Located in southern Ethiopia the Lower Omo Valley is one of the most remote and culturally diverse places in East Africa and amongst the most unique ecological areas in the world. Believed to have been a crossroads for thousands of years for people traversing the region, it has yielded some of the oldest known human fossil fragments, as well as tools dating back more than two million years. In 1980 the valley became a United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) World Heritage site, in recognition of its special cultural and physical significance to the world at large. The Lower Omo Valley is also home to some 200,000 people from eight distinct groups—the Mursi, Bodi, Kwegu (Muguji), Karo, Hamer, Suri, Nyangatom and Daasanach—who rely on the 760-kilometer long Omo River for growing crops and replenishing grazing lands during annual flooding each July-September.
This delicate ecosystem and way of life is being threatened by the construction of a massive hydroelectric dam, known as Gibe III, on the Omo River and associated plans for large scale irrigated agriculture. Part of the Ethiopian government’s ambitious plan for economic development, Gibe III has been under construction since 2006. It is scheduled to begin operating in 2013 and will be the tallest dam in Africa. Gibe III is one of a series of dams which would generate much-needed power for Ethiopia’s 80 million people and for export to neighboring countries, but at a cost. Gibe III is likely to significantly impact both the environment and the socio-cultural traditions of the local population. It has consequently drawn criticism from environmental and indigenous rights groups.
What has received less attention is the government’s plan for major irrigated commercial agriculture downstream of Gibe III. No official plans have been published and no impact assessments carried out. The irrigation plans are not mentioned in any of the impact assessments conducted for the dam, nor are the effects these developments will have on local communities and livelihoods. Government maps obtained by Human Rights Watch indicate that the irrigation and agricultural development will affect large swathes of the Omo Valley. Human Rights Watch’s research also indicates that Ethiopia’s government is forcing indigenous residents of the Lower Omo from their ancestral lands, using harassment, violence, and arbitrary arrests, to make way for large-scale irrigation schemes linked to Gibe III.
Based on research in Ethiopia between May and June 2011, this report outlines the Ethiopian government’s downstream plans for 245,000 hectares (600,000 acres or 950 square miles) of state-run irrigated sugar plantations, 100,000 hectares of private commercial agriculture, major road infrastructure, and oil exploration. The report describes the practical and human rights consequences these plans are likely to have for the 200,000 indigenous residents of the Lower Omo and for another 300,000 people who live around Kenya’s Lake Turkana, which receives 90 percent of its water from the Omo River. While government sources indicate that the sugar plantations will create more than 150,000 full-time and part-time jobs, existing residents will be resettled and will need to find alternative livelihoods. There is a real risk that the livelihoods of 500,000 people may be endangered, tens of thousands will be forcibly displaced, and that the region will witness increased inter-ethnic conflict as communities compete for scarce resources.
During 2011 Human Rights Watch found that local government and security forces had carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, used physical violence, and seized or destroyed the property of indigenous communities. Residents said military units regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress dissent related to the sugar plantation development. According to local people anything less than fully expressed support for sugar development was met with beatings, harassment, or arrest. In addition several agro-pastoral communities in the Lower Omo told Human Rights Watch that state agents informed them that they would have to reduce cattle numbers, settle in one place, and most probably lose access to the Omo River—all of which are critical to their livelihoods and food security. Soldiers regularly stole or killed cattle.
Since then the development of infrastructure and land clearance has begun in Bodi territory, on the east bank of the Omo River, where farms are being cleared, grazing lands have been lost, and livelihoods are being destroyed. According to government maps and local sources this is just the beginning of a major transformation of the Lower Omo area.
These changes are being carried out in contravention of domestic and international human rights standards, without meaningful consultation, consent, or compensation for loss of land, livelihoods, food security, and access to vital subsistence resources. Further, the major changes that will result from the cumulative effect of the huge irrigated commercial agriculture plans, in addition to the Gibe III dam, will likely invalidate prior conclusions about downstream impacts, particularly on Lake Turkana, since previous environmental impact assessments made no mention of irrigated agriculture on this scale.
International human rights instruments, the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, regional mechanisms such as the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR), and a growing body of case law all underscore the validity of indigenous customary rights and protections from involuntary displacement from traditionally occupied lands. Under these standards indigenous occupants of the land have title to it and can only be displaced with their free, prior, and informed consent. They must also be fairly compensated for its loss and provided with alternative livelihood opportunities. But with scant formal education, indigenous Lower Omo peoples have barely had a chance to express their views on these development plans and lack land tenure security or registration.
Instead the ruling party, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has explicitly stated that it does not value the way of life of indigenous communities in the Lower Omo and has declared its intention to make pastoralism moribund in southern Ethiopia. In a speech in Jinka, the capital of South Omo Zone, in January 2011 the prime minister, Meles Zenawi stated, “Even though this area [the Lower Omo] is known as backward in terms of civilization, it will become an example of rapid development.”
Ethiopia’s foreign partners appear to have limited knowledge about the development activities and associated abuses currently underway in the Lower Omo. Virtually no nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) work in the area, and members of indigenous communities have been warned not to speak to outsiders, especially foreigners.
Human Rights Watch calls on the Ethiopian government to suspend the clearing of land and construction of roads associated with irrigated commercial agriculture and the sugar plantations until these developments can be carried out in a manner that is consistent with national laws and international human rights standards. Any displacement or relocation should comply with international and Ethiopian law. Expropriation (with appropriate compensation) is a last resort and should only occur as outlined in the appropriate legislation. The Ethiopian government should conduct an environmental and social impact that considers the cumulative impacts on the Lower Omo and Lake Turkana of the irrigated agriculture development, Gibe III, and other developments in Lower Omo. Kenya should press Ethiopia for a full assessment since the developments could have a significant impact on Kenya’s Lake Turkana and the livelihoods of Kenyan citizens that live there.
The Ethiopian federal government should order regional military and police forces to respect the rights of indigenous communities and should discipline or prosecute government or military officials, regardless of position, implicated in human rights violations in the Lower Omo. The government should also begin a meaningful dialogue in partnership with international NGOs and the donor community on alternative livelihood strategies for indigenous communities, prior to further industrial development in the Lower Omo.
The rights to property and to development, requiring free, prior, and informed consent, and to consultation and compensation should be the basic principles upon which the Ethiopian government engages with the indigenous Omo valley communities with respect to planned development. Failing that, the ACHPR should uphold the standards it has already set out in its ruling on the rights of the indigenous Endorois in Kenya.
Human Rights Watch also urges Ethiopia’s donors, including the World Bank, to press for appropriate social and environmental impact assessments. Current and future investors should comply with best practices of corporate social responsibility and refrain from any investment activities in areas where land title is contested, and involuntary resettlement is occurring, until all violations are investigated and remedied.
To the Government of Ethiopia
- Immediately halt plans for resettlement in the Lower Omo Valley pending the publication of environmental and social impact assessments of the irrigated agriculture plans and until resettlement can be implemented in accordance with international and Ethiopian law and international best practice.
- Accept the recommendations of the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, in particular “to submit assessments for all proposed dams and associated irrigation plans on the Omo River” and “to invite a joint World Heritage Centre/IUCN [International Union for Conservation of Nature] reactive monitoring mission to review the impacts of the GIBE III dam on the Outstanding Universal Value of Lake Turkana, and to provide detailed information on plans for other hydroelectric developments and associated large-scale irrigation in the Omo region.”
- Discipline or prosecute government or military officials, regardless of position, implicated in human rights violations in the Lower Omo.
- Promptly enforce the rights under international law and the Ethiopian constitution of the Lower Omo’s indigenous population by:
- Recognizing the Lower Omo communities as distinct indigenous communities with inalienable rights to their lands and recognizing their property rights over land traditionally occupied and used;
- Implementing a land tenure registration system that increases land tenure security, particularly for pastoralists, and including communal and/or grazing areas;
- Protecting local people from expropriation; and,
- Implementing genuine consultation and compensation procedures.
- Engage in meaningful dialogue with indigenous groups on alternative livelihood opportunities, in partnership with international nongovernmental organizations and the donor community, prior to further industrial development in the Lower Omo. These strategies should strive to find a balance between respecting the traditional way of life of indigenous communities and the duty to respect their free, prior, and informed consent, while allowing the government of Ethiopia to meet its own development goals for the area.
- Undertake a comprehensive, transparent, and internationally verifiable environmental and social impact assessment of all Lower Omo agricultural development plans in line with international best practices and Ethiopian law (Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation #299/2002). This assessment should include:
- An analysis of the cumulative impacts of the announced developments (Gibe III, IV, and V, irrigation schemes, road infrastructure, among others) on the livelihoods and economic, social, and cultural rights of the indigenous peoples of the Lower Omo and Lake Turkana basin.
- A conflict vulnerability assessment considering the likelihood and nature of conflict from increased competition for scarce resources resulting from this project.
- Meaningful consultation with the region’s indigenous groups, reflecting their unique situation and needs, and respecting their right to give free, prior, and informed consent before their land is taken or used, as required by international and Ethiopian law.
- Rescind or amend the Charities and SocietiesProclamation, the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation to bring them in line with Ethiopia’s constitution and international standards and to allow independent human rights investigators and media unimpeded access to the Lower Omo region.
To the Government of Kenya
- Press the Ethiopian government to conduct a fresh, transparent and verifiable environmental, social, and conflict risk assessment of the cumulative impact on Lake Turkana and Kenyan citizens of the Gibe dams and the irrigated agricultural development in Lower Omo.
