[JURIST] A 2009 Ethiopian law regulating non-governmental organizations (NGOs) is sabotaging charity work and undermining human rights in the country, Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy website] reported [text, PDF] Monday. Ethiopia’s Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) [text] blocks Ethiopian NGOs from accepting more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources and gives the government authority to appoint NGO leadership positions. The law also imposes strict and unregulated criminal and administrative penalties for violations. The report criticized the law and its effect on human rights in the county:
In restricting human rights organizations from doing their legitimate and essential work, the law has significantly affected the promotion and protection of the rights of the Ethiopian people. Civil society organizations are essential to upholding human rights, equality and justice at all levels of society, and to holding governments to account for their performance and adherence to national and international human rights commitments.
A government spokesman, Bereket Simon, said that AI’s accusations are unfounded [AFP report] and that the law serves the interests of both NGOs and citizens. AI and Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] previously issued reports that criticized the law [JURIST reports] shortly after it was proposed in 2008.
AI claims that the CSP and other regulations such as the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation [text] and the Mass Media Proclamation [text], allow the Ethiopian government to limit freedom of speech and commit human rights violations [AI press release]. In January, the Ethiopian Federal High Court [official website, in Amharic] convicted [JURIST report] three Ethiopian journalists, a political opposition leader and a politician’s assistant for conspiring to commit acts of terrorism in violation of the country’s Anti-Terrorism Proclamation. HRW reported that the defendants had no access to legal counsel during their three months in pretrial detention and that the court did not investigate allegations of torture and mistreatment while in detention. Under the anti-terrorism law, conspiracy to commit terrorist acts carries a sentence of 15 years to life imprisonment or death. Last year, JURIST guest columnist and former executive director Abigail Salisbury argued that the Ethiopian government is using these regulatory laws to suppress journalists and opposition groups to maintain its hold on power [JURIST op-ed].