Support Common Dreams Today
Journalism that is independent, non-profit, ad-free, and 100% reader-supported.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
The Ethiopian government is forcibly displacing indigenous pastoral communities in Ethiopia's Lower Omo valley without adequate consultation or compensation to make way for state-run sugar plantations, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. The report contains previously unpublished government maps that show the extensive developments planned for the Omo valley, including irrigation canals, sugar processing factories, and 100,000 hectares of other commercial agriculture.
The 73-page report, "'What Will Happen if Hunger Comes?': Abuses against the Indigenous Peoples of Ethiopia's Lower Omo Valley," documents how government security forces are forcing communities to relocate from their traditional lands through violence and intimidation, threatening their entire way of life with no compensation or choice of alternative livelihoods. Government officials have carried out arbitrary arrests and detentions, beatings, and other violence against residents of the Lower Omo valley who questioned or resisted the development plans.
"Ethiopia's ambitious plans for the Omo valley appear to ignore the rights of the people who live there," said Ben Rawlence, senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch. "There is no shortcut to development; the people who havelong relied on that land for their livelihood need to have their property rights respected, including on consultation and compensation."
The Lower Omo valley, one of the most remote and culturally diverse areas on the planet, is home to around 200,000 people from eight unique agro-pastoral communities who have lived there for as long as anyone can remember. Their way of life and their identity is linked to the land and access to the Omo River. The Omo valley is in Ethiopia's Southern Peoples, Nations, and Nationalities Region (SNNPR), near the border with Kenya, and was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1980.
The significant changes planned for the Omo valley are linked to the construction of Africa's highest dam, the controversial Gibe III hydropower project, along the Omo River. Downstream, the sugar plantations will depend on irrigation canals. Although there have been some independent assessments of the Gibe dam project, to date, the Ethiopian government has not published any environmental or social impact assessments for the sugar plantations and other commercial agricultural developments in the Omo valley.
Human Rights Watch interviewed more than 35 residents in June 2011, along with 10 donor officials and at least 30 other witnesses since that time. At the time of Human Rights Watch's visit, military units regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress dissent related to the sugar plantation development. Soldiers regularly stole or killed cattle.
"What am I going to eat?" a man of the Mursi ethnic group told Human Rights Watch. "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 shoot a cow's neck and drink blood. If we sell them all for money how will we eat?"
The evidence gathered by Human Rights Watch since its visit demonstrates that in the past year regional officials and security forces have forcibly seized land from indigenous communities living and farming within the areas slated for sugar production. Reports of forced displacement and the clearing of agricultural land have gathered pace.
Access to the Omo River is critical for the food security and way of life of the pastoralists who live in the valley. Several community representatives said that state officials had told them, without any other discussion, that the communities would need to reduce the number of their cattle and resettle in one place, and that they would lose access to the Omo River.
As of June 2012, irrigation canals have been dug, land has been cleared, and sugar production has begun along the east bank of the river. Government maps photographed by Human Rights Watch indicate that the area where sugar cultivation is under way is a fraction of what is labeled as "Sugar Block One." Two additional "blocks" of land that will be taken for sugar cultivation are to follow. Ethiopia's existing assessments of the impact of the Gibe dam do not include the impact of sugar cultivation and irrigation on the flow of the Omo River, or the downstream impact on Lake Turkana. The massive network of irrigation canals indicated on the maps suggests that the previous assessments are insufficient.
The full implementation of the plan could affect at least 200,000 people in the Omo valley and another 300,000 Kenyans living across the border around Lake Turkana, which derives up to 90 percent of its water from the Omo River. Human Rights Watch said Kenya should press for new environmental and social impact assessments that examine the cumulative impact of the Gibe III dam and the irrigated commercial agriculture scheme.
These developments - which threaten the economic, social, and cultural rights of the Omo valley's indigenous inhabitants - are being carried out in contravention of domestic and international human rights standards, which call for the recognition of property rights, with meaningful consultation, consent, and compensation for loss of land, livelihoods, and food security, and which state that displacement, especially of indigenous peoples from their historic homelands, must be treated as an absolute last resort.
The rights of indigenous peoples are addressed by Ethiopia's own laws and constitution, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and regional human rights treaties and mechanisms such as the African human rights charter as interpreted by the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights. Under these laws and agreements, indigenous peoples have property rights over the land they have historically occupied that must be recognized by the state, and they can only be displaced with their free, prior, and informed consent. Even when such consent is given, they must also be fully compensated for any loss of land, property, or livelihood.
In fact, Ethiopia has not recognized any rights over the land of the indigenous communities of the area, including tenure security, Human Rights Watch found. Neither has it taken steps to adequately consult with, let alone seek the consent of, the indigenous peoples of the Omo valley, in particular taking into account the scant formal education of most of the population.