- Engage in dialogue with the government of Ethiopia and relevant indigenous groups in the Lake Turkana areas over the protection of their indigenous rights, including the right to livelihoods, and conflict prevention strategies in the Turkana and Lower Omo regions.
- Engage in meaningful dialogue with Lake Turkana’s indigenous groups in Kenya, in partnership with international NGOs and the donor community, on alternative livelihood opportunities.
To the Development Assistance Group (DAG)
- Press the Ethiopian government to conduct the necessary social and environmental assessments of the agricultural plans and cumulative downstream impacts and to respect the rights of the indigenous population to recognition; land tenure security; consultation; free, prior, and informed consent; and compensation. Press the Ethiopian government to halt all further resettlements until they can be carried out in a fair and transparent manner and are consistent with Ethiopian national law and Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
- Commission a comprehensive, independent investigation to determine whether donor funding has directly or indirectly supported illegal expropriations in the Lower Omo.
- Ensure that no form of support, whether financial (direct or indirect budget support), diplomatic, or technical, is being used to assist in the industrial development plans in the Lower Omo on land expropriated from indigenous peoples in violation of international human rights law.
- Provide support to implement land tenure security provisions for the area’s agro-pastoral indigenous groups in a timely manner, including the mapping and demarcation of land ownership.
- Press the government of Ethiopia to engage in dialogue with the area’s indigenous groups about alternative livelihood provisions prior to the implementation of development plans.
- Publicly call on Ethiopia to amend or repeal the Charities and Societies Proclamation, the Mass Media and Freedom of Information Proclamation, and the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation.
- Do not support new programs in Ethiopia that may present a risk of expropriations until the government shows that all resettlements are carried out in a fair and transparent manner and are consistent with Ethiopian national law and Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
To Current and Potential Commercial Agricultural Investors in the Lower Omo Valley
- Refrain from agricultural development activities in the Lower Omo region on contested land where the free, prior, and informed consent of the indigenous communities has not been obtained until the human rights violations identified in this report have been halted and remedied.
To the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples
- Request an invitation from the government of Ethiopia to visit and assess the human rights situation of Ethiopia’s indigenous peoples.
To the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights Working Group on Indigenous Populations/Communities
- Request an invitation from the government of Ethiopia to visit and assess the human rights situation of Ethiopia’s indigenous peoples.
This report is based on 35 interviews conducted by Human Rights Watch researchers during four weeks in Ethiopia between May and June 2011. Interviews were conducted within three weeks of the violations described in this report.
Interviewees included community leaders, farmers and pastoralists, students, anthropologists, missionaries, and NGO workers. The interviewees were from the Mursi, Bodi, Hamer, Suri, Karo, and Nyangatom indigenous groups in Lower Omo. Several government workers who spoke on the condition of anonymity were also interviewed. In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed academics, NGO activists, and other individuals and organizations with knowledge of the Lower Omo area.
Human Rights Watch conducted 10 other interviews in Ethiopia in September 2011 with key donors and Ethiopian government officials who were willing to speak to Human Rights Watch. Officials from the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development declined to comment, the minister of federal affairs did not respond to requests for an interview and the minister of government communications, Bereket Simon, replied a week after our researcher had left the country.
All participants were informed of the purpose of the interview, its voluntary nature, and the ways in which the data would be collected and used, and verbally consented to be interviewed. Participants did not receive any material compensation.
Further communication with local activists, victims, and visitors to the region in Ethiopia took place following the June 2011 field visit. Human Rights Watch also obtained video footage of 20 interviews with residents of the Lower Omo during November and December 2011 which were used to corroborate our findings.
Human Rights Watch used several different contacts to identify interviewees and efforts were made to gain a representative sample across gender, age, ethnicity, and geographical lines. Interviews were carried out in safe and secluded locations, often in home villages, and were conducted in English, Amharic, or one of numerous indigenous languages, using local translators where necessary.
The Charities and Societies Proclamation, the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation, restrictions on media freedoms, the lack of tolerance for dissenting opinion, and the general pattern of intimidation and fear that permeates life in Ethiopia makes human rights research and monitoring very challenging for both foreign researchers and Ethiopian individuals and organizations. Even high-profile Ethiopian citizens who have met with international investigators in the past few years have suffered arbitrary arrest, detention, and politically motivated prosecutions.
Given the climate of fear and the potentially serious repercussions for interviewees, it is difficult to locate, identify, and interview individuals in a manner that respects the safety, security, and confidentiality of the interviewee. The vast majority of interviewees expressed concern over possible reprisals from government, and those concerns are real. Therefore, due to these serious risks, and in accordance with standard human rights practice, Human Rights Watch has omitted names, dates, and other identifying characteristics of individuals and communities interviewed for this research in order to minimize the likelihood of government retribution against them or their communities.
Map 1: The Lower Omo Valley
©2011 John Emerson/Human Rights Watch
The Lower Omo Valley
The Lower Omo Valley in Ethiopia’s Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region (SNNPR) is one of the most biologically and culturally diverse regions on Earth, and one of the country’s most remote and undeveloped areas. Bordering Kenya and South Sudan, the Lower Omo and the national parks of neighboring Lake Turkana, into which the Omo flows, have been UNESCO World Heritage sites since 1980 and 1997, respectively.
The eight indigenous groups who live in the Lower Omo number about 200,000 people. Roads and other infrastructure are limited, and there are few clinics or schools. Services provided by the state or NGOs are virtually non-existent. Unlike Ethiopia’s other areas with large indigenous communities, few non-indigenous people live in the Lower Omo Valley outside the main towns, and the indigenous communities have little experience of industrial-scale development.
Most indigenous communities are pastoralists or agro-pastoralists, and low-intensity conflicts regularly occur between different ethnic groups over scarce grazing lands and water. Each group is small in number, and many do not have regular contact with neighboring groups or government officials. Until now, government efforts to develop the area have focused on national park development (the Omo and Mago National Parks were established in the late 1960s and mid-1970s respectively) and tourism.
Livelihoods of the Lower Omo and Lake Turkana
The rights to food, livelihood, development, and property for indigenous people who live on it, including pastoralists, are internationally protected human rights that are also protected in Ethiopia’s constitution.
An independent study completed in May 2010 by SOGREAH Consultants Inc. for the European Investment Bank stated that 48 percent of the Lower Omo population is directly dependent (for either flood recession agriculture or the replenishment of grazing lands) on the Omo River for their livelihoods.  These include the Bodi, Mursi, Kwegu, Karo, Nyangatom, and Daasanach who practice flood-retreat agriculture following the annual flood that occurs from July to September, leaving rich, moist soil ideal for agriculture. The Daasanach also rely on the annual flooding to replenish important dry-season grazing lands. 
The report did not include those who indirectly rely on the Omo River through trading or commercial relationships with those who farm on the river’s banks.
According to one Mursi man:
The Omo River is our life; we are enormously dependent on it for our livelihoods. We cannot think of life without the river as it is our source of livelihoods. So, you can guess what someone feels when he is told his life is absolutely endangered.
Most people in the Lower Omo engage, to some degree, in pastoralism. It is no secret that the government of Ethiopia would prefer pastoralists to give up their pastoral way of life and a lengthy history exists in Ethiopia of trying to press pastoralists to shift to a sedentary lifestyle. Ethiopia’s 2002 development policy for pastoralists calls for the “voluntary sedentarization” of mobile pastoralists in order to transform them into sedentary agriculturalists and wage-labourers.In a British Broadcasting Corporation interview, Abera Deressa, then minister of state in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, summed up the government perspective regarding pastoralism:
[A]t the end of the day we are not really appreciating pastoralists remaining as they are. We have to improve their livelihood by creating job opportunities. Pastoralism, as it is, is not sustainable. We want to change the environment.
Typically government interventions in pastoral areas in Ethiopia are intended to “promote limited mobility of livestock, sedentarisation and mixed agro-pastoral production instead of transhumant, migratory pastoralist lifestyles.” Pastoralism in arid and semi-arid areas requires access to large areas of land, ensuring that no one area gets overgrazed and that cattle have year-round access to water. This way of life is not compatible with Ethiopia’s development plans for the Lower Omo, which will clear grazing lands and riverine forest for more intensive land use.
Reconciling existing pastoralist lifestyles with economic development and pressure on dry-season grazing land is unquestionably a major challenge for governments throughout East and North Africa, particularly in the Sahel region spanning northern Africa from Senegal to Sudan. But while development interventions in pastoral areas are inherently challenging, Ethiopia continues to view potential solutions solely in the context of sedentarizing pastoral populations, rather than by examining other options that recognize the economic potential of pastoralism and that secure communal and customary land rights which underpin pastoral systems of production.
Attempts to bring about a transition from a pastoral to a sedentary lifestyle have been fraught with all kinds of pitfalls elsewhere in Ethiopia (for example in the Awash Valley of eastern Ethiopia) due to lack of consent, lack of adequate planning, and aggressive approaches to “top-down” development.
Map 2: Approximate Ethnic Boundaries in Lower Omo Valley
Map 3: Sugar Plantation Development Plans in Lower Omo Valley
The Ethiopian government has ambitious plans to transform the Lower Omo Valley and the livelihoods of the people that live there. Hydroelectric development, irrigated commercial agriculture (specifically sugar plantations), major road infrastructure, and oil exploration are some of the known plans for the region. As Prime Minister Meles Zenawi stated in January 2011:
In the coming five years there will be a very big irrigation project and related agricultural development in this zone. I promise you that, even though this area is known as backward in terms of civilization, it will become an example of rapid development.
However, to date, neither plans nor environmental and social impact assessments have been published in relation to the project, nor have the indigenous populations been meaningfully engaged about the changes that are being forced upon them. Meanwhile the irrigation project is well underway and people are being moved.
