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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

5 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

It's not ours. The bank accounts of the Ethiopian Human Rights Council,an Ethiopia n organization, were frozen, and they've been in a long-running lawsuit over the last two years to try to get them unfrozen.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

They have a problem operating right now, I take it, with no funds. Who is helping them with having no funds? Are they just withering on the vine?

5 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

They were one of the organizations that had to cut back enormously. They had to let go of most of their staff. Some of their senior staff fled the country because of threats. And they are operating on a shoestring.

5 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

You have 30 seconds.

5 p.m.

Liberal

Mark Eyking Liberal Sydney—Victoria, NS

We just had a gentleman here talking about all the good things that are happening in Ethiopia. Maybe there are a lot of good things happening on the agricultural front and the various activities there. You can have all the opportunities around you, but unless you have proper rule of law in a country, that's going to keep people from moving forward, especially when you have a government that is not going to let the opposition exist.

Where do you see the end game?

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 NDP 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 Conservative 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 Conservative 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 Conservative Newmarket—Aurora, ON

Just to be very clear—

5:05 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

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

5:05 p.m.

Conservative

Lois Brown Conservative 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 Conservative 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 NDP 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 NDP 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 NDP 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?

5:10 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

Yes, as you say, it's a very grim picture. It's a very difficult situation. I don't want to minimize the challenges there are in dealing with Ethiopia. I recognize it's a very difficult context.

I think that too many red lines have been crossed already. I think that when the charities and societies law, the CSO law, and the anti-terrorism law were in the process of debate and coming up for passage, I fear that donors lost an opportunity then to really stand together and say, “This is a red line that is going to have significant implications for our aid programs.”

Now I think we saw calls or recommendations in Geneva at the UN, at the universal periodic review, from a variety of donors, to amend the law. Since then there hasn't really been any kind of statement, as far as I've seen, from donors, bilaterally or together. I think it's not too late for donors to exert their leverage and say, okay, when these programs end, we will have to reassess whether we are going to commit to new aid programming if certain conditions are not met.

Improving the environment for civil society and the media should be an absolute priority condition in any discussion, and it should be a core point of every discussion that donors are government representatives are having with the prime minister and other members of the Ethiopian government. And I fear it's not.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

Hélène Laverdière NDP Laurier—Sainte-Marie, QC

I think I still have time for a question.

You also mention you fear that at some point, if civil forms of protest are not tolerated in Ethiopia, the situation could explode and the population could use other means to express its discontent.

Now we know that we cannot predict when a situation will explode in a country. We've seen it with the Arab Spring. Are there movements within the population? Is there risk of some sort of revolution or revolt, or something like that?

5:15 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

Well, in a way, I think 2005 was Ethiopia's voted Arab Spring, as that was when you really had, for the first time in its history, a really popular movement around the elections. I think most Ethiopians learned a very harsh lesson from those events and from the repression that has taken place over the last seven years.

But I do think that the Arab Spring also is a lesson that repressive governments can only repress for so long. Eventually there will be some kind of movement, whether it's armed or peaceful.

As I said, Ethiopia is a country of more than 80 million people. It's incredibly diverse. There are, as you know, very serious fault lines within the country on religious and ethnic grounds. The worst-case scenario would be some kind of implosion. Again, I think it's in the interests of Ethiopia's friends, donors, and diplomatic partners to apply the pressure and the leverage they have to ensure that scenario doesn't happen.

Again, I think it's a concern that the strategic thinking is sometimes very short term, such as the thinking that Ethiopia is considered to be more stable when you look at Somalia, when you look at Eritrea, and when you look at Kenya in 2007. It's seen as, okay, we can hold off on dealing with the problems there, because we have other more urgent emergencies and fires to put out.

But this is very short-term thinking. Ethiopia is too important to ignore—or not to ignore, but to shelve. It's too important, really, for the region, as well as of course domestically. That's I think even another reason why this very grim and worsening human rights situation must be addressed in a serious way.

5:15 p.m.

NDP

The Vice-Chair NDP Paul Dewar

Thank you.

I think that's all the questions we have from committee members at this point. As the chair, I'm just going to ask a question of my own.

You talked about donors and evaluating programs, particularly for the human rights situation and the need for actually going into the field. One of the things many countries do is to put their donor money into the World Bank, but it's often not clear where the money is going. I'm assuming that you're including the World Bank when you're talking about donors. I guess that's my question.

Has the World Bank been on the ground and looking at where the money is going? Specifically, has it done an evaluation or human rights assessment to ensure that the money is not being used inappropriately?

5:15 p.m.

Deputy Director, Africa, Human Rights Watch

Leslie Lefkow

Yes, we've had a number of discussions recently with the World Bank, because our research, in Gambella in particular, on the forced resettlement of communities is linked to the provision of basic services program. Officials from that program are implementing this policy of resettlement, and the World Bank, of course, has quite strong guidelines on involuntary resettlement and human rights abuses affecting indigenous communities and so on.

As far as we know, the World Bank and several other donors were involved in site visits to Gambella and to Benishangul, where similar villagization processes have been taking place. We have not seen the reports of those assessments. Those have not been made public or shared with us.

We do have concerns about some of the methodology of those assessments. If I may, I'll just take one second to give you a little anecdote. Our researcher who conducted the research in Gambella interviewed over a hundred people over four weeks across 14 different villages, seeing villages on site and going in and having confidential one-on-one interviews, in secure conditions, with victims and witnesses of these abuses.

When he went one day with a regional official to one village and spoke to a man about whether the resettlement was voluntary, the man said, “Yes, everything's fine, no problem”. When he went back two days later with a community activist, whom the man knew and trusted, he got a totally different story about the fact that they were being forced to move, that there was violence, and that threats and detentions were being used by local officials.

I mention this because if you have diplomatic or donor representatives from Addis turning up with government officials in these communities, you're not going to get the real story, which again points to my concerns about how these programs are being monitored and what more donors should be doing to really make sure they're getting the full story.