The Ethiopian government has responded to concerns raised by Human Rights Watch by noting that the plantations will bring benefits to the indigenous populations in the form of employment. Employment may be a welcome benefit for affected communities. But the prospect of some jobs does not remove the urgent need for the government to suspend plantation development until rigorous assessments have been carried out, the rights of the indigenous communities over their land has been recognized and consent sought, and any displacement or acquisition of land is shown to be strictly necessary, proportionate, and compensation provided, Human Rights Watch said.
Many international nongovernmental organizations have raised concerns about potential social and environmental impacts of the Gibe III hydropower project and have criticized the Ethiopian government for a lack of transparency and independent assessment. The Ethiopian government withdrew its request of the World Bank and African Development Bank for financing of the Gibe dam project but has not publicized its reasons for doing so. UNESCO's World Heritage Committee has recommended suspending the project pending further independent evaluation of the effect on Lake Turkana.
The Ethiopian government relies on international aid for a significant percentage of its budget. Security forces and officials from the regional and district administrations are implementing the plans for the sugar plantations and telling local residents they must move, without any consultation or recognition of their rights. A multi-donor funded program called Protection of Basic Services (PBS) provides hundreds of millions of dollars to support health, education, and other sectors and funds the salaries of district government officials across Ethiopia, including SNNPR region. The main donors to PBS are the World Bank, the United Kingdom, the European Union, the Netherlands, and Germany.
Human Rights Watch called on the Ethiopian government to suspend the construction of Gibe III and the associated sugar plantations until these developments can be carried out in a manner consistent with national laws and international human rights standards. The Ethiopian government should recognize the rights of the Omo valley's indigenous communities over their historic homelands and engage in meaningful discussion with them over the future use of their land and compensation on that basis, prior to further industrial development in South Omo. Donors should ensure their funding is not supporting forced displacement or unlawful expropriation of indigenous lands, Human Rights Watch said.
"Ethiopia's desire to accelerate economic development is laudable, but recent events in the Omo valley are taking an unacceptable toll on the rights and livelihoods of indigenous communities," Rawlence said. "The government should suspend the process until it meets basic standards, and donors should make sure their aid is not facilitating abuses."
Selected Accounts from "What Will Happen if Hunger Comes"
"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."
- Bodi man, June 2011.
"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 government to bring water. If they do not, [we] and our cattle will die. We will go to Omo anyway, if not, we will die, they can kill us there if they want."
- Mursi villager, June 2011.
"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 shoot 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.'"
- Mursi man describing the importance of cattle, December 2011.
"They [the government officials] 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?"
- Man describing what happened to Bodi and Kwegu farmland that was cleared in December 2011.
"There will be big problems in the areas if all the cattle are given to the government. What will these people eat, now the drought is really badly affecting the Horn of Africa? Now the dam has been built, no water in the river, land has been taken away, the cattle given to the government, what will happen to the poor people in time of the famine? Those people who want to wipe out the pastoralists eat three times a day. What will happen if hunger comes?"
- Mursi man, May 2011.
Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.
"The overwhelming majority of Americans in all states support abortion rights—and women will fight to protect our rights and our lives," said the executive director of the Women's March.
Thousands of people called for reproductive freedom at rallies around the United States on Sunday—the 50th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion a constitutional right until the Supreme Court's reactionary majority overturned it last summer.
At more than 200 events in 46 states, demonstrators condemned the court's 6-3 opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization, which enables states to curtail or even prohibit access to reproductive healthcare. Since the ruling was handed down on June 24, Republican lawmakers have enacted deadly abortion restrictions in 26 states, including near-total bans in several.
"Fifty years after the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, a radical right-wing movement hijacked our courts and eliminated federal protections for abortions," said Rachel O'Leary Carmona, executive director of the Women's March, which organized Sunday's "Bigger Than Roe" day of action.
"But as the fight turns to the states, they are going to learn that the overwhelming majority of Americans in all states support abortion rights—and women will fight to protect our rights and our lives," she added.
Carmona spoke at the Wisconsin state capitol. Women's March picked Madison rather than Washington, D.C. as the location of this year's national protest because the group wanted to send "a clear message to elected leaders and to our base—we are going to where the fight is, and that is at the state level."
"We'll start in Wisconsin, where an upcoming Supreme Court election this spring will determine the balance of power on the state's Supreme Court and the future of abortion rights in Wisconsin," the group explained.
Due to legal uncertainty around the status of Wisconsin's pre-Roe abortion ban, enacted in 1849, providers have been forced to stop offering abortion care in the state.