Government maps (see above) obtained by Human Rights Watch indicate that the Ethiopian government has earmarked at least 450,000 hectares of land in the Lower Omo valley for commercial agriculture since 2008, including 245,000 hectares for state-run, irrigated, sugar plantations. The plans include more than 200 kilometers of irrigation canals running parallel to the Omo River (on both the east and west banks), more than 750 kilometers of internal roads, and the construction of six sugar processing factories.
Other plans for the region include the development of east-west and north-south road infrastructure envisioned to link the region with regional transportation networks, including the Mombasa-Nairobi-Addis Ababa transportation corridor. In addition, oil exploration is occurring in the southern part of the Lower Omo near the Kenyan border (in the Nyangatom/Daasanach areas), an area that will be under significant cultural and resource stress. Ethiopia also has plans for developing Gibe IV and Gibe V dams further down the Omo Valley.
According to government sources these developments are expected to create more than 150,000 full-time and part-time jobs. However, most of the Lower Omo valley is currently occupied by indigenous agro-pastoralists (see map 2). According to the maps, it is clear that existing residents will need to be resettled and therefore find alternative ways of making a living.
Resettlement has a troubled history in Ethiopia. Elsewhere in Ethiopia, since late 2010, the Ethiopian government has been undertaking “villagization” programs in four different regions that involve the relocation of 1.5 million pastoralists, agro-pastoralists, and shifting cultivators into permanent, sedentary villages. A recent Human Rights Watch report “Waiting Here For Death”: Displacement and ‘Villagization’ in Ethiopia’s Gambella Region found that relocations in that region were not voluntary, promised infrastructure and services had not been provided, and the military was committing various other abuses against civilians.
The relocations associated with sugar plantation development in the Lower Omo have never been considered part of the federal villagization program, but recent Ethiopian media reports have started describing relocations in the Omo Valley as part of the villagization program. For instance, reports from Ethiopia’s state run media suggest that 10,995 pastoralist households were “villagized” in 2010 and 2011 in the Salamago woreda [district]of South Omo Zone, with another 20,000 households scheduled for “villagization” in 2011 and 2012.
A subsequent February 2012 media report, also from the state run media, reported that the government planned to relocate 103,000 pastoralists (“all volunteers”) during this budget year in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, particularly in the South Omo Zone. It further stated that this program “is part of the Government’s larger resettlement program, a carefully drawn up strategy to ensure pastoralist areas of the country benefit from development. In all cases, the beneficiaries are being provided with the necessary socio-economic infrastructure.” Donors to Ethiopia have expressed serious concerns about the lack of services related to the villagization program. These concerns should extend to relocations in the Lower Omo.
What is certain under the plan is that communities currently living in areas that will be affected by the irrigation canals and sugar development will lose partial or complete access to the Omo River, critically endangering livelihoods and the agro-pastoral way of life. At a May 2011 public meeting about the sugar plantations in the town of Hanna, an attendee recalled:
Officials made it clear that the government will take most of the land and resettle the population in large villages—five for the whole Bodi population—along the canal. They were encouraged to work on the sugar plantations. It was said they would earn 70 birr (US$4) a day.
Residents told Human Rights Watch that the Bodi were being resettled in at least three different resettlement sites. Eyewitnesses reported that these relocations were underway as of February 2012.
Environmental and Social Impact Assessments
The Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation (EEPCO) commissioned an “Environmental and Social Impact Assessment” (ESIA) in 2005, an “Additional Study of Downstream Impacts,” and a two volume resettlement action plan for the Gibe III dam and reservoir. These were only published in January 2009, three years after dam construction had begun. They did not consider the downstream effects of large-scale commercial irrigation schemes, nor of the planned Gibe IV and V dams. The resettlement action plans were limited to the resettlement of 2,278 citizens to be displaced by an electricity transmission line, a road realignment, and the reservoir that would be created behind the Gibe III dam. The resettlement action plan does not include any of the resettlements that are currently underway in the sugar plantation areas downstream of Gibe III.
There have been a number of critiques of the EEPCO impact assessments. In one critique the African Resources Group, a coalition of concerned experts, outlined what they saw as the key effects from Gibe III. These include reduced inflow to Lake Turkana, the destruction of livelihoods in Ethiopia and Kenya, increased competition for grazing and water leading to a likely increase in conflict, pervasive downstream destruction of ecological systems, and the loss of virtually all riverine associated economic activities, including human settlement along the South Omo River and throughout the Omo delta resulting in economic collapse for tens of thousands of agro-pastoralists.
In another, an independent report commissioned by the African Development Bank and later leaked, criticized the project for a lack of meaningful consultation:
Adversely impacted individuals and localities do not appear to have been granted adequate legal standing and enabling resources that would allow them to participate at key junctures of the dam’s permitting, licensing and funding processes. Nor does the existing permitting and licensing process appear to have been conducted independently from the process of pro-actively arranging for the Gibe III project to be implemented.
The EEPCO impact assessment concludes that, “Provided all the recommended measures are implemented, there are no ethnic minorities or tribal people whose traditional lifestyles could become compromised through the development of the Gibe III hydroelectric project. Therefore, no indigenous development plan will be required.”
This statement appears to be based on the proper regulation of the flow of the river so that downstream fishing and pastoralist communities will be unaffected. However this does not seem to factor in the impact of the irrigation canals and the sugar plantations. Even the government’s own recent statement in response to UNESCO’s concerns about the project notes that, as a result of the dam, “there will certainly be some cultural effects and lifestyle changes, including the provision of roads, health clinics, schools and other developments.” These changes should proceed on the basis of consultation, compensation, free and informed prior consent, and the guidelines provided to the Ethiopian government by the Development Assistance Group. For the EEPCO assessment to discount indigenous peoples in these circumstances by saying that no indigenous peoples’ plan will be required would appear to be a serious omission.
The EEPCO impact assessment’s only mention of commercial agriculture is the “possibility of irrigation” and therefore “potential future commercial interest.” The downstream study does not consider the impacts of large-scale state-run and commercial agricultural development such as the sugar plantations, saying that future plans are guesswork:
The anticipated development of commercial plantations will almost certainly be situated on the plains of Daasanach Wereda near the Omo River delta, where large areas of flat land are available. It is not possible at this stage to do more than guess at the number or scale of such investments, but for the sake of argument we can assume that at least 5,000 ha will be developed, with cotton plantations being the most likely.
And yet just over one year later, the government had begun clearing land for 245,000 hectares of sugar outlined in the unpublished government maps obtained by Human Rights Watch (see above). The Omo River delta of Daasanach woreda where the river empties into Lake Turkana is far from the areas where the sugar plantations are currently being developed. Moreover, despite the ESIA claim that “at least 5000ha will be developed” in the Daasanach woreda, government documents show that 76, 409 hectares of land have been made available for agricultural investment in that woreda. The government maps show that over 18,000 hectares of that “available” land had been awarded to agricultural investors as of early 2011.
Importantly, according to a recent government statement, the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation ESIA “did point out that extensive irrigation development might have an effect,” but the Ministry of Foreign Affairs statement said that “irrigation is not a major factor.” It is a huge factor and will have a transformative effect on livelihoods and landscape.
To reiterate, there are numerous critiques of the scope, thoroughness, quality, and independence of the environmental and social impact assessments of Gibe III. These assessments mention the possibility of irrigated agriculture but do not assess the environmental and social impacts of these developments. To the best of our knowledge, no environmental or social impact assessments have been carried out for the sugar plantation developments, despite the requirement under Ethiopian law to do so.
Ethiopia withdrew its request for funding for the Gibe III dam from the African Development Bank in June 2010, and also from the World Bank and European Investment Bank. The reasons were not stated. The European Investment Bank later made a public statement that “alternative financing had been found.” In May 2010 Ethiopia and Chinese hydropower giant Dongfang Electric Corporation signed a US$459 million agreement for development of Gibe III, which included a US$420 million loan from the Industrial and Commercial Bank of China to finance construction costs.
Recent media reports state that the Indian Exim Bank has provided credit worth a total of US$640 million to the government of Ethiopia for its national sugar industry. One of the conditions of this loan is that the line of credit will be used to finance at least 75 percent of contract values for goods and services that are imported from India. Other published media reports discuss India’s commitment to increasing technical assistance and transfer of technical know-how between India and the Ethiopia Sugar Corporation—the state run organization operating sugar plantations in Ethiopia of which the Kuruz Sugar Industry is a subsidiary.
Lack of Meaningful and Appropriate Consultation
While there has been consultation with communities impacted by Gibe III as outlined in the various environmental and social impact assessment reports, there has been little meaningful consultation with communities who may be affected by the irrigated sugar plantations. Instead the government has used fear and intimidation when enthusiasm for the sugar plantations has not been forthcoming from local communities.
For example, there were meetings held in the Bodi areas of Lower Omo in March 2011. Those in attendance were told of the government’s sugar plans and there were attempts to gain some form of consent from affected communities. These meetings took place in the town of Hanna. Federal, regional, and woreda government officials took part, and the police and military presence was high. Initially these meetings were open to whomever wanted to attend, but more recent meetings have involved participants selected by the government, and honoraria were paid to them. Mursi and Kwegu were also present at some of these meetings.
The threat of force and arbitrary arrests to intimidate and coerce indigenous communities during consultation meetings has continued more recently. For example, a resident of the region described the process in the Bodi areas in October 2011:
Government officials gathered the Bodi from many different villages in their areas and also members of the other neighboring group called the Chirim. They had a big meeting about the sugarcane project and villagization. After the meeting, the government took the Bodi and Chirim to show them the resettlement area where they were told they will live permanently. After seeing the place, the Bodi and Chirim refused to live there and all went back to their homes….
