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.’‘‘