Dear Ali, Faith and Jean-Claude,
I understand that Ali and Jean-Claude are in Pointe Noire this week discussing, amongst other things, your position on Ethiopia’s application to become an EITI candidate. I am writing to you to say that I think this decision is an important test of whether EITI is an international coalition with a Standard that serves all countries that seek reform in extractives, or an organisation that is driven by campaigners.
Let me be clear, for me, the issue of civil society space to enable the EITI to do its work is absolutely crucial but EITI is not a human rights standard. Our job is to ensure that there is enough space for civil society to work with and around the EITI and help drive reform in the extractive sector for the benefit of the people. Wider human rights issues are the responsibility of other organisations and we should never forget that social and economic rights are an equal part of human rights alongside civil and political rights. I greatly admire much of the work that many of our civil society partners have done in challenging the status quo and working for reform often in oppressive environments. I hope that you agree that, difficult though the journeys have often been, the presence of the EITI in countries with governance challenges has afforded a space and a platform that would not otherwise have been open to those campaigning for reform.
That is why I passionately believe that the entry bar to candidates should be clearly and simply whether there is enough space for civil society to work with EITI, and that compliance and validation should be a test whether civil society participation is free, fair and independent. We should recognise the EITI, as a journey open to most, but that compliance with the Standard itself should be a meaningful achievement and, as we discussed in Washington, there should be more emphasis on continuous improvement. I am not of course suggesting that it be open to all countries and all situations, but as I look around the EITI implementing countries, I do not accept that the situation for civil society in Ethiopia is worse than a great many of them. Indeed I believe that this approach enabling entry and encouraging locally owned continuous reform is the intention of the new Standard. I of course support the idea of making it clear to the Ethiopians, and indeed all new members, that the Board will expect them to deliver on their commitment on civil society space and that this will be monitored.
I must add that I find the discussion on Ethiopia to have been unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a "north telling the south what to do mindset". We have to guard against efforts to use the EITI to serve other agendas, no matter how worthy. There is no doubt in my mind that there is a strong group of activists who mean well but are quick to pick on some African countries which, whilst far from ideal, are no worse on human rights than many other countries. There is also a serious problem of double standards. For example, removing the Occupy protesters from outside St Paul's Cathedral by force in my own country hardly raised a murmur. The existence of Guantanamo and use of torture has not been mentioned in relation to the US application.
Rejecting Ethiopia’s application will leave Ethiopian civil society with nowhere to go. It will make it hard for the EITI to keep countries like Congo B or Niger or accept future applications from countries where the space might be perceived as limited but where it gives civil society an important protection and platform. I also believe that we should listen to what strikes me as a clear and united voice of civil society in Ethiopia, rather than opposing voices from the Ethiopian diaspora.
I am writing to you to make it clear that I see these issues as key to the future of EITI and its' usefulness in helping reformers to drive reform in their countries. If it is seen as a tool of campaigners it will lose effectiveness and support.
I am copying this letter to the members of the Outreach and Candidature Committee.