On October 26, 2011, again the government called the Bodi in the Hanna area for a meeting. They had a very long meeting and again the Bodi men rejected the project, the government became exhausted of trying to make the Bodi agree. The government called the security forces and the forces came and surrounded the Bodi at a meeting. Even surrounded, the young men still would not be scared into agreeing to the project, so the security forces caught four young men and put them in prison.
Other consultation meetings that took place involved the visit of government officials to the Mursi communities of Hailewuha and Moizo in mid-2011 where the Mursi were told not to go to the banks of the Omo River in the future and “signed” government forms with their thumbprints. Given low literacy levels, the Mursi did not know what the government forms said or what they were “consenting” to.
Outside of urban areas Human Rights Watch did not find any evidence of meaningful consultation that was undertaken with communities about the sugar plantation developments, nor about alternative livelihood strategies. There is a general information vacuum about the government’s development plans in the region and there has been minimal consultation with members of affected communities who lack experience of industrial-scale development and fear questioning the government. The requirements for consultation are spelled out in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (article 10), the Ethiopian constitution, the Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation #299/2002, and others.
Affected Communities in the Omo Valley
Given the lack of information available from the government of Ethiopia, it is not clear whether alternative livelihoods are planned for the Lower Omo’s indigenous communities affected by the irrigated agriculture plans. The loss of livelihoods is not voluntary, and indigenous groups currently have no say about this loss or about how to transition to an alternative sustainable livelihood.
In a letter to Human Rights Watch the Ethiopian government stated that development in the Lower Omo would lead to “job creation” and potential for “outgrowers.”  There is no acknowledgement of the fact that agro-pastoral communities may not want to work on large commercial farms or as outgrowers, nor that they have received insufficient information about their options.
The government maps seen by Human Rights Watch and overlaid in the maps above show that the planned state-run plantations overlap with the traditional lands of the Suri, Bodi, Mursi, Kwegu, Nyangatom, and Karo, while irrigation canals will cut through virtually all of their territory. Despite this, in a letter to Human Rights Watch, the government of Ethiopia claims that “the project site and the selected locations in South Omo are not anywhere close [to] human dwelling.” The government continues to claim that “this is completely uninhabited land. There is no evacuation or dislocation of people,” ignoring the 200,000 people for whom the Lower Omo valley is home.As a Bodi woman said:
The government says there is no one here. Where did they go? We have been clearing this land for a very long time. When I was a small girl and I hadn’t married yet I was here. My father cultivated here and my grandmother cultivated here. Now I am still cultivating here. We grow here like the sorghum. My ancestors died here and I was replanted here like we replant the sorghum seeds. I am here and I am eating from this land. Why is the government saying no one is here and sending the highland Ethiopians here?
Map 4: Overlap Between Mursi and Kwegu Land Use Sites and Sugar Plantation Development Plans
The Impact on Lake Turkana
One of the concerns about the Gibe III hydroelectric development is the downstream impacts on Kenya’s Lake Turkana. Approximately 300,000 agro-pastoralists (including the Turkana, Samburu, Daasanach, Rendille, Elmolo, and Gabra) make Lake Turkana area their home and are directly or indirectly reliant on the Lake to sustain their livelihoods. Many of these agro-pastoralists supplement their livelihoods through fishing or sedentary agriculture along the lake and its tributaries. Lake Turkana is the world’s largest desert lake, and more than 80 percent of Lake Turkana’s water has as its source the nutrient-rich flow of the Omo River.
The African Development Bank’s April 2010 study of Gibe III concluded that the construction and operation of the dam is likely to result in a significant drop in the Lake’s water levels, cessation of the current seasonal flooding pattern, losses of nutrient and mineral-rich sediments due to the upstream reservoir, rising salinity and the disruption of the lake’s chemical balance, among other impacts that have yet to be quantified. And this is before the additional impacts of the irrigated agriculture plans have even been considered.
Sugar is a water intensive crop and requires numerous chemical applications for its successful growth. The lack of studies on the impact that 245,000 hectares of irrigated sugar plantations will have on water quantity and quality in Kenya’s Lake Turkana is of the utmost concern. There have been no studies that consider the cumulative effects of the downstream impacts of irrigated agriculture, Gibe III, and the other announced developments on Lake Turkana.
There is concern that irrigated agriculture, in combination with the impact of Gibe III, will do serious and irreversible harm to the Lake Turkana ecosystem and to the livelihoods of those that rely on this ecosystem, reducing the flow into Lake Turkana, increasing competition for the scarce resources that are left, and exacerbating the potential for conflict. Ethiopia has not carried out the necessary studies and impact assessments to determine what the downstream impact will be on Lake Turkana from irrigated agriculture. Even the February 2012 United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) report on the downstream impacts on Lake Turkana do not consider the additional impact from agricultural development, despite the availability of information on the scope of the planned irrigated agricultural developments.
In June 2011 UNESCO’s World Heritage Committee recommended that Ethiopia halt construction of Gibe III given the impacts on the Lake Turkana World Heritage site. According to article 6 of the Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, Ethiopia is required “not to take any deliberate measures, which might damage directly or indirectly the cultural and natural heritage located on the territory of another state party”. The committee also expressed concern about the “potential cumulative impacts of the proposed GIBE IV and GIBE V dams and large-scale irrigation plans on the property’s Outstanding Universal Value, and requests the State Party of Ethiopia to submit assessments for all proposed dams and associated irrigation plans on the Omo River.” They also have asked the government of Ethiopia to “provide detailed information on plans for other hydroelectric developments and associated large-scale irrigation in the Omo region.”
In response the government claimed that it had carried out independent environmental and social impact assessments which broadly supported the Gibe III project and addressed UNESCO’s concerns; it said that “the lower valley of the Omo which is a UNESCO World Heritage site is located well downstream and will not be affected by the dam.” As discussed above, there are numerous critiques of the Gibe III impact assessments, and no impact assessments have been carried out for the sugar plantation developments that would consider the effects on Lake Turkana.
Kenya has noted the lack of appropriate impact assessment in their formal response to UNESCO stating that “it is still of the opinion that up to now, no adequate scientific proof have been forwarded by the State Party of Ethiopia regarding probable mitigation measures to counter the likely threats to the World Heritage site from the Gibe III project.”
The opposition of local communities to the development of commercial agriculture in the Lower Omo is leading to tensions and human rights violations as the government attempts to implement its ambitious development agenda.
As noted above, the difficulty of conducting research on any human rights issue in Ethiopia today cannot be overstated. During the course of research in Ethiopia in May and June 2011, Human Rights Watch met with witnesses and victims of violations from six different ethnic groups along the length of the Lower Omo Valley. Human Rights Watch updated these findings with additional information gathered on the ground in Ethiopia through May 2012 and with other information gathered outside Ethiopia.
The human rights violations presented below describe a disturbing snapshot of coercive and unlawful methods being used by Ethiopian government forces to implement its development plans. While this research provides an initial outline of the major human rights concerns linked to the development of the Lower Omo Valley to date, the picture is far from complete. Human Rights Watch strongly supports further credible investigations into the scope and scale of the abuses raised in this report and calls on the Ethiopian government to support unfettered access to the region by independent investigators.
In 2011 Mursi and Bodi communities in the northern portion of the Lower Omo Valley where sugar plantation development is beginning told Human Rights Watch that, beginning in April 2011, members of the federal military and police visited their villages and arrested, beat, and intimidated villagers. They said the visits and subsequent abuses had been happening for several weeks prior to the interviews with Human Rights Watch in 2011. The stories were similar in Bodi and Mursi communities visited by Human Rights Watch.
A Mursi man described what happened in his village:
They come every day as long as it is not raining [when the road is not bad]; four or five cars usually; 20 to 60 soldiers. They say “We need this place for sugar [pointing to the surrounding area], so you should not be there. You stay in this place only. What do you think about sugar?” We say “We don’t know,” or “We don’t want it,” but that is not the right answer. They hit us or they take us to jail.
Another Mursi man described what happened in a different village:
They came in nine cars of soldiers; they would go to different parts of villages, follow people and hit them in the bush. “Tell me about this sugarcane,” they would say. If we do not say something good, they tell us we must stay here [in the village]. They beat us and hit us. They have truncheons, guns, and stun devices. They come every day.... Before when they had a problem, simple policemen would come. There was no hitting. But the soldiers are different—they are very terrible. I have seen all of this with my own eyes.
Since Human Rights Watch’s June 2011 visit local residents and visitors to Lower Omo have reported worsening patterns of abuse and intimidation. Residents said that statements by government people at public meetings and by the military during their regular visits indicated that the authorities intended to move people from the vicinity of the sugar plantations.
Clearing for sugar plantations and infrastructure development is taking place in northern areas and moving south. Most violations reported have occurred in the Bodi, Mursi, and Kwegu areas. Land continues to be cleared of all vegetation and road and camp infrastructure continues to be built. According to Human Rights Watch interviews, government and military officials have told communities that they will not be allowed to access the Omo River, that they will have to reduce their cattle numbers, keeping only two or three per household, and that they will have to resettle in permanent villages.
One Bodi woman summed up the frustration and the lack of clarity about the resettlement plans:
I am a person that lives from the Omo and from cattle. Will the cattle be allowed in the resettlement site or where will they stay? Where is the resettlement site? If you have heard of this resettlement site tell us—where do they say it is? They keep saying move, move, move. We Bodi are not moving. They can cut our throats here, where we are staying. We are staying here and the cattle will eat the grass that our grandfathers’ cattle ate.
