In his application, he is asking that the Canadian government be prohibited from contributing any more development dollars to the African nation to Ethiopia, through the World Bank or the United Nations Development Program.
The application is a last-ditch effort to win the freedom of Bashir Makhtal, a Canadian sentenced in 2009 to life in prison in Ethiopia, the third largest recipient of Canadian official development assistance.
In 2009-2010 Canada provided $168.54 million in development and humanitarian aid to Ethiopia, according to the Canadian International Development Agency’s own reports.
The request for the prohibition of further aid comes on the heels of repeated efforts to win the freedom of Makhtal, a Toronto man who was rendered illegally from Kenya to Ethiopia in January, 2007, kept in prison without access to a lawyer or Canadian consular officials for 18 months, then sentenced to life in prison on terrorism charges.
Makhtal, a former Toronto businessman, had returned to Africa in 2002 to run a used clothing business out of Djibouti, a tiny country between Ethiopia and Somalia on the Horn of Africa. He has been in prison since Dec. 30, 2006, when he was stopped at the Somalia-Kenya border.
The suit states Makhtal “was wrongly accused by the Ethiopian government and was found guilty of being a member of the Ogaden National Liberation Front, an organization seeking independence from Ethiopia of the oil-rich Ogaden region.”
Makhtal has said repeatedly that he does not belong to the organization. His only tie to the organization is a familial one, he has said. His grandfather was one of the co-founders.
Both Makhtal’s family and John Baird, minister of foreign affairs, have repeatedly attested to his innocence. Baird visited Makhtal in prison in Ethiopia and told the family he hoped to win his freedom. There was talk of amnesty from the Ethiopian government, but so far Makhtal remains behind bars in an Ethiopian jail.
“We’re now approaching the 5th anniversary of Bashir’s detention,” Waldman said in an interview with the Star. “We don’t doubt the sincerity of Mr. Baird’s efforts. We had high expectations . . . . But we have no choice but to take action. There have been many times when our hopes have been raised in expectation something would happen, but at this point there is absolutely no indication of any movement on these matters.”
Waldman is arguing in the application that Canada’s assistance program to Ethiopia to fund a variety of national programs is inconsistent with section 4(1) of the Official Development Assistance Accountability Act.
That clause stipulates “official development assistance may be provided only if the competent minister is of the opinion that it (a) contributes to poverty reduction; (b) takes into account the perspectives of the poor; and (c) is consistent with international human right standards.”
Waldman told the Star in an interview that the Canadian government is in contravention of the act because the money Canada is contributing to Ethiopia is being used as “a tool of repression,” rather than uplifting Ethiopian society generally.
Ethiopia has been ruled since 1991 by the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front which has been “repeatedly accused of repression and breaching international human rights,” the application said.
According to Waldman’s application, in the U.S. State Department 2010 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices on Ethiopia there is a long list of human rights abuses, including “unlawful killings, torture, beating, and abuse and mistreatment of detainees and opposition supporters by security forces, especially special police and local militias which took aggressive or violent action with evident impunity in numerous instances.”
As well, the U.S. report points to “poor prison conditions; arbitrary arrest and detention, particularly of suspected sympathizers or members of opposition or insurgent groups; detention without charge and lengthy pretrial detention; infringement on citizens’ privacy rights, including illegal searches, use of excessive force by security services in counterinsurgency operations.”
Waldman’s application also cites a 2011 Human Rights Watch World Report, saying “hundreds of Ethiopians have been arbitrarily arrested and detained and sometimes subjected to torture and other ill treatments by the Government.”
In October 2010, Human Rights Watch issued a report that stated Ethiopia is using international development assistance for state repression, discrimination and violations of civil and political rights. The report pointed to “serious concerns with respect to national programs, funded by CIDA and other international donors.”
Waldman argues that Canadian official assistance, as directed through the World Bank and the UNDP to Ethiopia, is “bankrolling the Ethiopian government’s state repression, and perpetuates the politicized and discriminatory access to government services, including the judiciary.”
“My client Bashir Makhtal is a victim of the repression of this regime,” Waldman said. “In his particular case the Ethiopian judiciary played a role in his imprisonment. It is not impartial and is in the control of the ruling party of Ethiopia. Some of the money from Canada being channeled through the World Bank goes to back government services which would go back to the justice system — the instrument of repression that was used to sentence Mr. Makhtal to life in prison as a result of an unfair trial. It was a kangaroo court and all the reports of the trial support that.
“The Ethiopian government could end the lawsuit tomorrow if they release Bashir,” Waldman said.