12th March 2012
Human rights organisations across Ethiopia are being forced to close offices and lay off staff because of a ‘crippling’ law, said Amnesty International today in a new report.
Amnesty’s report ‘Stifling human rights work: the impact of Ethiopia’s civil society legislation’ describes how the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation imposes heavy restrictions on human rights groups operating in the east African country, and allows for excessive government interference. The result is that Ethiopians have less access to independent human rights assistance.
Amnesty International’s Deputy Africa Director Michelle Kagari said:
‘Rather than creating an enabling environment for human rights defenders to work in, the government has implemented a law which has crippled human rights work in Ethiopia. The space to make legitimate criticism is more restricted than ever.’
Human rights defenders risk imprisonment if they violate vaguely defined provisions within the 2009 law, making them afraid to speak out, and often resort to self-censorship, in order to avoid repercussions.
Amnesty International’s report highlights how law has changed the face of civil society in Ethiopia. Human rights organisations have shrunk in number and in size, having to cut programmes, close offices and lay off staff. The law has been used by the government to freeze financial assets of more than US$1 million belonging to the country’s two leading human rights organisations.
‘Stifling human rights work’ also highlights how Ethiopian people suffer most as a consequence of the law because human rights organisations cannot reach the most vulnerable.
There continue to be allegations of human rights violations, often linked to the Ethiopian security forces. For example, during 2008, before the law was passed, the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA) provided free legal aid to over 17,000 women in addition to other activities that tens of thousands of participants benefitted from. Today, EWLA is barely functioning, with limited legal aid for women provided by volunteers.
The Charities and Societies Proclamation violates Ethiopia’s constitution and international human rights obligations.
Michelle Kagari added:
‘The Ethiopian government claim that they want to protect human rights cannot be taken seriously while this law continues to be implemented. It must amend the law and remove restrictions on human rights activities.”’
The Charities and Societies Proclamation, together with the Anti-Terrorism Proclamation and the Mass Media Proclamation have all severely limited Ethiopian individuals’ freedom of expression and, specifically, their ability to criticise their government. In this context the government of Ethiopia continues to be responsible for widespread human rights violations, under ever-decreasing scrutiny.
Amnesty International is urging the government of Ethiopia to amend the law to remove the restrictions on human rights activities, and to recognise, respect and protect the vital work of human rights defenders.