CIVICUS

MonitorTracking civic space

Ethiopia

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Last updated on 05.03.2019 at 10:13

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Government Amends Contentious CSO law as human rights actors return to the country

Government Amends Contentious CSO law as human rights actors return to the country

Association

Under the new leadership of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, major strides have been taken to modify or altogether remove several repressive laws that have been used to suppress civil society since 2005. In early February 2019, after consultations with civil society actors, the Charities and Societies Proclamation (2009) was amended to allow for the re-entry of international organisations into the country. Among its many contentious provisions, the previous restrictions on funding for civil society organisations were lifted. The law formerly stipulated that organisations receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from international donors were considered foreign international organisations, and could therefore not undertake any human rights related work in the country.

Gerald Staberock, OMCT Secretary General said:

“After years of violent repression of the human rights movements in Ethiopia, we are extremely glad to witness this crucial change and we hope that the new CSO law will live up to the expectations by providing new impetus to the Ethiopian civil society movement. In this key moment, we need to stand as steadfast as ever on the side of local civil society organisations to be sure that they will be able to carry out their work free from hindrances, threats and legal restrictions.” 

In late January 2019, several human rights defenders, national, and international civil society organisations gathered in Addis Ababa for a workshop to discuss strategies to rebuild civil society ahead of the upcoming 2020 elections. Several organisations, such as the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia, returned to the country after more than a decade in exile. This was the first such meeting since the reform process led to the opening up of civic space in 2018.

Peaceful Assembly

On 14th January 2019, people in Ethiopia’s northeastern Afar region protested against ethnic violence between Afars and Issa Somalis which broke out in December 2018, and in which seven civilians have reportedly been killed. The demonstrations which included a blockade of the highway linking Ethiopia and Djibouti, were in protest against the ongoing violence and a government order to pull out local militias from the disputed areas and replace them with federal soldiers. According to the police spokesman Jeylan Abdi, the region’s leadership, local elders held discussions that resulted in a solution and the end of the blockade.

Expression

In November 2018, the Attorney General’s office said it was drafting a bill to curb the rising hate speech and irresponsible use of social media. However, several civil society organisations, including Human Rights Watch, have voiced concern over the law, considering hate speech laws are often abused, and called attention to Ethiopia’s record of vaguely-worded legislation to criminalise free expression.

Human Rights Watch cautioned:

‘’… Any law that limits freedom of expression by punishing hate speech must be narrowly drawn and enforced with restraint....many governments have tried and failed to strike the right balance, and Ethiopia’s own track record offers reason for alarm.’‘‘

Association in Ethiopia

The adoption of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) has precipitated the near complete cessation of independent human rights reporting in the country.

The adoption of the 2009 Charities and Societies Proclamation (CSP) has precipitated the near complete cessation of independent human rights reporting in the country. Under CSP, international human rights groups are proscribed from working in the country and national groups are prohibited from receiving more than 10% of their funding from foreign sources if they work on a number of human rights issues including, inter alia, human and democratic rights, promotion of gender and religion, the rights of children and people with disabilities, conflict resolution or reconciliation and the promotion of the efficiency of justice and law enforcement agencies. Moreover, national groups are forced to receive explicit approval from the authorities to conduct any form of domestic fundraising and must provide detailed information of all individual benefactors. Under this highly restrictive legal framework, few organisations manage to operate in the country and those that have maintained their explicit human rights mandate are subjected to discriminatory application of the law as well as intimidation and harassment by the state.

Peaceful Assembly in Ethiopia

While largely intolerant of public demonstrations, since 2015 the government has instituted an unprecedented and deadly crackdown on the right to freedom of assembly. The authorities frequently invoke restrictive legislation, including to proscribe groups critical of the government from holding public protests.

While largely intolerant of public demonstrations, since 2015 the government has instituted an unprecedented and deadly crackdown on the right to freedom of assembly. The authorities frequently invoke restrictive legislation, including to proscribe groups critical of the government from holding public protests. When demonstrations do occur they are frequently met with disproportionate, excessive and lethal force as well as arbitrary arrests of participants, supporters, organisors and monitors. In response to a recent wave of protests in the Oromia region beginning in November 2015, security forces have killed over 400 protesters, including scores of children, and arrested, detained or prosecuted thousands of others under the widely criticised 2009 Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP). The protestors, who are opposing the dispossession of their land by the government under its national development plan, continue to demonstrate despite this violent state repression. Moreover, ongoing peaceful protests organised by members of the Muslim community in the capital, Addis Ababa, since 2012 have been subjected to unjustifiable and violent state obstruction. On at least four occasions, security forces used unwarranted and excessive force, including firing live ammunition and tear gas to disperse protestors. On3 August 2015, 18 Muslim leaders, protestors and journalists were sentenced to between 7 and 22 years in prisonunder the ATP.

Expression in Ethiopia

The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation severely restricts freedom of expression, and has been widely used to stifle dissent. Police forces have imprisoned and sentenced scores of journalists using vague provisions of the law and forced dozens of others to flee the country to avoid further persecution.

The Anti-Terrorism Proclamation severely restricts freedom of expression, and has been widely used to stifle dissent. Police forces have imprisoned and sentenced scores of journalists using vague provisions of the law and forced dozens of others to flee the country to avoid further persecution. Currently at least 10 remain in prison under the ATP while 30 journalists fled the country in 2014 alone. The government also continues to arbitrarily close independent media outlets and censor online platforms. Also in 2014 at least six publications were unwarrantedly dissolved. The government has intensified its control over the Internet, and blocked access to independent websites or critical television and radio programmes. Assessments undertaken in early 2012 revealed that 65 websites related to news, 14 websites belonging to different Ethiopian political parties, 37 blogs, 7 audio-video websites, and 37 Facebook pages were not accessible in the country. The monitoring of telephone calls by security agents is also widely reported. Journalists both local and foreign are also barred by security agents from covering protests, such as the recent demonstrations in Oromia, which severely hampers documentation of rights violations committed during the protests.