NGO Law Should Block Ethiopia From Mining Initiative: HRW

Ethiopia should be denied admission to a global initiative to improve the governance of natural resources because of the country’s limits on freedom of expression and civic activity, Human Rights Watch said.

The board of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative will consider Ethiopia’s application on March 18 and March 19 in Norway’s capital, Oslo, according to a statement e-mailed today by the New York-based advocacy group.

A previous attempt by Ethiopia to join EITI was declined in 2010 because of a law passed a year earlier that barred organizations that receive more than 10 percent of their funds from abroad from engaging in human-rights advocacy or promoting gender equality, according to Human Rights Watch.

“The Ethiopian government has crushed activist groups and muzzled the media,” said Lisa Misol, senior business and human rights researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Ethiopia’s harsh repression of independent voices is utterly incompatible with this global effort to increase public oversight over government.”

Regardless of the views of rights groups, Ethiopia’s government wants to join the EITI to ensure that future mining revenues will be a “blessing” not a “curse” on the country, Mines Minister Tolesa Shagi said in an interview today.

Strong Voices

EITI Chairman Clare Short wrote an open letter last month arguing that Ethiopia should be accepted into the initiative.

“I find the discussion on Ethiopia to have been unhelpfully influenced by strong voices from a special interest group with perfectly well-meaning intentions but who have too much of a ‘north telling the south what to do’ mindset,” she said in the letter posted on EITI’s website.

London-based Tullow Oil Plc and partner Africa Oil Corp., based in Vancouver, are exploring in southern Ethiopia for crude, while Toronto-based Allan Potash Corp. expects to begin producing the fertilizer ingredient from the northeast Afar region next year. The country produces minerals including gold, gemstones, tantalum and niobium, according to the U.S. Geological Survey.

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