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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 donors.

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

4:15 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

If I may, the Ethiopians describe themselves as a proud people in the midst of a pretty tough neighbourhood. There are a number of political and environmental issues, such as climate change and drought, as you see. The fact that Ethiopia has stepped up to receive a lot of environmental refugees, if you like, people seeking the right to keep their families alive, is laudable. Other countries in the neighbourhood, as well, have taken in refugees. But largely, you see cross-border movement from Sudan and Kenya coming into Ethiopia.

As for the programs you mentioned, yes, there has been an extremely good uptake from Canadians in terms of the matching funds offers. I won't go so far as to try to pretend I know all of the detailed numbers that my international humanitarian assistance partners within CIDA would know, but I can promise to get you those exact numbers and supply them to the committee.

In terms of results so far, the notion is to try to stave off the immediate hunger and the gaps. As a result of that, as I understand it, the characterization of the famine has been downgraded to that of a drought and emergency. I don't have all of the terms correct, and I'd have to talk to my colleague Leslie Norton to get that right. I think she's been with you here before. She'll shoot me if I get it wrong, so I better be careful. But on that front, there have been good results.

Kenya has been impacted heavily; so has Ethiopia, and so has Somalia. Security issues are still very much a concern in trying to make a direct response in Somalia, and hamper the abilities of international NGOs to get in and actually respond. But the work is happening. Progress is happening, and now there's a nice parallel whereby we're looking at an early response in the Sahel, where similar signs have been emerging over the past year, and we're trying to act now, so that we're in before there's too much of a famine crisis. On that front, there is good progress happening. I'd be happy to have my colleague help me supply the exact numbers to you here.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Canada has provided $42 million already to the Sahel region in order to get out front.

It's interesting. Just a couple of weeks ago we had a gentleman here by the name of David Tennant. He's a developer in southwestern Ontario. He was talking about the opportunities in South Sudan. He and a group of his colleagues, who are not NGO-recognized but are just doing charitable work, I guess, are over there developing farms in South Sudan. He talked about the enormous amount of corn, about two tonnes of corn per acre, which is the highest of any country in Africa. Right now they're providing humanitarian aid, and they are selling everything they can produce to the World Food Programme.

When you talk about inter-African trade and agriculture in South Sudan and GROW Africa, there is an opportunity that has presented itself right there. Mr. Tennant was a great advocate of the farming that can be done in Africa for it to feed its own.

I think I'm probably done for time, am I not?

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

No, you have 20 seconds.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

I have 20 seconds.

Do you have any comment on the agricultural possibilities in South Sudan that you've been able to view?

4:20 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

I would quickly say that it's a stunning contrast when you visit the Dadaab camps in Kenya, and look at the incredible hunger under way and the famine there, and then you traverse instantly over to South Sudan to Juba. As you leave the drought area and fly over southern Juba for a long time—it's a large country—the lush, green, arable land potential, with virtually no development in terms of roads, access, or commercial or community farming, does point to the potential, for sure.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

I saw that. It's enormous.

And that Nile River has such incredible potential for irrigation for that country; it's remarkable.

4:20 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

And for cross-border trade—

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Absolutely.

4:20 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

—with barges moving back and forth with produce. I look forward to seeing more of this traffic happening.

4:20 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Thanks, Mr. Baker.

4:20 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Madame Laverdière, a question?

4:20 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

Thank you very much, Mr. Chair.

I'd like to come back a bit to the issue of Bashir Makhtal, a big preoccupation, I think, for a lot of people, and across party lines.

You mentioned in the earlier discussion on this issue that of course on human rights generally, Foreign Affairs is the lead, and we also know that the minister is interested in the case. But on that specific issue, has there been exchange on the case of Bashir Makhtal between CIDA and Foreign Affairs?

4:20 p.m.

Acting Regional Director General, Southern and Eastern Africa, Canadian International Development Agency

Philip Baker

Between CIDA and Foreign Affairs, we discuss all matters of pertinence for Ethiopia. If you mean between CIDA and the Government of Ethiopia, that's a different question, because as I said, Foreign Affairs is the lead.

On this front, as I mentioned, there's a court case right now related to the case before the federal courts. The federal government is in the midst of preparation for that case. Obviously there's discussion between CIDA and Foreign Affairs on that front, as we pull together our facts, or factum, if you like, of presenting our arguments before the federal courts. I won't comment on those details, as it's still before the courts, but obviously a key part of it is that interaction between the two.