Arbitrary Arrests and Detentions
Federal military forces visiting villages have arbitrarily arrested and detained members of the Bodi and Mursi communities according to 10 witnesses in different villages. The interviewees said that the military personnel conducting the arrests gave different reasons for the arrests, but regularly mentioned opposition to the sugar plans as a contributory factor. 
Subsequently, many of the detained were convicted in very quick processes: some sentences were handed down within 24 hours of arrest.  Several villagers claimed that some prisoners were beaten severely while in custody and that their families were denied access to those arrested.  Relatives of the accused also told Human Rights Watch that defendants had no legal representation and, given the lack of a common language, many could not communicate with anyone during the court process, let alone answer the accusations.  However, Human Rights Watch was not able to visit any local jails to verify such claims because, even if the authorities had granted access, the difficulty of the terrain and heavy rains made it impossible. The Ethiopian authorities should nonetheless investigate such allegations.
Two sources in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region and federal governments told Human Rights Watch that similar processes of arbitrary arrest and detention were happening in the Suri areas on the west bank of the Omo. A Mursi interlocutor who had been to the area corroborated their account.Since Human Rights Watch’s visit to the region credible sources have described continuing arbitrary arrests throughout the Bodi, Suri, and Mursi areas.
In October 2011 a Mursi man told a visitor to the area:
Some were put in prison in Jinka; some were put in prison in Basketo; some in Wolaita. Some were jailed for doing nothing. Many were put in prison…. In the past the government didn’t put us in prison like this. If a person shot someone the Mursi would solve it with their traditional custom…. Now because of the sugarcane plantations people who don’t like the plantations are being imprisoned.
Beatings and Mistreatment
Villagers in the Bodi and Mursi areas told Human Rights Watch that beatings are a regular part of the military’s visits to the villages, seemingly in order to intimidate.
A Mursi villager said:
They show up and they say “You don’t want sugar?” and then they hit us with the butts of their rifles. “This is government land, not your land” [they say]. 
Another Mursi villager told Human Rights Watch that the military used high voltage stun guns, or tasers, to assault villagers:
The shocking happens all the time. In one case, they [soldiers] asked one man “What do you think about sugar?” “I don’t know.... I don’t know,” he said. “You don’t know?” [they said]. And they zapped him.”
Fear of military visits appeared to have reached such a level that when Human Rights Watch approached one village in the Lower Omo in a vehicle, panicked villagers ran into the bush. They later told the researcher they had assumed it was the military conducting a regular visit. Since Human Rights Watch’s visit to the Lower Omo in 2011 there have been continuing credible eyewitness reports about the army beating and assaulting Bodi and Mursi. 
Governing through Fear and Intimidation
The government is like a bulldozer, and anyone opposing its development projects will be crushed like a person standing in front of a bulldozer in action.
—Lower Omo resident quoting the chief of police from Awassa, the regional capital, during a public meeting in Hanna, June 2011.
The government, police, and military officials are using fear, threats, and arbitrary arrests and detentions to suppress dissent about the government’s Lower Omo development plans; such tactics are commonly used by the government to deal with criticism.
Many of the human rights violations appear to be carried out publicly to show that those who offer anything less than full support for the sugar plantation plans will be dealt with toughly. Villagers are very afraid of the use of force. One Bodi man said:
People disagree with the government on the sugar, but are afraid of the possible use of force to resettle people and so do not say much. [We have a] big fear of government here. If you express concern, you go to jail.
Dissent about the development plans is also not tolerated within government. A federal government employee said:
I expressed concerns that according to the constitution local people need to be consulted. I have since been taken out of any relevant meetings and decision making process for the Lower Omo. All of the decisions on this are made by a small group of people, so nobody really knows what the plans are until it is time for implementation.
Communities expressed deep concern to Human Rights Watch over the current violations and the impact of commercial agriculture on their long term future and livelihoods. They had heard rumors about resettlement, reduction in cattle numbers, and loss of access to the Omo River, but the very limited consultation has resulted in a lot of miscommunication, with residents unaware of any forum in which they can seek clarification or express dissenting views.
Human Rights Watch found no evidence that an environmental impact assessment (EIA) for the sugar plantations had been completed and approved by the Ethiopian Environmental Protection Agency, despite the legal requirement to do so, let alone made available for public scrutiny and consultation. The Ethiopian government implied in its letter to Human Rights Watch that the existing EIAs produced for the dam covered the sugar plantations. As shown above, they do not.
More recent reports from local activists in the region indicate that there have been a number of incidents—five fatal—in which Bodi were run over by sugar plantation vehicles.  Although there is no evidence that these incidents were anything more than accidents, they have increased tensions between the Bodi and highland workers and/or the army and have since been followed by a number of minor incidents between Bodi and the army. 
One Kwegu man who farms along the Omo River had his beehives cleared by plantation workers in December 2011. He described the lack of consultation and the climate of fear that prevented him and others questioning the government:
I saw them and was afraid. Maybe if I went and talked to them maybe they would beat me and I’d die. I am only a Kwegu…. How am I going to talk to them? I was afraid…. If they became mad maybe they would stuff me into a big beehive. Hide me there. I can’t do anything about this. What are we to do?
Violations of Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
Forced Displacement, Sedentary Living, and Lower Omo
When Human Rights Watch visited the area in June 2011 forced displacement of the Lower Omo indigenous population was just getting underway in the Mursi and Bodi areas. While government statements at public meetings indicate that relocations will be widespread, it is not clear where all the resettlement sites will be. What is clear is that the resettlement process is not voluntary. One Mursi man said, “It is forced, nothing voluntary about it. We do not want this.” At that time road construction and clearing of land was just getting underway.
While most of the stated justifications for the upcoming relocations were that this was necessary for the sugar plantations, the government was also using the national parks as a reason for displacement. In Mago National Park Human Rights Watch visited abandoned Mursi villages whose residents had relocated from the Mago Valley onto the dry and arid plateau above the valley just weeks earlier. Officials told villagers that the park is for animals or tourists and not for the indigenous people. One man from a Mursi village still located along the Mago River explained how the park was being used as a justification for the relocation:
They tell us, “This is the park, you have to go to the village on the plateau.” We don’t know why. This is Mursi land, it has always been Mursi land. My father was from here, my grandfather, all my ancestors. The police come and tell us, they hit us, they even shot at one of us as we ran into the bush. The bullet grazed his arm.
Various parts of both Mago and Omo National Park are slated to be cleared for sugar plantation development [see map 3 for an illustration of the overlap between the planned sugar plantations and the National Parks].  There is a recent history of government forced displacement policies in Omo and Mago National Parks. 
In other areas outside Mago National Park, Mursi villagers from two different villages told Human Rights Watch that government officials had informed them several months previously they would be moved, but they were not told the location or timing. Two other Mursi communities first heard about resettlement when the military appeared in their villages and told them they were to be permanently settled in the Hailewuha area (more sedentary communities were told earlier). 
According to what Lower Omo residents are being told, a key component of the resettlement plans appears to be the requirement to be sedentary and to drastically reduce cattle numbers.  This would dramatically undermine current livelihood practices and cultural values with potentially threatening consequences for food security and nutrition, particularly amongst children. These messages have been continuously delivered to Lower Omo residents over the past year by government and military personnel. 
According to reports from the area, 1,700 hectares (4,200 acres) has been cleared for the 1,700 Bodi households that are to be resettled. The preparation of these sites involved the complete clearing and removal of all vegetation and the demarcation of house sites and fields for each Bodi household. None of the promised infrastructure such as houses, clinics, and schools is yet in place. The new site is irrigated and is located on the east side of the irrigation canal, east of the Omo River. Wood for house building had reportedly been collected with the unpaid assistance of members of the Konso community who had been resettled to the Bodi area some years earlier. 
A number of villagers voiced concern about the impact of scarce water resources on their livestock and livelihoods. A villager who was forced to move from the Mago River Valley to the upland plateau explained:
There is no water here for our village. The government says they will bring water for us and for our cattle. They tell us to stay here, not to go anywhere else. They harass us in the bush and tell us we cannot go to Omo floodplain anymore.
Another Mursi villager stated:
There will be a problem during the dry season. Now there is water, but when there isn’t if we do not go back to Omo we will need the government to bring water. If they do not, [we] and our cattle will die. We will go to the Omo anyway. If not, we will die. They can kill us there if they want. 
Two Mursi communities and two Bodi communities that Human Rights Watch visited said that the military had told them they would work on the sugar plantations, with some indication that resettled communities will act as outgrowers. One Bodi pastoralist said:
There are two messages from government: we will be workers on the sugar plantations and we will start preparing small farms with oxen, not with hoes.
A SNNPR government official told Human Rights Watch that “People are being resettled to provide labor for farms,” confirming a fear voiced by many in the Lower Omo.  The official added:
This is a new issue for our people. I have the strong feeling it will be bad. If highlanders are resettled here to provide farm labour, there will be drinking, we will slowly sell our cattle, then begging is next. We will lose our self-sufficiency. Our culture will go when the highlanders come. This is the end of pastoralism in southern Ethiopia.
Reports from residents and visitors in the Lower Omo Valley since Human Rights Watch’s visit indicate that clearing of land by sugar plantation workers has increased dramatically in the Mursi, Bodi, and Kwegu areas, and that areas used by local people for flood-retreat and rain-fed agriculture have been cleared. A visitor to the Lower Omo said that soldiers are often seen sitting alongside sugar plantation workers who are operating the heavy machinery.
