September 29, 2011
Dear Mr. Mitchell,

I write in response to your September 21, 2011 appearance on BBC’s Newsnight programme in which you discussed Britain’s development aid to Ethiopia and allegations of the misuse of that assistance for political purposes.

Human Rights Watch welcomes your statement to Jeremy Paxman that, “These allegations need to be investigated and the British government will press for them to be so in an open and independent way.” This is indeed what should happen. However, your Department has so far failed to conduct a serious investigation into existing allegations of aid manipulation, although this material was first shared with you in late 2009.

Human Rights Watch raised allegations of the political manipulation of development and humanitarian aid with British officials in Ethiopia in October 2009. Our report “Development Without Freedom: How Aid Underwrites Repression in Ethiopia,” published in October 2010, detailed political manipulation by Ethiopian authorities affecting nearly all elements of donor assistance to Ethiopia, including emergency humanitarian food aid and long-term development assistance in the form of training, infrastructure support, agricultural assistance, support to education, the civil service, and democracy promotion. We discussed the allegations in detail with the British ambassador to Ethiopia and the head of the Department for International Development (DFID) in Ethiopia in December 2009; with yourself and the then ambassador in November 2010; and again with the head of DFID in Ethiopia in April and July 2011. In December 2010 Human Rights Watch also wrote to the British government and its partners in the Development Assistance Group (DAG), which coordinates aid to Ethiopia, criticizing donors for not investigating the allegations and urging them to do so. A copy of that letter can be found here:

In late 2010 Human Rights Watch was told by DFID that a field-based investigation into the allegations was planned by the DAG. Indeed it was recommended in the study commissioned by the DAG to examine monitoring mechanisms. But DFID officials then told Human Rights Watch in April 2011 that the investigation had been cancelled and was no longer deemed necessary.

You said in the Newsnight interview that DFID officials had investigated the allegations but, “found no evidence at all of systemic misuse of food support.” However, a proper investigation capable of drawing conclusions about the nature of abuses by the Ethiopian government would need to be conducted at the field level, and our understanding is that no such investigation has been undertaken. Exactly this point is made in the DAG desk-based study which donors’ misleadingly cited as a basis for dismissing the Human Rights Watch report. The limits of a desk-based study were explained in the DAG report, footnote 22:

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