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Ethiopia Charity Law Hurts Human-Rights Groups, Amnesty Says

Ethiopia’s ban on charities from working on human-rights issues if they receive more than 10 percent of their funds from abroad has had a devastating impact on advocacy groups in the country, Amnesty International said.

Organizations closed, shifted focus or scaled down their activities because of the 2009 statute, which also forces charities to spend no more than 30 percent of their funds on administration, the London-based organization said.

“Since the law came into force, it has had a devastating impact on human-rights organizations in Ethiopia, and therefore also on the promotion and protection of the rights of the Ethiopian people,” it said in a report released today. “The impact of the law is that today human-rights organizations barely exist in Ethiopia.”

Ethiopia’s government said in 2009 it introduced the law to regulate the country’s more than 3,800 non-governmental organizations. It also said that it was the role of the state, rather than foreign-backed groups, to protect human and democratic rights.

“The law does not in any way intend to infringe on the rights of citizens,” and “proper grassroots movements” shouldn’t rely on foreign backing, Communications Minister Bereket Simon said by phone today. “If they are dying for lack of funds it means for all practical purposes probably they do not have the roots in the country.”

Criticism of Government

Along with Ethiopia’s media law and anti-terrorism legislation, the so-called Charities and Societies Proclamation has restricted criticism of a government that is responsible for human-rights violations, Amnesty said.

Its impact “has been to entrench still further, and even to institutionalize, the climate of fear pervading the work of human-rights defenders in Ethiopia,” it said. “A number of human-rights defenders fled the country as soon as the law was passed.”

The Human Rights Council, an independent monitor of human-rights abuses that had its foreign funding frozen by the government, had to close 9 out of 12 branches because of the law, according to Amnesty.

In another case study, the group said that the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association had to fire almost 75 percent of its staff. The association, which also had its bank account frozen, was the “the only major organization focussing exclusively on women’s rights at the national level,” Amnesty said.

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