It seems that land is being cleared regardless of how local people are presently using it. The “bush belt” along the Omo River, for example, is reportedly being cleared, along with its cultivation areas, beehives, and traditional plant gathering sites. 
Land clearing along the Lower Omo Valley
The image above is from 2011. The image below is from the same location in January 2012. © 2011 Survival International.
The Agro-Pastoralist Bodi and Mursi
The livelihoods and food security of both the Bodi and Mursi depend on cattle rearing and agriculture on the banks of the Omo River and other fertile areas. The take-over of flood-retreat and rain-fed cultivation sites along the Omo and its tributaries for commercial plantations and the forced reduction in cattle numbers will undermine local food security and decimate livelihoods.
This process was just getting underway during Human Rights Watch’s visit to the area and continues to the present. Residents told Human Rights Watch that, as of February 2012, large areas inhabited by the Bodi have been cleared, canal construction is underway, water is being diverted via an earthen dam from the Omo into one of these canals, and one of the resettlement sites is being prepared. Downstream of the earthen dam water flow was greatly reduced (see pictures below). Residents reported that upstream of the dam there was a sudden rise in river level causing at least 25 Bodi sorghum fields (that were nearly ready for harvesting) to flood. Most crops were destroyed.
The flow of the Lower Omo River in February 2012 downstream of the earthen dyke that was constructed to divert the Omo’s waters into the first irrigation canal. © 2012 Survival International.
The same location on the river one year earlier in February 2011 (photograph taken from a different angle). Bodi women are crossing from their sorghum fields on the west to the east side of the Omo River. © 2011 Human Rights Watch.
A Mursi woman told a visitor to the Lower Omo:
The other day I went to the Omo River. I went along the government’s new roads…. I went to my storage container to get the grain and it was gone. My storage container had been plowed by a bulldozer. Our place on the Omo—we rely on it to raise our children. Where are we going to live? Can’t the government stay and eat in its own village? Why does it come and stay in our Mursi bush? Have we ever lived with each other before?
I don’t like what they are doing. When I went I just cried. Our storage containers were gone…. We couldn’t bring any grain back with us; our storage containers’ place was gone. Maybe we will die. That is how it is.
Another Bodi man said:
The bulldozer even cleared the gardens where our crops were growing. They cleared a very straight road to a place called Shigitan, where they cleared out the cultivation sites we had already planted.
More recent visitors to the region confirm that the rate of road construction, camp construction, and clearing continues to increase.
Cattle are central to the identity, livelihoods, and food security of the Bodi and Mursi. Government forces appear to be trying to undermine both the economic independence and cultural values of these communities by telling them they must give up their cattle.
A Mursi described the role of cattle in ensuring food security to Human Rights Watch:
What am I going to eat? They said to take all my cattle and to sell them and to only tie one up at my house. What can I do with only one? I am a Mursi. If hunger comes I bleed a cow’s neck and drink blood. If we sell them all for money how will we eat? When we get married we marry with cattle. What will we marry with? What will we eat? When hunger comes what will we feed our children with? If we just keep chickens will we eat soup or milk them? … “This land is my land,” say the highland Ethiopians. “Run to the forest like a baboon.”
A Bodi man also emphasized the importance of cattle, noting, “All our food products come from cattle, which we can sell for more food, so a drop in numbers will mean we will be poorer.” 
Many villagers reported military stealing cattle and saying that they would not be needed in the new settlement sites. A Mursi man reported that the military had taken eight cows from his village.  Another man described the government taking cattle from around the Mursi area, including “10 from Makki, 10 from Magento, 10 from Mugjo, 10 from Gongulobibi, 7 from Ariholi, 10 from Biyogolekare.” 
Recently, according to numerous testimonies from local residents, government officials and members of the military have been telling Bodi and Mursi villagers to dramatically reduce their cattle numbers and to purchase two or three “Borana cattle” (considered to be good for meat production) per household. 
Another Bodi man summarized local concerns in December 2011:
They are cutting down our bush and forest, and bulldozing our gardens. Then they want us to sell off all our cattle. No one is going to sell their cattle. They should go away. They should leave our forest alone and leave it to us to cultivate with our hands.
The Kwegu (Muguji)
The Kwegu are sedentary and live along the Omo River. They grow sorghum on both sides of the river, in which they fish. As of January 2012 Kwegu land had been cleared on both sides of the river. One Kwegu summed up his community’s concern regarding this loss of crops: “The Kwegu are now hungry. They have no cattle or milk. The bulldozer cleared all their crops away.” Another Kwegu man described the fear of losing access to the fish stocks of the Omo River in December 2011: “It is my water. I eat fish. It is our food.”
The February 2012 construction of an earthen dike across the Omo River resulted in a reduction of the Omo River’s flow to a trickle and there were reports from residents of an instant downstream reduction in Kwegu fish catches. This reduction in fish habitat and fishing success could have detrimental impacts to Kwegu livelihoods.
One Mursi man described a situation where farmland used by Kwegu and Bodi communities was cleared in December 2011:
They [the government] cleared out their [Kwegu and Bodi] gardens. They cleared far and dug up their sorghum. The sorghum was near ripening; a truck plowed it and cast it away. The Kwegu gardens were plowed and some Kwegu are now without anything. If their sorghum is plowed what are they going to eat? What will they give to their kids?
The government’s efforts to try and resettle people without their consent and to force them to adapt their livelihoods may also increase the risk of conflict, both among the communities and with the government. As one man warned in June 2011, “There will likely be a problem in the future with pastoralists if they try to reduce our cattle numbers.”
The concern that the government is trying to force a change of livelihood was underscored by remarks made by members of the military. A villager said he was told by a government soldier, “Maybe you should be worrying about your cattle, maybe your cattle will have nothing to eat, no grasses, you will soon be worrying about your cattle, you will have to sell them.” 
Members of the communities also fear, based on what they said they have been told by government officials, that they will be reliant on government for their food needs in the relocation sites. Several Mursi told Human Rights Watch that government food aid deliveries were being used as an incentive to stay settled in one area. One Mursi pastoralist said:
There could be a big starvation in the next years. We do not know what will happen. We have already resorted to eating one of our cows because we are starving. Government is providing bags of sorghum in [village name withheld] as an incentive to stay in one place.
A Mursi man summarized food security concerns for the future:
There will be big problems in the areas if all the cattle are given to the government—what will these people eat, now that drought is badly affecting the Horn of Africa? Now the dam has been built, there is no water in the river, the land has been taken away, the cattle must be given to the government—what will happen to the poor people in times of famine? Those people who want to wipe out the pastoralists eat three times a day. What will happen to us if hunger comes?
As noted above, the minister of federal affairs did not respond to requests for a meeting and Bereket Simon, the minister for government communications, agreed to an interview one week after the Human Rights Watch researcher had left the country. Officials within the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development declined to comment, referring researchers to a public relations official with no information on development plans or rights violations in Lower Omo.
One regional government official from the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region, who spoke to Human Rights Watch on condition of anonymity, said that the resettlement of the Lower Omo indigenous population was necessary to make the land available for the sugar plantations. He feared that frustrations over the resettlement may lead to conflict.
Human Rights Watch provided the Ethiopian government with a summary of the findings of this report in November 2011. It responded by dismissing all findings, insisting that the “project site” is “not anywhere close [to] human dwellings to disturb inhabitants’ lifestyle.”
The Ethiopian government noted in its response to Human Rights Watch, included as an annex to this report, that they would provide 0.75 hectares of irrigated land for 2,050 households, training on “improved agronomy practices, technology inputs, and livestock management (including range land)”. It also noted the possibility of outgrower options on the sugar plantations, along with the provision of “social and economical facilities and infrastructures.”
The Ethiopian government also stated that that these findings “emanate from the willful ignorance of the Human Rights Watch Research group in Ethiopia about the discipline of Ethiopian security forces.” Human Rights Watch’s concerns over the human rights record of members of the Ethiopian security forces are not based solely on conduct in the Omo Valley. Human Rights Watch’s investigations in other areas of Ethiopia, as well as in Somalia, have indicated clear patterns of violations of international human rights and humanitarian law that in some cases amount to war crimes and crimes against humanity. Other organizations and institutions, including the UN, have also raised concerns about Ethiopian military attacks on civilians, burning of villages, arbitrary detentions, torture, and executions. Ethiopia has refused to acknowledge or investigate these concerns.
In meetings with Human Rights Watch the donors in the Development Assistance Group (DAG) appeared to have little knowledge of development plans in the Lower Omo, or knowledge of any of the violations described in this report. There are very few programs with direct donor support in the South Omo Zone, and donors do not appear to be receiving information from any of their partners about these violations. It is encouraging that in January 2012 donors led by United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and United Kingdom’s Department for International Development (DFID)undertook an assessment in the Lower Omo, but to date those findings have not been published.
It is likely that the Protection of Basic Services (PBS) program, Ethiopia’s largest multilateral aid program funded by the World Bank, European Union, United Kingdom, and other donors, is indirectly involved in funding resettlement and development activities in the Lower Omo, since PBS and its follow up, PBS II, funds basic service provision in every district of Ethiopia. As such it is almost certainly providing some level of support for woreda level implementation activities in Lower Omo woredas (including Selamago woreda) in the PBS program’s core fields of health, education, water, roads, and agricultural development. PBS III is expected to go to the World Bank Board for their consideration in September 2012. Human Rights Watch has consistently raised concerns with donor governments about the lack of accountability and transparency in the PBS programs but none of these concerns have been addressed in the PBS III Project Information Document.
