BRUSSELS (The Telegraph) — An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism and BBC Newsnight has found that as Ethiopia is hit by drought and famine, communities are being denied basic food, seed and fertiliser for failing to support Meles Zenawi, the country’s authoritarian leader.
Senior Brussels officials ignored 61 email warnings from its EU ambassador in Ethiopia about human rights abuses, evidence that European governments, including Britain, were prepared to turn a blind eye to repression in order to woo a key African ally.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism investigation has also gathered evidence of continuing ethnic cleansing, mass detentions, the widespread use of torture and extra-judicial killings by Ethiopian government forces.
The Daily Telegraph understands that last summer the EU failed to condemn crack downs on opposition politicians and journalists in return for Ethiopian support in critical climate change negotiations in December 2009.
Ethiopia receives £1.8 billion in development aid every year, with Britain the second largest donor after the US.
This year the UK will hand out £290 million, not including the £48m in emergency aid announced last month, a 24-fold increase over the past decade. The EU provided a further £152m last year.
Leaked emails reveal that both the EU and Britain failed to act on confidential daily diplomatic telegrams from Timothy Clarke, the EU’s former ambassador in Ethiopia.
The emails were sent over three months in the days after elections in 2005 and express increasing concern about reports of murders and arrests of thousands of civilians by government forces.
“Basic human rights abuses are being committed by the government on a daily basis – the EU must respond firmly and resolutely,” he wrote on June 12 2005.
Despite the warnings, Brussels commended Ethiopian conduct of the elections a pattern that was mirrored in 2010 when the EU welcomed as “an important moment in the democratic process” a result that saw Zenawi’s regime won 99.6 per cent of the vote amid reports of widespread human rights abuses.
Ana Gomes, a Portuguese MEP who was the chief election observer for the EU during the 2005 Ethiopian elections, has accused European officials of “watering down all the most difficult passages” which detailed repression.
“There is this industry of aid not only in the European Commission but in the different member countries, namely those who are the biggest aid donors to Ethiopia, like Britain, like Germany who want the business to continue as usual because they have their own interests at stake,” she said.
A spokesman for the EU diplomatic service said: “Protection of human rights is a priority for the EU and it features prominently in our dialogue with all external partners. This also applies to the EU dialogue with Ethiopia, where we raise human rights issues regularly.”