By Matthew Holehouse, Political Correspondent
Ministers pulled the plug on a scheme intended to improve criminal investigations, help Ethiopian police “interact with communities on local safety” and help women access the justice system.
The cancellation coincides with an Amnesty International report that documents how the Ethiopian security forces have conducted a campaign of torture, mutilation, rape and murder in order to suppress political opposition.
Britain has given £1 billion in aid, including around £70 million for “governance and security” projects, to the country over three years. Critics of the ruling regime have disappeared, and Amnesty International found allegations of men being blinded and women being gang raped and burnt with hot coals by regime officials.
There are mounting fears for the safety of Andy Tsege, a British national and critic of the regime, who was abducted in Yemen before being tortured and sentenced to death.
The Department for International Development said the project was cancelled because it did not represent “value for money” and because of “risk” in getting it delivered on time.
It insisted that the cancellation of the project was entirely unrelated to allegations of human rights abuses, and said the decision pre-dated the Amnesty International report.
However, earlier this year an internal government assessment of the programme warned it posed a “high” risk to human rights, upgrading it from medium.
The document noted that the Government of Ethiopia appeared reluctant to improve the human rights situation. “The underlying assumption of GoE’s commitment to reform in the security sector is sensitive and subject to a range of factors (e.g. terrorist attacks inside Ethiopia). In light of this, we propose elevating the risk to ‘high’.”
It also warned that work had been “poor quality” with “weak value for money”. There were “tensions” between British aid workers and the Government of Ethiopia, with Ethiopian civil servants complaining over being “overwhelmed” by paperwork. Work fell behind the timetable.
The document, an annual assessment of the scheme, was subsequently deleted from the website.
DfID said the document was deleted because the programme had changed. The decision to axe the programme went unannounced before inquiries from this newspaper, despite mounting concern at the deteriorating situation in the country.
A DfID spokesman said: “DFID has suspended major activities under the Community Safety and Justice programme because of concerns about risk and value for money. We are updating the website to reflect programme changes.”
One element of the scheme, run by Harvard University in measuring the effectiveness of justice reforms, will continue to be funded by Britain.
The deletion of the documents was detected by Reprieve, the anti-death penalty charity which is campaigning for Mr Tsege’s release.
“While MrTsege is held in a secret prison in Ethiopia under sentence of death, Dfid has inexplicably scrubbed alltraces of this funding from its website,” said Maya Foa, the head of the death penalty team. “The Government should be using its extensive influence in Ethiopia to ensure the safety of one of its nationals, not aiding the very forces responsible for his detention – then removing the evidence.”
A blistering report on Thursday warned that British aid money is fuelling corruption overseas. One development project in Nepal encouraged people to forge documents to gain grants while police stations in Nigeria linked to British aid were increasingly demanding bribes, the Independent Commission on Aid Impact found.