These woredas (the district governments) receive PBS funds through a block grant system, via the federal treasury and the regional governments in Ethiopia. According to the Ethiopian government’s letter to Human Rights Watch, and its numerous public statements, basic service provision in these sectors is an integral part of the plans for the dam and associated agricultural development; indeed it is a key argument in favor of the project. Local witnesses told Human Rights Watch that woreda officials were present at all meetings and consultations on the sugar plantation and resettlements. PBS funds make up about a third of government expenditure on basic services in woredas, according to PBS project documents. Unless the affected districts in South Omo zone are not receiving PBS funds, it is difficult to see how donor money is not contributing to the resettlement of people in relation to the sugar project.
The DAG and all donors to PBS should be concerned about possible forced resettlement in the Lower Omo. The World Bank has specific guidelines on involuntary resettlement that set out criteria that the development partner—in this case Ethiopia—must follow where projects using bank funds involve resettlement. Given the way that resettlement proceeds in Ethiopia, coordinated at the woreda level and, at least officially, involving the provision of basic services in the five sectors funded by the Bank, it should be obvious that the Bank and all donors to PBS have a role to play in making sure they are not facilitating the illegal expropriation and forced resettlement of indigenous peoples.
Donors should thoroughly investigate the forced displacements, press the government to abide by international human rights law, implement international best practices in undertaking any resettlements, and ensure that no support is given to any activities in the Lower Omo related to forced displacement. Before providing any support to any programs in the Lower Omo, donors should ensure there is meaningful consultation, that appropriate environmental and social impact assessments have been carried out and made available for public discussion, and that a dialogue occurs with the Lower Omo’s indigenous populations about alternate livelihood strategies. Donors should call on the Ethiopian government to halt all resettlement plans until they can be carried out in a fair and transparent manner and are consistent with Ethiopian national law and Ethiopia’s international human rights obligations.
As development of the Omo valley gathers pace, the Ethiopian government should make sure that the rights of the valley’s indigenous inhabitants are protected, and that any displacement or relocation is carried out in line with international and Ethiopian law.
The Ethiopian constitution, international agreements, and a growing body of case law all underscore the validity of customary indigenous rights and the need to protect indigenous people from involuntary displacement from their traditional lands. Any attempt to develop these lands requires the free, prior, and informed consent of those currently occupying it and appropriate compensation. Expropriation (again, with appropriate compensation) is a last resort and should only occur as outlined in the appropriate legislation.
The Right to Land and Property
The Lower Omo indigenous communities are each distinct peoples, with a distinct language, identity, and territory. As map 2 above indicates, anthropologists have long established that these areas are traditionally occupied and used by different communities.
The Ethiopian constitution states that all land ultimately belongs to the state. However, because the land is traditionally owned, under international law the traditional owners have the right to it as property. Changes to its use or seizure are illegal without the consultation and compensation of the lands’ traditional owners who must give their free, prior, and informed consent before any development activities or displacement occurs. They should also receive clear choices about alternative land and survival strategies.
International indigenous rights case law has advanced the protection of indigenous rights and livelihoods. For example, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights consider that indigenous peoples’ traditional possession of their lands means they should be treated as having property rights over them, with the February 2010 decision regarding Kenya’s Endorois people providing a potentially significant turning point toward advancing indigenous rights over their traditional lands in Africa.
The Endorois case concerned an indigenous pastoralist community in Kenya evicted from its lands due to a game reserve (national park). It helped define who is considered to be indigenous in Africa, recognized the need for consultation with communities, recognized customary forms of land tenure, and asserted that the needs of development, and specifically the creation of national parks, are not sufficient reasons for mass eviction.
The commission found that the eviction of an indigenous pastoralist people from their ancestral homeland, including their ancestral graves, and the impact on their pastoralist way of life, was a violation of the right to culture and religion. It was also a violation of the right to health given the impact on their access to plants they used for medicine, on their cattle, and also on the Endorois’ right to natural resources under the African Charter.
The judgment is also the first international legal ruling on the right to development. Finding Kenya to have violated it, the ACHPR said the right had two components—to development and to the improvement of standards of living. These were violated given the eviction’s negative impact on the Endorois, the failure to give them any benefit from the economic development on their land, and the failure to adequately consult regarding decisions made concerning their land and their eviction.
The Ethiopian constitution also provides a solid basis for the recognition of pastoral rights, which apply to the peoples of the Omo valley. Section 40(5) states, “Ethiopian pastoralists have the right to free land for grazing and cultivation as well as the right not to be displaced from their own lands. The implementation shall be specified by law.” The government has not proposed amending the constitution to suit its development objectives. So far it has not upheld the constitutional rights of its pastoralist communities.
Ethiopia’s land tenure system is minimal throughout most of the country, with just four of the nine regions (Amhara, Tigray, Oromia, and SNNPR) having a recognized system of formal land tenure. In SNNPR, as in other regions, the land tenure focus is on sedentary agriculture. No land registration process has been undertaken in the Lower Omo area that would enhance land tenure security for the Lower Omo’s indigenous groups.
While land tenure issues for pastoralist areas and communal areas are challenging and inherently complex, recognition of land rights are critical to ensuring some form of land tenure security and for implementing other constitutional clauses involving expropriation and compensation issues. Faced with criticisms about groups and individuals being expropriated or displaced, Ethiopia’s government continues to assert that “if they have title, they are compensated,” while conveniently omitting the critical point that no pastoralists have title to their lands under Ethiopian law.
A January 2009 USAID report on Gibe III sums up the government’s perspective on the Lower Omo’s indigenous population:
These indigenous ethnic groups have been neglected by the government of Ethiopia and discriminated against by the highlanders; others think they are “backward” because of the way they live and dress. Even regional administrative knowledge of these ethnic groups is very low.
Furthermore, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which Ethiopia ratified June 11, 1993, states, “in no case may a people be deprived of its own means of subsistence.” In addition, the UN committee that monitors compliance with the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD), which Ethiopia ratified June 23, 1976, confirmed that “governments which fail to recognize and respect indigenous customary land tenure are guilty of racial discrimination.” It has thus called on all states “to recognize and protect the rights of indigenous peoples to own, develop, control and use communal lands, territories and resources and where they have been deprived of their lands and territories traditionally owned or otherwise inhabited or used without their free and informed consent, to take steps to return these lands and territories.”
The International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) contains provisions related to forced eviction and the right to housing. In particular, article 2(1) obliges states to use “all appropriate means” to promote the right to adequate housing. General Comment 7 of the ICESCR outlines other protections from displacement and forced evictions and stipulates that states parties “shall ensure, prior to carrying out any evictions, and particularly those involving large groups, that all feasible alternatives are explored in consultation with the affected persons, with a view to avoiding, or at least minimizing, the need to use force.”
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples was passed in 2007, with only four (western) states opposing it, all of which have subsequently changed their position to one of support. Although not a treaty, the United Nations states that this declaration is “an important standard for the treatment of indigenous peoples that will undoubtedly be a significant tool towards eliminating human rights violations against the planet’s 370 million indigenous people and assisting them in combating discrimination and marginalization.” It suggests that states should prohibit “any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing [indigenous peoples] of their lands, territories or resources.”
Free, Prior, and Informed Consent
The UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples also clearly articulates the steps that a government needs to take before it can evict indigenous people from their land. These mirror provisions within the Ethiopian constitution on the right to development (article 43).
The declaration directly condemns any forcible removal of indigenous peoples from their lands or territories. Instead, it imposes the requirements of free, prior, and informed consent, agreement on just and fair compensation, and, where possible, the option of return (for relocations). It also provides for indigenous peoples to participate in the decision-making processes and recognition of traditional forms of land tenure, and the requirement for states to seek “free and informed prior consent” prior to development activities. Another key treaty is the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ratified by Ethiopia on June 15, 1998), particularly articles 14, 20, 21, 22, and 24).
Free, prior, and informed consent (FPIC) is the collective right of a people to participate in decisions affecting their lands, territories and resources or rights in general and their consent must be sought prior to any changes in use. In addition they must be fully informed of the choices available to them and provided with alternative land, livelihoods, or compensation to which they must also agree in advance.
The right to development in the Ethiopian constitution states, “Nationals have the right to participate in national development and, in particular, to be consulted with respect to policies and projects affecting their community.” As discussed in this report, this participation and consultation has been minimal in Lower Omo.
The constitution also has requirements for consultation (article 43) and compensation (article 44) for property owners whose property is expropriated, but unfortunately none of these clauses have been implemented in pastoral areas presumably because the government does not recognize title in the first place. The protections have, to date, only been implemented in very limited fashion, in some non-pastoral areas. As the USAID report on Gibe III states:
[T]he perceived lack of culturally appropriate project consultations contradicts Ethiopia’s constitution, which provides for people to have the right to full consultation and expression of their views in the planning and implementation of environmental policies and projects that affect them directly.
As those with property rights over their traditional lands, according to international law, the indigenous communities of Lower Omo should be consulted and compensated in good faith.
Ethiopia has a solid legal basis for the development of environmental and social impact assessments. Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation #299/2002 was passed in 2002 requiring EIAs to be completed prior to projects being carried out. This proclamation outlines requirements for consultation, process, and mechanisms to ensure compliance and enforcement. Section 15 outlines public participation requirements, including that any “environmental impact study report [be] accessible to the public.” EIAs are an internationally accepted method of assessing and mitigating environmental and social impacts of development projects prior to project activities. Many international financial institutions require completion of an EIA prior to credit being secured.
