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Ethiopia proposed NGO law may undermine human rights efforts

[JURIST] A proposed Ethiopian law regulating non-governmental organizations, which it terms Civil Society Organizations (CSO), would severely undermine human rights efforts in the country, according to two separate reports issued Tuesday by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [PDF texts; joint press release]. The groups said that Ethiopia's Charities and Societies Proclamation [Mahder.com backgrounder] would bar foreign CSOs from engaging in human rights work and block Ethiopian CSOs from accepting foreign funding. The provision could result in the complete shutdown of all aid groups not expressly approved by the government. The law would also create a Charities and Societies Agency with broad authority to interfere in CSO internal workings and to ban any CSO that failed to meet government specifications. HRW's analysis of the law [PDF, text] stated:

The CSA and numerous government ministries would have enormous discretionary powers to refuse to accord legal recognition to CSOs, to disband CSOs that have already been legally recognized, to subject CSOs to intrusive patterns of surveillance, and to interfere in the management and staffing of CSOs up to the point of altering their organizational missions.
Amnesty and HRW alleged that the proposition violated both international law and freedoms enshrined in Ethiopia's own constitution. AfrolNews has more.

Last month, HRW reported [PDF text; JURIST report] on human rights violations committed by both the Ethiopian military and the ethnic Somali group the Ogaden National Liberation Front [group website] in the eastern Ogaden region. In October 2007, the US House of Representatives passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 (HR 2003) [text; JURIST commentary], aimed in part at encouraging the human rights situation in Ethiopia. The bill is currently before the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations. In July 2007, HRW accused Ethiopian troops of violating international humanitarian law [JURIST report] by burning homes and forcibly relocating civilians in Ogaden. In March 2007, HRW also accused Ethiopia of complicity with the US and Kenya in secretly detaining Somalis [JURIST report] accused of being Islamic militants. Ethiopia had admitted [JURIST report] in April 2007 that it detained terror suspects but denied that the detentions were secret.

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