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Ethiopia parliament approves controversial legislation regulating foreign charities

[JURIST] The Ethiopian Parliament [official website] on Tuesday adopted controversial legislation [draft text, PDF, in Amharic] designed to regulate foreign charities. Under the Proclamation for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies, which passed 327 to 79 [IRIN report], foreign aid organizations and local groups that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign entities will be prohibited from involvement in areas that the government believes are Ethiopian affairs, such as human rights and equality. Proponents of the legislation say that the new law is designed to keep foreign activists from interfering in political matters, but will still allow charities to provide humanitarian aid. Opponents fear that the law will be used to banish groups that the government views as a threat to its power. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International [advocacy website] have condemned [press release] the law as "an attempt by the Ethiopian government to conceal human rights violations, stifle critics and prevent public protest of its actions ahead of expected elections in 2010." Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] has also criticized [JURIST report] the legislation. The US government has also condemned the law [press release], with State Department spokesperson Robert Wood saying, "we are concerned 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."

Ethiopia's human rights record has recently come under intense international scrutiny. In June, HRW released a report attacking Ethiopian human rights practices in the Ogaden region [JURIST report]. In October 2007, the US House of Representatives passed the Ethiopia Democracy and Accountability Act of 2007 [JURIST commentary], aimed in part at encouraging the improvement of 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 in April 2007 that it detained terror suspects but denied that the detentions were secret.

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