International human rights groups have warned of new legislation being
prepared by the government of Ethiopia that the groups say would
constrain the activities of nongovernmental organizations operating in
the country. As Derek Kilner reports for VOA's East Africa bureau in
Nairobi, the government maintains the new regulations would simply be
meant to streamline the operations of NGOs.
Human Rights Watch
and Amnesty International say that the current draft of Ethiopia's
proposed Charities and Societies Proclamation would drastically
increase government monitoring of NGOs operating in the country and
make it easier for the government to punish groups whose work it does
not agree with.
The organizations say Western donor governments
have been involved in unsuccessful back-channel negotiations with
Ethiopian officials to soften the bill and they are now calling on
those governments to condemn the proposed legislation.
Ethiopian government denies that the bill threatens the work of NGOs,
maintaining that the legislation is merely an attempt to simplify
current regulations and promote transparency.
spokesman for Ethiopia's Foreign Ministry, said he had not seen the
accusations made by Human Rights Watch or Amnesty International, but
rejected the idea that the bill would restrict development work in the
"Whether it's international or domestic NGOs, it will
facilitate a smooth operation for them," he said. "It comes with
accountability, how they should raise funds, and then where should they
apply if they are domestic, if they are international. This is a draft
proclamation which is designed to make the operation of NGOs smooth.
This is a law that you can find in any other country."
to the international groups, Ethiopian organizations working on human
rights and peace-building are likely to face the biggest challenges,
with new penalties for engaging in "unlawful" activities, and
restrictions on foreign funding.
But international development
NGOs operating in the country would also face restrictions. In
particular, international organizations would not be allowed to engage
in democracy, governance, or peace-building work.
groups have criticized Ethiopia's government in recent years for
cracking down on political opponents from opposition political parties
and from civil society. The government has also been accused of
widespread human rights abuses, particularly in its campaign against
insurgent groups in the ethnically Somali region of the Ogaden.