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Volume 543: debated on Tuesday 17 April 2012

3. Whether he has had discussions with the Ethiopian Government on the human rights situation in that country; and if he will make a statement. (102853)

My right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary and I have candid and regular dialogues on human rights with Prime Minister Meles and others. We recently raised the plight of opposition leaders and journalists who have been arrested under Ethiopia’s counter-terrorism legislation, and we have also raised the impact that that is having on Ethiopia’s already restricted political space. We are engaging with the Government to promote best practice in the implementation of the legislation, with respect for human rights.

Discussions that I have held with the Oromia Support Group and Human Rights Watch suggest that the situation on the ground is extremely serious. For instance, 80% of male detainees have been tortured and more than 50% of female detainees have been raped, and more journalists are locked up in Ethiopia than in any other country. Would the Minister be prepared to meet me, along with representatives of those groups, to try to clarify the position, so that if it becomes clear that they are wrong and the Ethiopian Government are right, the situation can be rectified, and if it is the other way around, the issues can be taken up with the Ethiopian Government?

I should be happy to meet the hon. Gentleman and any people he wishes to bring to see me.

It is important to bear in mind the fact that, although we recognise Ethiopia’s right to fight terrorism, that must be done in the context of observing human rights. It should also be borne in mind that there is a big difference between journalists’ reporting terrorism and their supporting it. It seems that the Ethiopian Government often do not make that distinction.

Given that between now and 2015 our colleagues in the Department for International Development will be spending £330 million a year in Ethiopia, could we not do more to bring pressure to bear on its Government to improve their human rights record? After all, should not diplomacy and aid go hand in hand?

We have great influence with the Ethiopian Government, which is why, whenever my right hon. Friend the Foreign Secretary or I visit the country, we have access to the Prime Minister and other Ministers. We have made it absolutely clear that they must give more space to the opposition, and must do more to respect human rights. We find it troubling that, whereas there were 150 Opposition Members in the last Ethiopian Parliament, there is now only one. We will certainly keep up the pressure, and we will continue our candid dialogues.