HRW declares war with Mitchell over Ethiopia aid claims

The powerful NGO says the international development secretary has been "disingenuous" and "misleadin

Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Andrew Mitchell, the International Development Secretary, of being "disingenuous" and "misleading" about the misuse of aid in Ethiopia.

Last month, an investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Newsnight revealed that the Ethipian government was using long-term development aid for political purposes. It found that communities considered loyal to the opposition had been denied food aid, seed and fertiliser.

Appearing on Newsnight last Wednesday, Mitchell stated that no British development support goes through the government of Ethiopia. He also said that officials had conducted an on-the-ground investigation and found no evidence of the systemic misuse of food aid.

This is where HRW got involved. Jan Egeland, the deputy executive director for HRW Europe, has written an open letter questioning Mitchell's comments. It uses exceptionally strong language, and is unprecedented in accusing a secretary of state of being misleading, and implying he has bowed to pressure from the Ethiopian government. Here are the highlights:

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.

. . .

Your claim that no British support goes through the Ethiopian government is disingenuous. The vast majority of British support to Ethiopia passes through the government.

. . .

We recognise that the Ethiopian government is extremely resistant to scrutiny. Nonetheless, the British government and other donors to Ethiopia should not allow the Ethiopian government to dictate the terms on which public British money is monitored, and every effort should be made to prevent British development aid from strengthening authoritarian rule and repression.

The letter goes on to explain that the Ethiopian federal government is responsible for administering and monitoring the largest development programme, which the British Ambassador to Ethiopia said was "budget support in all but name".

Mitchell has replied:

As I have made clear, the British government does not agree with all of your assertions nor your conclusions. We also do not believe the report is methodologically sound.

Human Rights Watch is an organisation for which I have profound respect and admiration.

But it is important not to overstate criticisms in an unbalanced manner, the effect of which will be to undermine the vital work HRW carries out in other parts of the world.

You point out in your letter that the Ethiopian government must not dictate the terms on which British public money is monitored. I am happy to confirm that this is not the case.

After Mitchell's Newsnight appearance, a DfID official confirmed that the investigation he referred to was actually a desk study conducted from Addis Ababa. It looks as if the matter will not be resolved until a full on-the-ground investigation is carried out.

UPDATE - 3.20pm: I've been contacted by DfID, who said that the statement read out on Newsnight (regarding the desk study) was inaccurate. The following clarification was read out on Friday's programme:

The Department for International Development has confirmed that, as Secretary of State Andrew Mitchell made clear on Wednesday's programme, DFID officials in Ethiopia did make regular field visits to look into the allegations of aid distortion.

Those field visits -- and dozens of similar visits by other donor agencies -- made clear that there was no systemic distortion for political reasons in the distribution of aid.

 

 

Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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What price would the UK pay to stop Brexit?

The EU could end Britain's budget rebate and demand that we join the euro and the Schengen zone.

Among any group of Remain politicians, discussion soon turns to the likelihood of stopping Brexit. After Theresa May's electoral humbling, and the troubled start to the negotiations, those who oppose EU withdrawal are increasingly optimistic.

“I’m beginning to think that Brexit may never happen,” Vince Cable, the new Liberal Democrat leader, said recently. A growing number, including those who refuse to comment publicly, are of the same view. 

But conversation rarely progresses to the potential consequences of halting Brexit. The assumption that the UK could simply retain the status quo is an unsafe one. Much hinges on whether Article 50 is unilaterally revocable (a matter Britain might have been wise to resolve before triggering withdrawal.) Should the UK require the approval of the EU27 to halt Brexit (as some lawyers believe), or be forced to reapply for membership, Brussels would extract a price. 

Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, recently echoed French president Emmanuel Macron's declaration that “there is always a chance to reopen the door”. But he added: “Like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same. It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”

The UK's £5bn budget rebate, achieved by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, has long been in the EU's sights. A demand to halt Brexit would provide the perfect pretext for its removal. 

As Verhofstadt's reference to “unity” implied, the UK's current opt-outs would also be threatened. At present, Britain (like Denmark) enjoys the right to retain its own currency and (like Ireland) an exemption from the passport-free Schengen travel zone. Were the UK to reapply for membership under Article 49 of the Lisbon Treaty, it would be automatically required to join the euro and to open its borders.

During last year's Labour leadership election, Owen Smith was candid enough to admit as much. “Potentially,” he replied when asked whether he would accept membership of the euro and the Schengen zone as the price of continued EU membership (a stance that would not have served Labour well in the general election.)

But despite the daily discussion of thwarting Brexit, politicians are rarely confronted by such trade-offs. Remaining within or rejoining the EU, like leaving, is not a cost-free option (though it may be the best available.) Until anti-Brexiteers acknowledge as much, they are vulnerable to the very charge they level at their opponents: that they inhabit a fantasy world. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.