[JURIST] Human Rights Watch (HRW) Monday encouraged the Ethiopian parliament to reject the draft Charities and Societies Proclamation [text, in Amharic], which HRW officials concluded in a report [text, PDF; press release] would severely undermine human rights efforts in the country if passed. The draft law, which is a revision of the law proposed earlier this year [text, PDF; JURIST report], is designed to regulate civil society organizations (CSOs) in the country. HRW claims that it will instead harm human rights by creating a Charities and Societies Agency with broad authority to interfere in CSO internal workings and to ban any CSO that fails to meet government specifications. According to the report:
[T]he intended and actual result of this law would be to make it nearly impossible for any civil society organization to carry out work the government does not approve of. It also contravenes fundamental human rights guaranteed by international law and by Ethiopias constitution. Most notably, the law would criminalize human rights-related work carried out by non-Ethiopian organizations while at the same time making it impossible for domestic human rights organizations to operate with any real degree of effectiveness or independence. ...The report also criticizes the proposed law for imposing strict and unregulated criminal and administrative penalties on those who violate its rules. The draft will likely be submitted to the parliament for consideration by the end of the month. AFP has more.
The current version of the bill remains a blunt tool whose primary impact would be to destroy the already-limited ability of Ethiopian civil society actors to criticize or act independently of the government. It would also result in the de facto criminalization of any and all independent human rights work that seeks to document or challenge the Ethiopian governments appalling human rights record.
Ethiopia's human rights record has recently come under intense international scrutiny. In June, HRW released a report [text, PDF] 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 (H.R. 2003) [text; 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 [JURIST report] in April 2007 that it detained terror suspects but denied that the detentions were secret.