Ethiopia: Human rights are "crippled," says Amnesty International


Prime Minister of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Meles Zenawi speaks at the opening plenary session of the High Level Segment of the during the COP 17 conference held at the International Convention Centre in Durban on Dec. 6, 2011.


Rajesh Jantilal

NAIROBI, Kenya — There is no love lost between Amnesty International and the leadership of Ethiopia, and this latest report titled "Stifling human rights work: The impact of civil society legislation in Ethiopia" is not going to patch up the relationship.

"Rather than creating an enabling environment for human rights defenders to work in, the government has implemented a law which has crippled human rights work in Ethiopia. The space to make legitimate criticism is more restricted than ever," said Amnesty's Deputy Africa Director Michelle Kagari.

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It's not news, really, as the report looks at the impact of a piece of legislation from 2009 but a few years down the line it's now possible to see the impact of the "Charities and Societies Proclamation" that was brought in ahead of the last round of elections.

It was a smart law on the part of Prime Minister Meles Zenawi's government because it doesn't outright ban human rights groups — that would trigger outrage and might even force the hand of supportive foreign donors like the US — it just makes life really hard for them.

The law has "changed the face of civil society in Ethiopia," according to Amnesty. "Human rights organizations have shrunk in number and in size, having to cut programs, close offices and lay off staff. The law has been used by the government to freeze financial assets of more than US$1 million belonging to the country’s two leading human rights organizations," the group says.

If you believe that governments should be accountable to their people, however vulnerable, downtrodden or marginalized, then this is bad news. But don't expect any change in Ethiopia.

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