|Author (Person)||Cronin, David|
|Series Title||European Voice|
|Series Details||Vol.12, No.16, 27.4.06|
By David Cronin
Louis Michel, the European commissioner for development and humanitarian aid, has ruled out cutbacks in aid to Ethiopia over a controversial 'treason trial'.
The trial of 101 individuals, who were arrested in connection with anti-government demonstrations in November 2005, is scheduled to begin in Addis Ababa's High Court next week (2 May). The charges which they face include treason, conspiracy to violence, offences against the national constitution and genocide. The charges carry sentences from life imprisonment to death.
Human rights campaigners have argued that many of those facing trial have been persecuted because of the peaceful expression of their beliefs. In January, the UK reduced its direct aid to Ethiopia's government by EUR 71 million because of human rights concerns. This marked a U-turn in British policy as it had previously enjoyed cordial relations with Addis Ababa. President Meles Zenawi was, for example, a member of Tony Blair's Commission for Africa last year.
Michel, however, has argued that slashing EU aid to Ethiopia would increase the hardship of its people.
Under Article 96 of the Cotonou agreement, which underpins EU relations with African states, aid can be suspended if human rights or democratic principles are being breached.
A source close to Michel said it would be "counter-productive" to invoke that clause at this stage.
According to the source, Michel believes that some results have been achieved from his contacts with the Addis Ababa authorities. While visiting Ethiopia in February, Michel was given permission to visit some of the accused in prison. The authorities have also agreed that an EU-appointed lawyer may monitor the trial. Michel raised concerns about the charges of genocide being brought; human rights groups have argued that the grounds on which the charges were based bear no relation to the internationally agreed definition of genocide.
Ethiopia is one of the top ten African recipients of EU aid. In 2004, it was given EUR 91m in aid administered by the European Commission and EUR 494m in aid from the Union's member states.
Amnesty International's Olivier Schott said that Ethiopia was "highly dependent on aid" and that the Union should use its leverage as a key donor to the country to seek an improvement in human rights standards. Schott said he was not calling for cutbacks in aid but believed that the EU's member states and the Commission should adopt a coherent position towards Ethiopia.
He said that a large number of EU diplomats should monitor the trial and follow closely trials involving human rights activists and aid workers.
An Ethiopian diplomat said that those on trial had been arrested because they were taking part in "insurrectionary street actions calculated to overthrow the government with the use of force".
"I don't see how there could be any human rights violation in bringing these people to a court of law," he added.
Louis Michel, the European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian aid, ruled out cutbacks in aid to Ethiopia over a controversial 'treason trial' of 101 individuals, who had been arrested in connection with anti-government demonstrations in November 2005. The trial was scheduled to begin in Addis Ababa's High Court on 2 May 2006. Michel argued that slashing EU aid to Ethiopia would increase the hardship of its people.
|Countries / Regions||Africa, Europe|