MARY FITZGERALD, Foreign Affairs Correspondent. Irish Times
IRISH AID, the Government’s overseas development division, has rejected allegations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that Ethiopian authorities used international aid as a tool for political repression.
Ethiopia is one of the world’s largest recipients of development aid, receiving around $3 billion annually. Irish Aid’s total expenditure in Ethiopia this year will amount to €34.7 million, most of which is bilateral assistance to the government.
In a report published last week, HRW said local government officials in Ethiopia denied opposition supporters access to food aid, seed, fertiliser, agricultural land, and other resources. The report was based on interviews with more than 200 people in 53 villages between June and December 2009.
“Our examination, in consultation with the other major international aid donors in Ethiopia, does not support the Human Rights Watch allegations of widespread, systematic abuse of development assistance in Ethiopia,” a spokeswoman for Irish Aid said.
“Irish Aid has a range of rigorous checks and safeguards in place. These include regular audits, independent evaluations and independently-commissioned surveys. Irish Aid staff participate in field monitoring visits to ensure that our aid is achieving the intended development results and that it is benefiting those who are most in need.”
The spokeswoman said the bilateral relationship with Ethiopia involved “open and frank” discussions on a range of issues including human rights. “These are issues which will continue to feature prominently in our political dialogue with Ethiopia.”
In an interview with The Irish Times in January, Ethiopia’s prime minister Meles Zenawi dismissed claims by opposition figures and human rights groups that aid was being used as a political tool.
“Given the fact that there are several hundred thousand people involved in the distribution of food aid, I cannot say that not a single one of them has unfairly discriminated. People are trying to make political capital out of this.”
Irish Aid responded to the Human Rights Watch report yesterday after Goal chief executive John O’Shea called for Irish Aid to make its position clear on what he said was a “damning” report outlining “flagrant abuse” of aid.
Mr O’Shea described as “totally erroneous” a reference to Goal in the report. An opposition leader is quoted as saying that Goal co-operated with officials conducting food relief assessments of women and children in an area where such aid discrimination had taken place.
In a statement Goal stressed it had “never encountered a situation where eligible children were not admitted to a treatment programme because families had to pay or bribe to get admitted; or were not admitted, or indeed discharged, because they could not manifest government loyalty”.