A joint undercover investigation by BBC Newsnight and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has uncovered evidence that the Ethiopian government is using billions of dollars of development aid as a tool for political oppression.
Posing as tourists the team of journalists travelled to the southern region of Ethiopia.
The investigation has also gathered evidence of mass detentions, the widespread use of torture and extra-judicial killings by Ethiopian government forces.
Yet Western donors including Britain - which is the third largest donor to Ethiopia - stand accused of turning a blind eye by continuing to provide aid money despite being warned about the abuses.
The aid in question is long-term development aid, not the emergency aid provided in response to the current drought in Ethiopia and its neighbours in the Horn of Africa.
Ambassador Abdirashid Dulane, the Deputy Head of Ethiopia's UK Mission, has rejected the allegations saying that the Newsnight/Bureau report "lacked objectivity, even-handedness".
Our reporters visited one village in southern Ethiopia with a population of about 1,700 adults.
Despite being surrounded by other communities which are well fed and prosperous, this village, which cannot be named for fear of reprisals, is starving. We were told that in the two weeks prior to our team's arrival five adults and 10 children had died.
Lying on the floor, too exhausted to stand, and flanked by her three-year-old son whose stomach is bloated by malnutrition, one woman described how her family had not eaten for four days.
"We are living day to day on the grace of God," she said.
Another three-year-old boy lay in his grandmother's lap, listless and barely moving as he stared into space.
"We are just waiting on the crop, if we have one meal a day we will survive until the harvest, beyond that there is no hope for us," the grandmother said.
In another village 30 km (19 miles) away it was a similar story.
"The situation is desperate," she said. "We have been abandoned... It is a matter of chance if we live or die."
The two villages sit just 15km (9 miles) either side of a major town, surrounded by other communities where the populations are well fed and healthy. They are in desperate need, but no-one is helping.
According to local opposition members they are being punished for failing to vote for the ruling party, the Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), which Mr Meles leads.
Further north a group of farmers alienated by Mr Meles' government met the BBC/Bureau team at a secret location on the edge of a remote village.
One farmer described how he had been ostracised for failing to support EPRDF: "Because of our political views we face great intimidation. We are denied the right to fertiliser and seeds because of political ideology," he said.
The Ethiopian federal and regional governments control the distribution of aid in Ethiopia.
Professor Beyene Petros, the current vice-chairman of the Ethiopian Federal Democratic Forum, an alliance of eight opposition parties known as Medrek, told our reporters that aid is not distributed according to need, but according to support for the EPRDF:
"There is a great deal of political differentiation. People who support the ruling party, the EPRDF, and our members are treated differently. The motivation is buying support, that is how they recruit support, holding the population hostage," he said.
Mr Beyene said that the international community, including the British government, is well aware of the problem and that he has personally presented them with evidence:
"The position of the donor communities is dismissive... they always want to dismiss it as an isolated incident when we present them with some proof. And we challenge them to go down and check it out for themselves, but they don't do it."
The UK International Development Minister Stephen O'Brien issued a statement in response to the allegations raised by the investigation, saying:
"We take all allegations of human rights abuses extremely seriously and raise them immediately with the relevant authorities including the Ethiopian Government, with whom we have a candid relationship. Where there is evidence, we take firm and decisive action.
The Bureau of Investigative Journalism and Newsnight also gathered evidence of a crackdown and human rights abuses in Ethiopia's Somali region, the area bordering Somalia and Kenya, also know as the Ogaden region.
Ethnic Somali rebels from the outlawed Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and Ethiopian government forces have been fighting for control of Ogaden since the 1970s.
The media and most aid agencies are banned from the region.
Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries of the world, is currently suffering from horrific drought.
Many of those fleeing the ensuing humanitarian crisis have headed to Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya.
It is the largest refugee camp in the world, and the vast majority of the 400,000 people there are from Somalia, but among them are an increasing number of Ethiopians from the Ogaden.
Abdifatah Arab Olad, an Ogaden community leader, told our reporters that up to 100 refugees are arriving every month with tales of killings and the burning of villages by government troops.
