact tourism—they have also been denied access to clean water, education, health care and other opportunities to a much greater degree than most other marginalized groups.

Now, as their land is being taken away from them, they are also being denied their most prized asset, their indigenous land and water.

Just wait, the TPLF/EPRDF regime will suddenly pretend to be forcing the people from their land and into resettlement camps—where they have no means for independent sustenance—in order to “help” bring these people into the 21st century. Do not believe it! It is just an excuse to cover up for illegally stealing their ancestral land and they are ill-prepared to defend themselves!

The people of the Omo Valley are living in a nation set up under the flawed government policy of ethnic federalism. Each ethnic group is supposed to look after people of their own ethnicity, without the expectation that others will care about the rights, interests and well being of those outside their own groups. Because of this, the people of the Omo Valley are more deprived of their rights than many others. Who speaks for them?

Their land is being taken over by their own government without any consultation. The authorities did not care about them and now the people of the Omo Valley have taken matters into their own hands.

Some limited fighting has broken out and as the TPLF/EPRDF sends troops to silence them through intimidation, human rights crimes and secretive extra-judicial killings, they seem to think they can eliminate these people without the world knowing.

The people of the Omo Valley are depending on the world not caring about them, but the SMNE has already received information from the people and we want to warn the ethnic apartheid regime in Ethiopia to stop the human rights abuses against these people and if they do not, they will be found accountable.

We also call on other peace and justice loving Ethiopians to stand up with the people of the Omo Valley. They are us. The people of the Omo Valley may be deprived and they may have been used as commodities for tourism in the past, but to God and to us, they are precious, just like everyone else.

The establishment of the SMNE was to educate Ethiopians about the value of those outside our villages, tribes and regions. One of the SMNE goal was to eradicate this primitive thinking where some devalue the humanity of others and turn away in apathy to their pain and suffering.

This SMNE principle of putting “humanity before ethnicity” and caring about the freedom, justice and well being of others—neighbors near and far—is the basis for healthy societies and cooperative global partnerships.

We in the SMNE will continue investigate and gather evidence to be used for future prosecution so perpetrators of these crimes will face justice and not get away with these crimes.

The people of Ethiopia will hold them accountable under the rule of law that is not simply rhetoric.

If any think that they can commit crimes without being found out, you are wrong as we already have our sources from this remote region of the country. We will continue to monitor what is going on there.

As we stand up for the people of the Omo Valley, let it bring us together as one people of Ethiopia who stand up for the freedom, rights and wellbeing of all of us.

posted by daniel tesfaye

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