Ethiopia is one of the nine priority countries for the Government's development cooperation programme, where we have a commitment to long term strategic assistance.
Last month, Human Rights Watch published a new report on Ethiopia, titled "What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?" The report alleges that local communities, including pastoralists in the Lower Omo region, are being forced to move away from traditional land in order to make way for development infrastructure projects, including a hydroelectric dam and large-scale commercial agriculture. It is also alleged that the process involves harassment, violence and arbitrary arrests by local authorities.
We take very seriously any allegations of abuses of human rights. I have asked our Ambassador in Addis Ababa to examine these claims carefully and to follow up with the Ethiopian Government. I believe any credible allegations of this nature need to be fully investigated.
When I visited Ethiopia in January, I had a very good, wide-ranging discussion with the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Mr. Berhane Gebre-Christos. I raised with him allegations of difficulties and abuses associated with the planning and implementation of resettlement programmes in another part of Ethiopia. I urged him to ensure that all allegations of concern, in particular those relating to human rights abuses, be investigated fully. The Minister stated that such abuses are not taking place, that the Ethiopian people had suffered as a result of resettlement schemes under the previous regime in Ethiopia and that his Government would never implement such policies.
I share the view that large scale infrastructure projects in Africa and elsewhere should be subject to the highest level of accountability and transparency. Ireland, together with other development partners, will continue to work with the Ethiopian Government, and other Governments in our partner countries, to ensure that they respect the rights of their citizens when planning and implementing such projects, and carry out and make available the necessary environmental and social assessments. We will also continue to raise the need to ensure that any resettlement of communities must only be carried out on a voluntary basis through full, open consultation, and with the provision of quality basic services to relocated populations.
Ireland has made a significant contribution to development and the fight against poverty and hunger in Ethiopia. In the past decade Ethiopia has recorded remarkable improvements in human development, as measured by the UN Human Development Index. This progress, which has been made with Irish support and support from other donors, is a strong example of the success of international development assistance when delivered in partnership with a developing country Government. However, positive development results and respect for human rights must go hand in hand. Ireland remains strongly committed to helping build good governance and the rights of the most vulnerable in Ethiopia and elsewhere, and this will remain a clear priority of our development assistance programme.