[JURIST] Ethiopian lawmakers passed a controversial new anti-terrorism Tuesday law that rights groups claim will negatively affect human rights in the country. Ethiopian authorities responded [VOA report] Wednesday to a recent Human Rights Watch [advocacy website] report [text], which expressed concern that the law could "punish political speech and peaceful protest as terrorist acts and encourage unfair trials." HRW argued that the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation violates due process and freedoms of speech and assembly since the law is ambiguous and could be construed to suppress political opposition. Ethiopia maintained that the legislation is necessary to address threats from internal rebel groups and denied that it will be used to quash political dissent. Lawmakers passed the bill [AFP report] Tuesday without making the changes urged by HRW. Ethiopian Communications Minister Bereket Simon maintained that the law is constitutionally permissible and in compliance with international law by arguing that the country has a right to defend itself against rebels. Amnesty International (AI) [advocacy group] argued that, while Ethiopia faces legitimate security concerns, anti-terrorism laws must be enacted [AI report] in accordance with international rights standards. The law is supported by Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi [BBC profile].
Human rights in Ethiopia have been intensely scrutinized by the international community. The Ethiopian National Priorities Consultative Process [advocacy website] met in Chicago last week to agree on a resolution [text, PDF] that expresses concern over civil rights. The group was troubled by proclamations being passed by the ruling regime, calling anti-terrorism laws and others "draconian" and repressive. In January, the Ethiopian Parliament adopted legislation [JURIST report] to prevent certain foreign charities from being involved in areas that the government believes are internal affairs including human rights and equality. 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.