The rights to property, to development, to free, prior, and informed consent, as well as to consultation and compensation should be the basic principles upon which the Ethiopian government should engage with the indigenous communities of the Omo valley with respect to planned development. Failing that, the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights should uphold the standards it has already set out in Kenya.
The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights requires Ethiopia, as a state party, to respect and protect everyone’s right to property, which, as stated above, the ACHPR has made clear applies to land traditionally occupied by indigenous communities, and also the rights to culture, religion, health, and the rights of peoples to natural resources and to development.
All these rights are likely to be violated if the peoples of Lower Omo are evicted from their homeland without adequate consultation, consent, and compensation, given the principles set out by the commission in the Endorois case.
Human Rights Monitoring and Consultation in Lower Omo
Consultation processes in Lower Omo, as required by Ethiopian and international law, appear to be virtually non-existent, and many government employees told Human Rights Watch that even within government circles, very few individuals know what the development plans are for Lower Omo.
Repressive legislation, restrictions on civil society and media, and general underdevelopment in Lower Omo make it very difficult for communities, nongovernmental organizations, media, and donors to accurately assess what is happening throughout Lower Omo.The region’s inaccessibility means that ongoing violations may be committed with impunity and without independent observers such as NGOs, media, or foreign diplomats being aware they are happening.
The Charities and Societies Proclamation, a repressive law regulating nongovernmental activity, was passed in 2009 despite significant concerns over its impact on civil society. Simultaneously, 41 NGOs operating in the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples’ Region had their licenses revoked under this legislation for “carrying out campaigning activities on farmers not to use agricultural inputs and fertilizers which contravenes the agricultural policies”, and “illegal campaigning against the eradication of harmful traditional practices by using the cover of culture.” Currently there are very few NGOs operating in the Lower Omo.
Human Rights Watch has obtained information from several sources about foreign journalists being prevented from accessing sugar plantation areas and about the increasing difficulties of access for foreign tourists or other visitors in the vicinity of the planned plantations. One visitor described what happened when he tried to access the road that leads to both the Lower Omo and the sugar plantation development:
Government asked me, “Why are you going there? Who has given you permission to go there? These are government plans, and no one is allowed to go and see this place.” A few weeks ago the government told me that no foreigners are allowed to go there.
One Mursi man said:
The soldiers are not allowing it…. People say that the tourist shouldn’t go. If they go they will take photos of the sugar plantation sites. Then they will go to their own lands and show everyone. That’s what [government] say.
Another local resident said in October 2011:
Now everything is under government control in the South Omo area, especially in the Mursi and Bodi areas. The road to Hanna, in Bodi territory, now has put up a checkpoint to stop journalists…. It is the same things in the Mursi area too; even the tourists are not allowed to go further into the rest of Mursi land and to the Omo River.
One Mursi man described what he was told by government officials at a meeting in Hanna:
If someone comes to your places wanting to know information, don’t tell them anything. If it is a foreigner don’t listen to what they have to say. The government is very powerful—we the government are big like an elephant. The foreigners are very weak, a dik-dik [small antelope]. If they tell you things don’t listen, walk away, stay on the side of the government.
There are concerns that the rising tensions related to the development plans may provoke violence. The government is also conducting a gun registration process as a precursor to disarmament of the indigenous communities.
In the Lower Omo valley the possession of guns is related to the need to defend cattle and to secure limited grazing land and water for cattle, which are of critical importance to livelihoods. Many residents see disarmament as linked to the government’s expropriation of their land, and to make the region more “investment friendly.”
While the authorities may disarm communities, numerous individuals expressed concern at the disarmament process given its potential to further exacerbate conflict in the region, if it is not carried out in an appropriate manner. At present the government has only discussed gun registration with the Bodi, Mursi, and Suri populations. Removing weapons from certain ethnic groups and not from others makes those communities more vulnerable to attack from other ethnic groups.
There is an oft-voiced concern in the Lower Omo Valley that the way disarmament is carried out, rather than reducing conflict, could lead to increased conflict. Ethiopia should ensure that any disarmament is even-handed in respect to the scope and timing of the disarmament of each community, and be carried out in a way that respects international human rights standards.
A Mursi man, who claimed to represent the views of most of his community, said:
They are taking our land by fear and by force, we don’t know why. But we will not go. We will fight here and we will be killed here if need be. But we will not go.
This report was written by Felix Horne, consultant to the Africa division, based on research he conducted with Laetitia Bader, researcher in the Africa division. It was edited by Ben Rawlence, senior researcher in the Africa Division, and Leslie Lefkow, deputy director of the Africa division. The report was reviewed by Clive Baldwin, senior legal advisor; Jessica Evans, senior researcher in the Business and Human Rights Program; and Danielle Haas, senior editor in the Program Office.
John Bryant from Mammoth Mapping developed the maps. John Emerson developed the overview map. Photographs were provided by Brent Stirton and Randy Olson. Jamie Vernaelde, Grace Choi, and Fitzroy Hepkins prepared the report for publication.
A special acknowledgement goes to those individuals inside Ethiopia that were courageous enough to share their personal experiences with Human Rights Watch researchers.
November 16, 2011
Dr. Shiferaw Teklemariam
Minister of Federal Affairs
Ministry of Federal Affairs
PO Box 5718
Addis Ababa, Ethiopia
Via email: email@example.com
RE: Human Rights Violations in South Omo Valley
Dear Dr. Shiferaw,
Human Rights Watch is an international organization conducting research and advocacy on human rights in over 80 countries worldwide.
We would like to share with you the key findings of research we have carried out in the South Omo Valley of Ethiopia in May and June 2011.
The Ethiopian government is undertaking major industrial development projects in the South Omo Valley that are likely to have important implications for the human rights of the area’s inhabitants, particularly its indigenous populations. These include the Gibe III dam project; a 245,000 hectare state-run irrigated sugar plantation; 100,000 hectares of private commercial agriculture; major road infrastructure; and oil exploration.
Human Rights Watch is particularly concerned about human rights abuses as a result of the planned establishment of state-run sugar plantations in South Omo. We found that state military units were regularly sent to indigenous villages to intimidate and suppress any dissent ahead of the sugar plantation’s development. Soldiers reacted to anything less than full support for sugar development with beatings, intimidation, and arrests. They stole or killed cattle. Reports of sexual assaults by military personnel were common. These military incursions spread fear throughout the indigenous community.
The government and armed forces told agro-pastoral communities that they must reduce their cattle numbers, settle in one place, and likely lose access to the Omo River – all of which are critical for livelihoods and existing food security in South Omo. Communities are concerned about these abuses, but fears of the future are even greater. There are widespread and we believe justified concerns about the resultant loss of livelihoods, food security, and cultural heritage. Forced displacement from lands of traditional occupation or use or involuntary loss of livelihoods without consultation and compensation and alternative livelihood provision would violate internationally protected rights of indigenous populations.
The development projects also appear to be being undertaken without regard to the requirements of Ethiopian law. No environmental or social impact assessment, or analysis of the impacts have been carried out for the sugar plantations.
Consultations that have been carried out with the indigenous groups of South Omo appear to be limited to notifying the populations of upcoming developments. Much of what the communities know about these projects comes via word of mouth or from the military’s visits to the communities.
In an area with chronic food insecurity, a history of small-scale conflict over land and water, and, at present, a preponderance of small arms, the impacts of a rapid and involuntary shift to an unknown livelihood are potentially severe. Given Ethiopia’s record elsewhere in repressing dissent against unpopular natural resource development in Ogaden, these rights violations against the indigenous populations in South Omo heighten concerns for further serious abuses in the future. There are even possible cross-border implications due to the anticipated effect of the Gibe III dam on the Lake Turkana ecosystem and the livelihoods of indigenous populations in Kenya.
We urge the Government of Ethiopia to live up to its international human rights obligations in South Omo, including by ensuring that access to the region is maintained for independent domestic and international nongovernmental organizations and the media.
Human Rights Watch would welcome your response to the above findings and on the following questions:
- In line with Environmental Impact Assessment Proclamation #299/2002, has an independent environmental or social impact assessment been carried out in any of the projects noted above? If so, are copies of the assessments available?
- Why has Ethiopia not implemented a land tenure security system in Southern Nations, Nationalities, and People’s Region (SNNPR) for pastoralist peoples, which would provide some tenure security for the region’s inhabitants, as outlined in the constitution? Compensation procedures in the constitution do not differentiate between pastoralists and sedentary agriculture; why has compensation not been given to pastoralists?
- Ongoing access to the South Omo River is critical for secure livelihoods. Has or will access to the South Omo Valley be restricted for the region’s indigenous groups?
- Has Ethiopia discussed with the Government of Kenya the social and environmental impact of the damming of the Turkana River? What steps are being taken by the two governments to ensure that the project does not violate internationally protected indigenous rights, including the anticpated impact on loss of livelihoods?
- When do you expect the new sugar plantations in South Omo will become operational? Who is responsible for building these and from where will the labor for these plantations come?
- How will Ethiopia ensure that future involuntary displacement does not occur during these projects? What kind of reparations will Ethiopia provide to residents who have been forcibly displaced from their traditional grazing lands, riverside farms, or other traditional lands?
- What steps will the Government of Ethiopia take to ensure independent monitoring of these projects by civil society groups and donor agencies?
We would appreciate your response to these questions by December 15, 2011 so that it can be reflected in our published report. We would also be pleased to discuss these questions in person with you at your earliest convenience.
Deputy Director, Africa Division
Human Rights Watch
Bereket Simon, Minister for Government Communications
Wondirad Mandefro, Minister for Agriculture
Shimeles Kemal, Chief Prosecutor
Ambassador Girma Birru, Special Envoy to the United States