I mentioned earlier about poverty reduction being our mandate. It is the “how” of poverty reduction that makes Canada such a strong player on the international stage. When we become a strong proponent for human rights and driving forward on this front...and in Ethiopia it's no different. We develop good strong programs and we drive the government whenever we have the chance, and look for improved results on that front. It was one of the reasons we stopped direct budget support in 2005, because we did see violations of human rights and acted instantly.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Thank you.

Mr. Baker, thank you for your time today and for your participation.

We are now delighted to have join us, through video link, Leslie Lefkow from Human Rights Watch. Leslie is the deputy director for Africa.

I just want to make sure she can hear us.

4:25 p.m.

Leslie Lefkow Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

I can hear you now.

I had the mute on.

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Okay. I'm glad you can hear us now.

Some people have been trying to mute me for years, so good on you.

4:25 p.m.

Voices

Oh, oh!

4:25 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

I want to thank you for joining us. I want to give you 10 minutes for opening comments. Then we'll go to questions from members of the committee.

Thank you so much for joining us today.

4:25 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

Thank you very much for inviting Human Rights Watch to participate. It's a great opportunity to discuss some of these issues that we've been concerned about for some time at Human Rights Watch.

I'd like to touch briefly on three issues in my opening remarks. One is that I would just like to give a very brief picture of the human rights situation in Ethiopia as we see it at Human Rights Watch. Secondly, I'd like to talk about the challenges of monitoring in Ethiopia, because some of these challenges are very unique and severe. Thirdly, I'd like to describe, very briefly, the research that we've done in the last few years on the manipulation of development aid.

To start off with, let me just say that Ethiopia is a country of great promise, but one that we see as moving in the wrong direction. The worsening human rights trend that we see today did not begin in 2005, but with hindsight, 2005 was a very critical moment when the Ethiopian government chose a path of greater repression and, unfortunately, that's been the path that it's stuck to until today.

As you know, the elections in 2005 ended in controversy with a government crackdown and leading opposition politicians alleging election fraud. The security forces arrested an estimated 30,000 people and beat to death or shot nearly 200 people in Addis Ababa.

Since 2005, many observers, including me, have hoped that the government would reverse course after the next parliamentary elections in May 2010, but unfortunately we haven't seen that trend reverse.

The repression in Ethiopia today affects both prominent dissidents and ordinary citizens alike. Across Ethiopia and particularly in sensitive areas like Oromia and the Somali region, we have documented local officials harassing, imprisoning, or threatening to withhold government assistance from perceived critics.

Critics are often accused of serious crimes such as membership in insurgent or terrorist organizations. Most are released without being brought to trial due to the lack of any evidence against them, but generally only after they have spent extremely long periods in prison and sometimes torture or mistreatment.

Even more alarming than this pattern, though, is the fact that Ethiopia's military has committed serious abuses amounting to war crimes and crimes against humanity while responding to security threats. Those responsible for these crimes have enjoyed almost complete impunity from prosecution or even investigation. The abuses and the impunity seem to be systematic. From western Gambella region to Somali region in the east, as well as in neighbouring Somalia, the security forces have, in recent years, responded repeatedly to insurgent threats with atrocities against civilians.

To date, the Ethiopian response to serious allegations of international crimes such as these has been to deny the allegations and disparage the sources, be they Ethiopian human rights groups, my own organization, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty, or even the U.S. State Department. Instead of responding with genuine efforts to investigate and address these issues, the Ethiopian government has denied the allegations and conferred impunity upon the perpetrators.

Today, Ethiopia has become one of the most intolerant environments on the continent for independent voices. The government consistently uses violence, intimidation, and repressive legislation to silence political opposition, independent media, and civil society activists. Since 2009, as you know, it has enacted two new laws, one on non-governmental organizations called the CSO law, and one on anti-terrorism that effectively criminalized human rights work in the country and undermined political and civil rights. Taken together, these laws contain provisions that give the government powerful tools to criminalize human rights work, treat public protests as acts of terrorism, and broadly expand government power to curtail the rights of free association, assembly, and expression.