\u201cWe're fired up and ready to march for our rights because this fight is bigger than Roe. They thought that we would stay home and that this would end with Roe \u2014 they were wrong. \n\nWe're putting every politician on blast \u2014 if you come for our rights, we'll come for you. Period.\u201d— Women's March (@Women's March) 1674414697
\u201cProud to be in Madison today fighting to let every politician know \u2014 if you come for our freedom, our families, or our futures, we're coming for you.\u201d— Rachel O\u2019Leary Carmona (@Rachel O\u2019Leary Carmona) 1674417721
\u201c\ud83d\udce2 In Wisconsin today to make ourselves clear: \n\nWe will never stop fighting for reproductive freedom! \n\n #BiggerThanRoe @womensmarch\u201d— NARAL (@NARAL) 1674422639
Women's March—with the support of nearly 50 organizations, including Planned Parenthood, Working Families Power, and the National Organization for Women—orchestrated "sister marches" in cities across the country.
"We are taking the fight to the states," organizers said. "From Wisconsin, to Nebraska, to Georgia, to Arizona and Texas, women and our allies are defending abortion rights where they still stand, and working to put measures on the ballot to regain abortion rights in places where politicians are putting their agendas over the will of the people."
Russian lawmaker Vyacheslav Volodin threatened nuclear war as NATO members debate whether to send more tanks to Ukraine.
Should the West continue to ship arms to Ukraine, Moscow will retaliate with "more powerful weapons," a top Russian government official and close ally of President Vladimir Putin said Sunday, referring to the use of nuclear missiles.
"Deliveries of offensive weapons to the Kyiv regime will lead to a global catastrophe," Vyacheslav Volodin, chairman of the State Duma, Russia's lower house, said in a statement shared on the Telegram messaging app.
"If Washington and NATO countries supply weapons that will be used to strike civilian cities and attempt to seize our territories, as they threaten, this will lead to retaliatory measures using more powerful weapons," said Volodin.
Ukraine, with the support of its Western allies, is seeking to reclaim territory illegally annexed by the Kremlin in recent months—not seize Russian land, as Volodin asserted.
Volodin's threat "comes amid arguments over whether Germany will send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine to fight the Russian invasion," Politicoreported. "Kyiv has requested the German-made tanks, which it says it needs to renew its counteroffensive against Moscow's forces."
This is not the first time that Russian officials have threatened to use nuclear weapons since Putin attacked Ukraine last February. On Thursday, one day before NATO and other military leaders met in Germany to discuss how to defeat Russia in Ukraine, former Russian President Dmitry Medvedev, now deputy chairman of the country's security council, said that a loss by Moscow could lead to nuclear war.
"Berlin has so far resisted the call from Ukraine and its allies to send the tanks without the U.S. making the first move, over fears of an escalation in the conflict," Politico noted Sunday. "Berlin also hasn't approved deliveries of the tanks from its allies, as Germany gets a final say over any re-exports of the vehicles from countries that have purchased them."
The news outlet previously reported that the $2.5 billion military package announced Thursday by the White House excludes the Army's 60-ton M1 Abrams tanks due to maintenance and logistical issues, not because sending them would intensify the war.
NATO has sent more than $40 billion worth of weapons to Ukraine since the beginning of Russia's invasion. The U.S. government, de facto leader of the military alliance, has authorized more than $26.7 billion alone.
On Sunday, Volodin urged U.S. and European lawmakers to "realize their responsibility to humanity."
"With their decisions, Washington and Brussels are leading the world to a terrible war: to a completely different military action than today, when strikes are carried out exclusively on the military and critical infrastructure used by the Kyiv regime," said Volodin.
Contrary to Volodin's claim, Russia has not limited its ongoing assault to military assets. According to a top Kyiv official, more than 9,000 Ukranian civilians have been killed since Russia invaded 11 months ago. The United Nations has confirmed more than 7,000 civilian deaths in Ukraine but says the real figure is much higher.
A strike on a Ukrainian apartment building last week, Russia's deadliest attack on civilians in months, killed dozens of people. Meanwhile, fighting near the Zaporizhzhia Nuclear Power Plant has sparked fears of a disastrous meltdown on multiple occasions.
"Given the technological superiority of Russian weapons," Volodin continued, "foreign politicians making such decisions need to understand that this could end in a global tragedy that will destroy their countries."
"Arguments that the nuclear powers have not previously used weapons of mass destruction in local conflicts are untenable," he added. "Because these states did not face a situation where there was a threat to the security of their citizens and the territorial integrity of the country."
Volodin was echoing points made recently by other Russian officials. Asked Thursday if Medvedev's remarks that day reflected an attempt to escalate the war, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "No, it absolutely does not mean that."
Peskov argued that Medvedev's comments were consistent with Russia's nuclear doctrine, which permits a nuclear strike after "aggression against the Russian Federation with conventional weapons when the very existence of the state is threatened."
As Reutersnoted, Putin has portrayed Russia's so-called "special military operation" in Ukraine as "an existential battle with an aggressive and arrogant West, and has said that Russia will use all available means to protect itself and its people."
