Evidence of meeting #35 for Foreign Affairs and International Development in the 41st Parliament, 1st Session. (The original version is on Parliament’s site, as are the minutes.) The winning word was ethiopia.

A recording is available from Parliament.

On the agenda

MPs speaking

Also speaking

  • Philip Baker  Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency
  • Leslie Lefkow  Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

5 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

That's a very good question. It's always unwise to make predictions about Ethiopia. But it is very strong concern that the economic development and the growth that is taking place will be undermined, inevitably, if we see this level of repression maintained over the long term. You can only silence and corner people for so long before they may turn to less peaceful options. And that is the last thing anyone would want to see.

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

Thank you, Mr. Eyking.

We're going to go to five-minute rounds, and Ms. Brown.

Go ahead, Ms. Brown.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

Ms. Lefkow, thank you very much for your presentation today.

I'm going to have to keep my comments very short, because I'm sharing my time with my colleague, Mr. Norlock.

I just want to point to a partnership that we have with the World Bank on joint governance assessment and measurement. Canada is putting considerable money into Ethiopia, through CIDA. Under the leadership of the World Bank, the intent is ultimately “to enable CIDA and other development partners to fully integrate governance into programming priorities and foster a more informed and harmonized dialogue on governance with the Government of Ethiopia”—and then it lists a few departments—“civil society and other development partners”.

What I'm hearing you say is that if we are going to be putting this money in, we have to take more responsibility for what's going on within Ethiopia.

Our government is very intent on untying our aid and making sure that the money gets to where it needs to go, without strings attached. Are you suggesting that we should be putting more restrictions on our aid and how it gets spent in Ethiopia?

5:05 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

You remember that in 2005 and 2006 the donors suspended direct budget support to the central government because of the concerns over the violence and the breakdown of rule of law that year, and a lot of the programs—

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

So you're suggesting that we tie the aid?

5:05 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

I think that you have to very seriously question handing over funds to a government that has a proven track record of serious human rights abuses.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Just to be very clear—

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

Let's have one question and one answer. Let her finish, Lois.

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Newmarket—Aurora, ON

But our money doesn't get handed over to the government. Our money is going either through bilateral...or the World Bank, for instance, in this one. But most certainly our money is going through organizations in whom we trust, a partnership, and we don't hand the money over to the government.

But perhaps I should stop and turn it over to Mr. Norlock and the response can come in there.

May 2nd, 2012 / 5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Rick Norlock Northumberland—Quinte West, ON

Thank you very much for your appearance before the committee.

I'm not on this committee. However, I'm listening intently because I respect very much the work that Human Rights Watch does. I think you're invaluable in filling us in, and you've done so.

But when you're asked directly to suggest what we should do with the aid money to make sure that we begin to address some of the reports you're bringing back, if you don't mind my saying so, you just regurgitate the same information that bad things are happening and that we need to be make the Ethiopian government more accountable.

Specifically, how would you suggest we handle the aid money to extract from that government the beginning...? CIDA said that they're beginning to see some improvements. You're saying, not really, it's the other way around. So what would specifically would you advise the Government of Canada to do to get better human rights results?

5:05 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

First, as I said, is to improve your monitoring. We have pointed out in our research that the money is going through PBS, the protection of basic services program. Of course, it's not going to the central government, but the protection of basic services program, as you know, funds regional governments. Frankly, in Ethiopia that's one-half of the same coin. Regional governments are very much under the control of the central government and very much within the control of the ruling party EPRDF. Whether you're funding the central government or the regional governments, at the end of the day I think there's a very serious question about whether there is much difference. That's one issue.

I think you have to look at the protection of basic services program and look at the abuses that we have documented and raise some questions about whether or not that program is indeed meeting its goals in abiding by human rights standards, particularly when you have regional government officials whose salaries are being paid by multi donor-funded programs who are committing the kinds of abuses we've documented.

If you question that those allegations are taking place—and the development advisory group has questioned our research and our methodology—then you need to actually do an investigation. To date, the donors have not conducted an investigation. They did a desk-based study looking at paperwork or documents to assess whether or not the monitoring mechanisms were sufficient. That study actually indicated that a field investigation was needed to evaluate the allegations, but that investigation has never happened. To date, we have not received a good answer from donors on why they have not investigated.

Before you even get into the question of whether all of this should necessitate an aid cut-off, we would urge you and other donors to actually do the work of investigating properly and having independent people do it, despite the challenges I mentioned earlier. Then maybe you will have to face the hard question of whether or not some of these programs should be cut because they are in fact just bolstering an increasingly repressive ruling party system.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair Paul Dewar

Thank you.

I'm going to now turn it over to Madame Laverdière, for five minutes.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you very much.

Thank you for your comments and your last few points, in particular, on what precisely we can do as a first step to ensure that we are not basically financing violations of human rights.

On a slightly different issue, what is your assessment of the 2010 election, and what is the status of political parties in Ethiopia right now?

5:10 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

As I'm sure you know, the EPRDF and its allied parties won more than 99% of the parliamentary seats in May 2010. Two seats were not won by the ruling party and its allies: one went to the opposition and one went to an independent. I think, to be honest, that number speaks for itself. I don't think Human Rights Watch needs to really comment on it more. I think 99% says a lot on its own. I think it says the ruling party's efforts to consolidate control in the months leading up to 2010 and in the May 2010 elections were eminently successful.

5:10 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you very much. We know those general concerns are not only of concern to Human Rights Watch but also of bodies of the United Nations and other organizations.

To come back, yes, indeed, I think you were quite clear on improving monitoring as a first step. Are there also problems that journalists, in particular, are facing? Is there any way meanwhile that we could help civil society organizations, whether in the area of information or others?