Prior to the passage of both of these laws, Human Rights Watch published detailed analyses of both bills, and we highlighted the worst provisions. Many of our concerns were echoed by donor governments, and some of those recommendations, of course, came out in the UN universal periodic review process on Ethiopia in the last few years.

We predicted that these laws could restrict non-governmental activity in Ethiopia and that the anti-terrorism law could be used to prosecute journalists and political opponents and, regrettably our fears have proven to be accurate. Just last year, as you may know, more than a hundred political opposition members, journalists, and others were arrested and detained. Many of them are being tried on the basis of the anti-terrorism law essentially for expression that would be covered by the Ethiopian Constitution as part of freedom of expression.

The effects of the CSO law, the NGO law, on Ethiopia's civil society have been devastating. The leading Ethiopian human rights groups have been crippled by the law, and many of their senior staff have fled the country. Some organizations changed their mandates to stop doing any kind of human rights work at all; others such as the Ethiopian Human Rights Council, Ethiopia's oldest human rights monitoring organization, and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association, which had launched groundbreaking work on domestic violence and women's rights, were forced to slash their budgets, their staff, and their operations.

The effects of the CSO law are particularly important for donors because of the social accountability component of many of the large aid programs to Ethiopia. That social accountability component, as I'm sure you know, was intended to bolster monitoring of aid programs on the ground. So the fact that many of the independent organizations that would have been expected to provide information and monitoring on the effects on the ground are no longer able to function is a very serious problem for monitoring of human rights generally, as well as in terms of the development aid programs taking place in the country.

Meanwhile, while we have seen on the one hand this devastating blow to civil society we've also seen the government encouraging a variety of ruling party affiliated organizations to fill the vacuum. These include the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission, a national human rights institution that has been set up by the government. In theory it should be independent, but, unfortunately, in Ethiopia it's not.

I mention the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission again specifically because it is one of the institutions that has received considerable donor funding under the democratic institutions program, which CIDA, among others, has funded over the past few years. Human Rights Watch has called on donors to suspend funding for the democratic institutions program because of the problems and concerns we have with funding these institutions within this grim broader picture of the human rights environment and our concerns about how effective this kind of program can be when you see this worsening trend of repression affecting core rights.

Human Rights Watch has considerable experience working with human rights commissions across the world, including in many other countries in Africa. In our view independence is an absolutely critical component for the effective functioning of such an institution. Another component that is generally acknowledged to be essential is the ability of such an institution to work with civil society. Again, when we have the problems that we see in Ethiopia today in terms of the ability of independent organizations to function this raises serious questions about any donor program that funds this institution in the absence of core conditions for success.

Ethiopia's government has also had very little tolerance for the independent media. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Ethiopia has driven more journalists into exile over the past decade than any other nation in the world—79 at last count—and today seven journalists are in jail, a number that's only rivaled in Africa by Eritrea. That of course includes two Swedish journalists who were arrested and convicted of terrorism charges in December because they went into the eastern Somali region to investigate allegations of abuses.

I want to touch very briefly on the challenges of monitoring in Ethiopia against this backdrop, because this is a core concern that we've raised repeatedly with donors about the development programs taking place in Ethiopia. I've worked in Africa for 15 years doing human rights work and Ethiopia is without question one of the most difficult places to work. That is based on a number of factors. One reason is the Ethiopian government's restrictions on independent access and monitoring by independent organizations trying to investigate abuses, particularly in areas that it deems to be sensitive such as the Oromia or Somali regions.

It's partly also a problem because of the extensive security apparatus that's deployed at every administrative level of the country. The surveillance machine extends into almost every household in the country and as a stranger, be you Ethiopian or non-Ethiopian, if you go into a village in rural Ethiopia, your presence will be noted almost immediately. This of course has very important implications for how you can collect information in a confidential way, in which witnesses and victims of abuse will feel comfortable talking openly and confidently about what they've experienced.

4:35 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Sorry, could I ask you to wrap up? I think your 10 minutes is up now.

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

Yes.

I want to talk very briefly about the development aid work we did in 2009. This was research that we conducted across 53 kebeles in three different states of Ethiopia. Essentially we found that opposition supporters were routinely barred from access to government services, including agricultural inputs like seeds and fertilizers, access to microcredit loans, and job opportunities. To give you one example, our researchers interviewed an elderly man who, when he went to register for humanitarian assistance, was told that he had to provide the receipts for his ruling party, the EPRDF Party fees, in order to actually receive food in the distribution.

