The Ethiopian government's relocation of thousands of indigenous people from the western Gambella region has resulted in possible human rights violations, according to a report [text] released Wednesday by Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website]. The Gambella relocations, which occurred last year, are part of a planned resettlement of 1.5 million people throughout four regions in the country. This process, known as villagization, has been called a success [AP report] by the Ethiopian government. HRW alleges [press release] that the forced relocation program has left those relocated without adequate access to basic necessities including "food, agricultural support, and health and education facilities." The advocacy group also reports alleged assaults by the state security forces charged with shepherding people to the Gambella region. HRW says they have uncovered ulterior motives for the relocations, which the Ethiopian government has said are necessary to afford villagers greater access to necessary services.
The villagization program is taking place in areas where significant land investment is planned and/or occurring. The Ethiopian federal government has consistently denied that the villagization process in Gambella is connected to the leasing of large areas of land for commercial agriculture, but villagers have been told by local government officials that this is an underlying reason for their displacement.HRW is asking that the government halt plans to continue relocations until villagers receive access to necessary services.
This is not the first time HRW has criticized the actions of the Ethiopian government. Late last year, HRW released a statement criticizing an Ethiopian anti-terrorism law [JURIST report] as "fundamentally flawed and being used to repress legitimate reporting." HRW made the statement after two Swedish journalists were convicted [Bloomberg report] of supporting terrorism under Ethiopia's Anti-Terrorism Proclamation of 2009 [text]. Ethiopia's anti-terrorism law has faced ongoing criticism since it was passed [JURIST report] in 2009. In August, JURIST guest columnist and former executive director Abigail Salisbury argued that the government is using the law to suppress journalists and opposition groups in order to maintain its hold on power [JURIST op-ed]. In July, HRW called on the Ethiopian government to stop using the law to repress free speech [JURIST report].