HRW says that in order to make space for the plantations, government security forces are compelling communities to relocate from their traditional lands, using violence and intimidation. "Military units regularly visited villages to intimidate residents and suppress dissent related to the sugar plantation development". It added that "soldiers regularly stole or killed cattle".
Unpublished Ethiopian government maps show plans for sugar plantations covering nearly a quarter of a million hectares. The maps also show processing factories, irrigation channels and large tracts of land reserved for other forms of commercial agriculture.
If the plans go ahead they could affect at least 200,000 people in the Omo Valley and another 300,000 Kenyans living across the border around Lake Turkana, which derives up to 90% of its water from the Omo River.
"Ethiopia's ambitious plans for the Omo Valley appear to ignore the rights of the people who live there," said Ben Rawlence, of Human Rights Watch.