We also found that capacity-building programs were used to indoctrinate school children in party ideology, to intimidate teachers, and to purge the civil service of dissenters. Many of the officials implementing or tolerating these policies are being paid through the basic services program, their multi-donor funded program that provides funding to regional governments.

In our conversation with donors since that report was released, unfortunately we have not yet received any real assurances that our concerns have been addressed. We raised a number of very specific points about the monitoring mechanisms in place and the need for field investigation by donors to investigate these allegations. To date, there have not actually been any such field investigations. That is one of our core recommendations, which we would urge all donors, including CIDA, to act upon as soon as possible.

We published a report in January, looking at large-scale resettlement programs in Gambella. This is part of a broader national scheme also taking place in Benishangul and other areas where whole communities are being resettled, purportedly for part of a development program where they would receive better services. Our research finds that people are being forced to move without compensation, without consultation. This underlines some of the concerns we have about continuing large-scale abuses, where donors in Addis, involved either directly or indirectly in some of these programs, are not investigating and really highlighting concerns with these programs in the way that we feel would be appropriate.

Thank you very much. I'm happy to answer any questions you have.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Thank you very much, Ms. Lefkow.

We'll start with the official opposition. Mr. Saganash, you have seven minutes.

4:40 p.m.

NDP

Romeo Saganash NDP Abitibi—Baie-James—Nunavik—Eeyou, QC

Thank you, Mr. Chair.

Thank you, Ms. Lefkow, for your presentation and your presence at this committee today. Your organization has been reporting on the ongoing situation in Ethiopia for many years. I want to thank you for the work you've done to shine a light on what's happening in that country.

At the end of your January 2012 summary on Ethiopia, the following statement was made:

International donor assistance continues to pour into Ethiopia, one of the world’s largest recipients of aid, but this has not resulted in greater international influence in ensuring government compliance with its human rights obligations.

The report also goes on to state:

...government spending remains hugely reliant (between 30 and 40 percent) on foreign assistance, and donors retain significant leverage that they could use to greater effect to insist on basic measures....

When I read those lines, it seems to suggest a course of action to try to force some kind of compliance by the Ethiopian government.

I agree with you. In your opening remarks, you mentioned that Ethiopia has huge potential, but I believe you said it's heading in the wrong direction. What are some suggestions you can make to this committee in that regard? What kind of actions can be taken?

4:40 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Ms. Lefkow, please go ahead.

4:40 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

There are several issues here. One is that when we say that aid is continuing to increase but that we're not seeing any resulting influence. Even since 2008, the aid figures now are up to $4 billion or more per year going into Ethiopia. Yet on the other hand, you see the human rights situation getting steadily worse. These very clear benchmarks in terms of the treatment of civil society, the media, the political opposition, the impunity of officials, all of these points that I mentioned, indicate that the increasing aid is not translating into any improvement in the human rights situation.

When donors say that by maintaining or increasing aid they will have more leverage, it begs the question: What message are donors actually giving about the human rights situation and what kinds of strategies are they pursuing? Clearly quiet diplomacy, which to my understanding has been the strategy used by donors so far, is not resulting in any positive change. The situation is actually getting worse.

Now, Human Rights Watch is not calling on donors to cut off all aid to Ethiopia. We recognize that Ethiopia is one of the poorest countries in the world, that there are huge needs. However we don't think it's an either/or situation. We do think that if donors were to unite behind strong messaging and a very united and strong strategy towards the Ethiopian government, we could see more progress than we've seen so far.

For example, we've felt for some time that suspending aid to the democratic institutions program would be an important message to the Ethiopian government that these efforts to improve governance are not going anywhere. With that program we're only bolstering the government, ruling party's capacity, and not actually seeing improvements for the average Ethiopian. So on that score, for example, with the democratic institutions program, we think that would send a very strong message, which donors have not done.

I think the other issue is that quiet diplomacy is clearly not working. We would like to see much stronger statements from donors, ideally in a united way, to draw a line about some of the human rights abuses and trends we've been seeing. So far I think the message has been—and Addis Ababa well understands this—that donors are not actually going to act in a way that has consequences. There are not going to be consequences for the increasing repression, and there need to be some consequences.