Overall, 2008 was not a good year for Ethiopians, and 2009 is not shaping up to be any better. An already oppressive and negligent government recently passed new legislation that would effectively criminalize the actions of human rights activists. The Charities and Societies Proclamation Law (CSO), which has been under review since the middle of last year, was finally passed in early January.
The new legislation entails considerably harsher government control as well as severe criminal penalties for non-government organizations that partake in human rights activism. This means that all foreign organizations and Ethiopian organizations that receive more than 10 percent of their funding from outside the country would be unable campaign for improvement in Ethiopia’s deteriorating human rights record.
While the Ethiopian government insists that the CSO law is designed to improve the administration of civil society, the truth is that this law imposes strict regulations and monitoring of the civil society in an immensely restrictive and intolerant manner. It is not unreasonable to believe that the government may be using this new law to mask the many human rights violations that are taking place in the country, like political oppression, obstruction of free expression, war crimes and crimes against humanity, torture, and unfair trials.
Amnesty International is vigorously urging the United States, the UK, and France to speak out in opposition to this new legislation. The difficulty of this situation is that the United States, as well as several European states, is in agreements to provide bilateral aid and support. The UK supplies financial aid to the country while the US provides military assistance in exchange for Ethiopia’s effort to stabilize the war-plagued surrounding region. The U.S. also benefits from having Ethiopia as an ally in the war on terror.
With so much at stake, the foreign nations have shown reluctance to oppose or condemn the Ethiopian government for their intolerance and disregard of human rights treaties and agreements that the country has signed into. Upon the introduction of this new legislation, the U.S. has decided to protest this effort to further repress civil society, and said that if the Ethiopian government does not make changes to the CSO law, the U.S. will have no choice but to limit its assistance to the country.
According to the Human Rights Watch Report, Ethiopia will be under review by the UN Human Rights Council’ Universal Periodic Review mechanism at the end of 2009.