Tuesday, July 8, 2008
AFROL NEWS (an independent news agency dedicated to Africa) reports that Ethiopia's government has drafted a Charities and Societies Proclamation law, which it claims is a "benign attempt to promote financial transparency." However, fearing that the law is really intended to enable Ethiopia's government to monitor, restrict, and punish NGOs at its discretion, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International released a joint statement that sought to raise awareness and spark a global response to this proposed law.
"Ethiopia's government has already made meaningful public engagement in governance impossible in many areas by persecuting its critics and cracking down on freedom of expression and assembly," said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch.
"The clear intention of this legislation is to consolidate that trend by taking the ‘non' out of ‘nongovernmental' and putting civil society under government control."
The law would apply to every NGO operating in Ethiopia except religious organizations and those foreign NGOs that the government agrees to exempt. Many of the key provisions of the draft law would violate Ethiopia's obligations under international human rights law and fundamental rights guaranteed in its own constitution, including the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression.
Once operational, the law would impose "stiff criminal penalties" on anyone participating in "unlawful" civil society activity, accord government agencies nearly "unfettered discretion" in deciding whether to register individual NGOs, as well as define any unregistered civil society "unlawful".
It would also impose fines and prison sentences of up to 15 years for a range of new offences including participation in any meeting held by an "unlawful" organisation, subject all civil society groups to intrusive government control and surveillance and even disband legally recognised NGOs through an established Charities and Societies Agency.
The full text of the article may be read here.