In the corner of a makeshift shack in the camp, an old woman who had arrived from Ogaden three weeks earlier described being arrested along with 100 others in her village.
She said they were taken to a jail where they were locked up in a shipping container, and picked out on a nightly basis to be tortured:
"They beat me then started to rape me; I screamed and fought with them... I tried to bite them... they tied me this way," she said, gesturing to her legs.
"They raped me in a room, one of them was standing on my mouth, and one tied my hand, they were taking turns, I fainted during this... I can't say how many, but they were many in the army," she said.
'Assaulted when pregnant'
Other women in the camp also said they had been arrested and accused of being members of the OLNF.
They included one who said that she was eight months pregnant when she was detained and raped by eight soldiers:
"They were beating me while I was being raped, I was bleeding," she said, describing how one soldier stamped on her stomach and beat her with the stock of his rifle:
"I fell unconscious when I saw my baby... a man jumping on your stomach, you can imagine what happened to the child, very big kicks blows with the back of a gun. As a consequence of that the child died."
We cannot substantiate these individual allegations. But other credible sources have reported similar stories of the widespread use of rape by Ethiopian security forces against women in the Ogaden.
Speaking on Newsnight, Ethiopia's Ambassador Abdirashid Dulane said that the claims of rape and torture were a "rehash" of old allegations that the Ethiopian government had answered time and again.
"The Ethiopian government is governed by the rule of law, and human rights and democratic rights are enshrined in the Ethiopian constitution," he said.
Saturday, September 17, 2011
by Thomas C. Mountain
In a report from 2006 marked “Secret ; Subject: Ethiopia: Recent Bombings Blamed on Oromos Possibly the Work of GOE [Government of Ethiopia]” “Classified By: Charge [d’Affairs] Vicki Huddleston”, “An embassy source, as well as clandestine reporting, suggests that the bombing may have in fact been the work of the GoE security forces.” (Cable reference id: #06ADDISABABA2708.)
September 6, 2011 (Foreign Policy Journal) - Recently released Wikileaks Ethiopia files expose how Ethiopian security forces planted 3 bombs that went off in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on September 16, 2006 and then blamed Eritrea and the Oromo resistance for the blasts in a case that raises serious questions about the claims made about the bombing attempt against the African Union summit earlier this year in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
At the time, the western media reported the Ethiopian National Intelligence and Security Service (NISS) claims that the bombs were “part of a coordinated terror attack by the OLF [Oromo Liberation Front, the oldest national liberation movement in Ethiopia] and Sha’abiya (Eritrea) aimed at disrupting democratic development”.The Wikileaks report goes on, “a typically reliable information source” who “contacted Post to report that” the bodies of three men found at the bomb sites “had been picked up by police a week prior, kept in detention and tortured. He said police then left the men in a house and detonated explosives nearby, killing 3 of them.”
This exposes the history of how the Ethiopian regime has planted bombs and then blamed Eritrea and the Ethiopian resistance. The lies that make up the official version of this alleged terrorist attack raises serious questions about the credibility of the recently released report by the UN via its US State Department affiliate, the Monitoring Group for Eritrea and Somalia, which blames the Eritreans and the OLF for the January bombing attempt at the African Union summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. Identical lies about a nearly identical “terrorist attack”, all accepted as fact by the western media. This should also deliver another body blow to the Obama White House and its claims that Eritrea supports terrorism in the Horn of Africa.So once again the bellowing against Eritrea by the USA and it lackeys at the UN going back to 2006 is exposed as complete bunkum and an identical frame up of Eritrean and the Oromo resistance in Ethiopia that has been regurgitated by the UN and its truth challenged Monitoring Group on Eritrea and Somalia must be subject to a more critical scrutiny. Based on this expose’ it can only be hoped that the UN inSecurity Council, which has yet to decide whether to pass severe sanctions against Eritrea, will refrain from doing so.
Thomas C. Mountain is an independent western journalist based in the Horn of Africa, and has been living and reporting from Eritrea since 2006. He was a member of the 1st US Peace Delegation to Libya in 1987. Read more articles by Thomas C. Mountain.