From: Berhane Habtemariam (Berhane.Habtemariam@gmx.de)
Date: Tue Jan 06 2009 - 14:57:30 EST
Ethiopian Law Curbs Promotion of Rights, Critics Say
By Jason McLure
January 6, 2009 10:34 EST
Jan. 6 (Bloomberg) --
parliament ratified a law that critics say will prevent groups from
promoting human rights and democracy in the Horn of Africa country,
strengthening the government's hand to crack down on dissent.
The so-called "Proclamation for the Registration and Regulation of Charities
and Societies" was passed today by a vote of 327 to 79 in Ethiopia's
parliament. The 547-member legislative body is dominated by members of Prime
s=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Meles Zenawi's Ethiopian Peoples' Revolutionary
Democratic Front, which has 481 seats.
Zenawi's party, which has ruled Ethiopia since 1991, backed the law even
after Western donors, domestic civil society organizations and members of
Ethiopian opposition parties objected. They argue the legislation aims to
"This law goes far beyond any normal effort to regulate civil society," said
Leslie Lefkow, a researcher in the Africa division of New York-based
<http://www.hrw.org> Human Rights Watch. "It's really an instrument of
Under the new plan, any charity that promotes ethnic gender and religious
equality; human rights; democracy; or conflict resolution and receives more
than 10 percent of its funding from overseas, will be banned. Organizations
that advocate rights for children and the disabled or promote "the
efficiency of the justice and law enforcement services" will also be
outlawed unless they source more than 90 percent of their revenue inside
Since nearly all non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, that work in these
areas rely on foreign funding, the law is tantamount to a blanket ban,
political activists said.
"Ninety-five percent of these organizations will not survive under this
legislation," said Lidetu Ayalew, an opposition member of
<http://www.ethiopar.net> parliament, during a debate on the law on Dec. 24.
Ethiopia's government says the new law is needed to regulate the country's
more than 3,800 NGOs. It also argues that it's the role of the state, rather
than foreign-backed organizations, to protect human and democratic rights.
"We need social development," said Berhanu Adelu, chief of Zenawi's Cabinet,
in a forum on the new law on Dec. 24. "We invite NGOs to do this work, but
it is not their role to protect the rights of citizens. That is the role of
government. It's an internal issue."
The government also disputes claims that the law is intended to silence
critics or that groups will close as a result.
'Clearly Specified Duty'
"No NGOs will be closed as a result of this," Justice Minister
=wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Berhanu Hailu said in an interview on the sidelines
of the forum on Dec. 24. "They just have to raise funds locally. This is not
a closing of political space. We are not undermining civil society in
Ethiopia, but their duty area is clearly specified."
The U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa said the law "appears to restrict civil
society activities and international partners' ability to support Ethiopia's
own development efforts."
"We are concerned that this law may restrict U.S. government assistance to
Ethiopia, particularly on promoting democracy and good governance, civic and
human rights, conflict resolution and advocacy for society's most vulnerable
groups," the embassy said in an statement read to Bloomberg.
<http://www.amnesty.org> Amnesty International, the London-based human
rights organization, said that while the government had provided assurances
that the law was intended to regularize non- governmental activity, it
appeared to have emerged out of state fears about political control.
Those fears "manifested as increased repression of civil society activity
after the contested 2005 elections and continue to severely limit space for
civil society as Ethiopia heads toward elections in 2010," Amnesty said in
an e-mail today.
Government opponents accused the state of rigging the May 2005 elections,
sparking protests in Addis Ababa and other cities. A judicial inquiry after
the election concluded that government security forces had killed 193
opposition supporters in the unrest.
In October and November of 2008, the government arrested 15 members of the
Oromo Federalist Democratic Movement, an opposition party, on suspicion of
belonging to a separatist group. Last month, Birtukan Mideksa, the country's
leading opposition politician, was arrested and jailed for life after a
dispute with the government over a pardon agreement that had freed her in
Among the NGOs likely to be banned is the <http://www.ehrco.org> Ethiopian
Human Rights Council, or EHRCO, a non-profit organization that has issued
more than 140 reports detailing summary executions, disappearances and
unlawful detentions of Ethiopians over the past 17 years.
More than a dozen of the group's staff and members were arrested in the wake
of Ethiopia's disputed 2005 elections, during which EHRCO ran voter
education programs, Yoseph Mulugeta, the group's secretary-general, said in
About 99 percent of the 1,500-member group's 4 million birr ($400,000)
annual budget comes from foreign sources, including the U.S. based National
Endowment for Democracy, Canada's overseas aid agency, and the embassies of
As a result of the law, many of the group's 60 investigators and
administrators across the country have been notified they're likely to lose
"Who watches when the government violates human rights?" Mulugeta said. "In
many countries the government is the biggest violator of human rights. There
needs to be independent watchers."
To contact the reporter on this story:
wnnis&sort=date:D:S:d1> Jason McLure in Addis Ababa via Johannesburg at
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