The Horn of Africa state is forcibly resettling tens of thousands of its home residents so that their land can be leased to foreign investors. In a report released Tuesday by the Human Rights Watch (HRW), the U.S.-based rights group said that Ethiopia has already leased 3 million hectares (7.4 million acres) of real estate to foreign farm businesses, and plans to lease another 2.1 million hectares (5.2 million acres) soon.

It is estimated that 1.5 million Ethiopians will be forced from the western Gambella region to barren villages, according to The Washington Post, and the watchdog group suspects that the promised improved life is a smokescreen hiding more dubious intentions. “My father was beaten for refusing to go along [to the new village] with some other elders,” HRW quoted a former villager as saying. “He was beaten by the army with sticks and the butt of a gun. He had to be taken to the hospital. He died because of the beating — he just became weaker and weaker.”

The United Nations has increasingly expressed growing concerns that countries such as China and Gulf Arab states are buying acres of land in Africa to secure their own food supplies. Ethiopia’s minister of federal affairs, Shiferaw Teklemariam denounces the allegations in a letter to the New York-based activist group as “downright fabrications of a politically motivated organization.” Is this merely a land-grab for foreign food factories? Or is there a greater problem at hand?