Last January, one month before the start of the largest war in Europe since WWII, Russia, the United States, China, France, and the United Kingdom—home to more than 12,000 nuclear weapons combined—issued a joint statement affirming that "nuclear war cannot be won and must never be fought" and reaffirming that they plan to adhere to non-proliferation, disarmament, and arms control agreements and pledges.
Nevertheless, the five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council continue to enlarge or modernize their nuclear arsenals. For the first time since the 1980s, the global nuclear stockpile, 90% of which is controlled by Moscow and Washington, is projected to grow in the coming years, and the risk of weapons capable of annihilating life on Earth being used is rising.
In early October, U.S. President Joe Biden warned that Russia's war on Ukraine has brought the world closer to "Armageddon" than at any point since the Cuban Missile Crisis. Less than three weeks later, however, his administration published a Nuclear Posture Review that nonproliferation advocates said increases the likelihood of catastrophe, in part because it leaves intact the option of a nuclear first strike. The U.S. remains the only country to have used nuclear weapons in war, destroying the Japanese cities of Hiroshima and Nagasaki with atomic bombs in August 1945.
Experts have long sounded the alarm about the war in Ukraine, saying that it could spiral into a direct conflict between Russia and NATO, both of which are flush with nuclear weapons. Despite such warnings, the Western military coalition has continued to prioritize weapons shipments over diplomacy.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin admitted last April that the U.S. wants "to see Russia weakened," implying that Washington is willing to prolong the deadly conflict as long as it helps destabilize Moscow.
U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres recently told attendees of the World Economic Forum in Davos: "There will be an end... there is an end of everything, but I do not see an end of the war in the immediate future. I do not see a chance at the present moment to have a serious peace negotiation between the two parties."
"We will not be the last," said Peet's Workers United.
In a win for workplace democracy, employees at a Peet's Coffee & Tea located in Davis, California formed the chain's first unionized shop in the United States on Friday.
Workers at the café voted 14-1 to join Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1021.
"We will not be the last," tweeted Peet's Workers United (PWU), which organized the winning unionization campaign. PWU is the counterpart to Starbucks Workers United (SBWU), the outfit behind dozens of successful union drives nationwide.
SBWU organizer Tyler Keeling from Lakewood, California played an instrumental role in PWU's efforts, as detailed last week in Jacobin.
PWU expressed gratitude to Keeling before and after the union vote.
\u201cWe've been lucky to have Tyler by our side from the beginning! I don't know if we would have gotten this far without him!\u201d— Peets United (@Peets United) 1674078218
\u201cThank you for all the help you've given us from day 1. Beyond appreciative of you. Together we are strong.\u201d— Peets United (@Peets United) 1674342867
In November, Peet's workers at two locations in Davis filed for union elections with the National Labor Relations Board.
In a petition asking for community support, PWU wrote: "We are overworked, understaffed, and underpaid. Barista's raises are less than a tenth of inflation, there are pay discrepancies that do not align with seniority, skill, or any kind of logic, and we have been forced to shut down multiple times in the past month due to understaffing. We've had no viable recourse for removing toxic managers other than waiting for the problem to resolve itself."
"Meanwhile, our managers have been using union-busting tactics like Starbucks to divide and confuse us," organizers continued. "They've called in corporate higher-ups to have conversations about unionizing with employees, they've reinstated punitive scheduling and dress code measures, and posted misleading informational fliers in break rooms."
"We are fighting for fair wages, decent schedules, and corporate transparency, but two stores against a multimillion-dollar corporation is a lonely battle," they added. "Peet's has always taken pride in its loyal customers and loving community, and we need that now more than ever."
In a statement issued after workers voted overwhelmingly in favor of union representation, the company said that "while we had hoped for another outcome, we respect the right of our Davis employees to choose."
"As we follow the legally required next steps with the union at North Davis, we will continue to work for and with our employees companywide. That is the Peet's way," the company added.
According to PWU, Peet's executives went out of their way in the lead-up to the representation vote to dissuade workers from joining SEIU, including by holding anti-union captive audience meetings.
The corporation "paid a store manager from Chicago to fly to Davis to give his 'unbiased' opinion on unions," organizers said. "The president of the company came in and essentially begged people to give him another chance and to put all our faith in him."
The second Davis location that had also filed to hold a unionization vote withdrew its request last week. According to PWU, that happened because "corporate gave the entire staff... a $500 bonus for pulling their petition and for 'giving Peet's a chance.'"
Since December 2021, workers at more than 270 Starbucks locations across the United States have voted to unionize. Organizers have won more than 80% of their campaigns despite the corporation's unlawful intimidation and retaliation tactics.
Keeling of SBWU said Saturday that he is "so happy to have more coffee shops unionizing."
"The future looks bright," Keeling declared. "The new wave of unionization will save the world."