[dehai-news] (BBC) Ethiopia imposes aid agency curbs


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From: Biniam Tekle (biniamt@dehai.org)
Date: Tue Jan 06 2009 - 12:12:26 EST


Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Tuesday, 6 January 2009
Ethiopia imposes aid agency curbs

*Ethiopia's parliament has passed a controversial bill imposing tight
restrictions on aid agencies. *

Foreign agencies are prohibited from a number of areas including human
rights, equality, conflict resolution and the rights of children.

Local groups that receive more than 10% of their funding from abroad are
also banned from working in these areas.

Under discussion for months, the bill has already been considerably modified
amid objections from aid organisations.

Parliament approved the legislation on Tuesday - Orthodox Christmas Eve - by
327 votes to 79, according to the AFP news agency, before members headed
home for the holiday.

The BBC's Elizabeth Blunt in Addis Ababa says at the heart of the bill and
causing the most fuss is a clause aimed at preventing foreign interference
in issues which the government believes should be a purely Ethiopian affair.

 She says some of the organisations affected, like the Ethiopian Human
Rights Council, could be seen as political and have long been a thorn in the
government's flesh.

But, she adds, if the law is rigorously applied it could also catch much
less controversial groups which are doing valuable work but would never be
able to fund their activities from purely local sources.

The bill bans international non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from five
sorts of activity:

The advancement of human and democratic rights

The promotion of equality between peoples, sexes or religions

Campaigning for children's rights or the rights of the disabled

Conflict resolution and reconciliation

Work on criminal justice issues.

The bill's provisions imposing the same restrictions on Ethiopian NGOs which
receive more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources will affect many
agencies, according to our correspondent.

She says this is because a number of foreign donors prefer to channel their
aid through the voluntary sector rather than giving it to the government.

A defence of the bill published by the ruling party described this attitude
as a neo-liberalist concept which sees African governments as obstacles to
development.

The government denies the bill is intended to restrict aid work.

"Civil organisations will be able to function without hindrances. They won't
face restrictions as long as they respect the country's laws," government
whip Hailemariam Desalegn said.

But opposition MP Temesgen Zewdie was quoted by AFP as telling MPs before
the vote: "As far as we're concerned, it's an attempt by the ruling party to
banish all those it sees as a threat to its tight grip on power."

The US government in particular has protested loudly to the Horn of Africa
nation about the proposals, but to very little effect, says our
correspondent.

Ethiopia is among the world's top aid recipients.

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