Monday, October 13, 2008

Ethiopia Parliament Drafts Proposal to make NGO Activities Illegal

This sort of thing happens in volatile countries: An NGO gives aid to poor people who may or may not be associated with a rebel force. Then the government kicks the NGO out for aiding the enemy.

Last Year, the International Red Cross was kicked out of Ethiopia for allegedly giving aid to rebel forces in the country.

Now, the parliament is about to vote on a law that will make many NGO activities illegal.

Peter Heinlein from theVoice of America details the proposal and reaction from Human Rights Watch.

Ethiopian officials have told western diplomats that parliament will approve a proposed Charities and Societies Proclamation within weeks. The bill would give the government supervisory powers over non-governmental organizations that receive at least 10 percent foreign funding, including money from Ethiopians living abroad.

The text before lawmakers prohibits such NGOs from promoting democratic or human rights, the rights of children and the disabled, and equality of gender or religion. Violators could face up to 15 years in prison and fines up to $10,000.

Foreign NGOs have reacted with alarm to the bill, saying it could make it impossible for them to operate in Ethiopia. A group of ambassadors in Addis Ababa recently warned Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that passage of the Charities and Societies Proclamation could mean the loss of untold millions of dollars in desperately needed aid.

The organization Human Rights Watch issued a statement urging Ethiopia's lawmakers to reject the bill, calling it 'repressive'. But the leader of an opposition parliament faction, Bulcha Demeksa, said he and like-minded lawmakers are powerless to stop it in the face of an overwhelming ruling-party majority. "The government is going to silence the NGOs and their leadership when they speak about human rights, when they spoke about democratic rights, when they spoke about giving democratic education to the citizens."

He continued, "The government does not like it, that is why the government wants to silence them, and I am very sorry about it, I am very hurt about it. I wish I could do something about it, because practically all the NGOs are doing something good for this country."

Opposition parties in the Ethiopia government are a small minority and will not be able to stop this from being a law.

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