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LATEST NEWS

February 23, 2017

Joint Letter to Human Rights Council: Upholding international law in South Sudan

in News

To Permanent Representatives of member and observer States of the United Nations Human Rights Council RE: Renewing the mandate of the Commission on Human…
February 23, 2017

Addressing Civic Space Restrictions in Uganda: What Role for the UPR?

This policy action brief, prepared by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and the Foundation for Human Rights Initiative (FHRI), examines a range of…
February 22, 2017

CIVICUS Fellowship Programme

in News

The CIVICUS Fellowship Programme is an exciting new venture in which key experts will be placed into national and/or regional organisations for the period…
February 21, 2017

Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report

Read this press release in Arabic, French, Portuguese and Spanish Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country…
February 16, 2017

Joint Letter to UN Human Rights Council: More attention needed on human rights violations in…

in News

To: Permanent Representatives of Member and Observer States of the UN Human Rights Council RE: Sustaining attention to human rights violations in China Excellency,…
February 13, 2017

Gambian civil society optimistic as new democratic era dawns

in News

The Gambia has recently gone through a major democratic transition. CIVICUS interviews Sohna Sallah, the Vice President of the Democratic Union of Gambian Activists…

OPINION PIECES

Don't lecture the Americans about our values. Demonstrate them.

By Danny Sriskandarajah and Julia Sanchez  There has never been a better time for Canada to show progressive leadership globally in support of inclusive and open societies that respect human rights. As the government prepares a…

Against all odds: Civil society under fire

By Danny Sriskandarajah Civil society is under fire—sometimes literally—in many countries and in all regions of the world. Governments are clamping down on fundamental civic freedoms. This year’s Global Risks Report highlights the threat to civic space,…

In a time of exclusion, making space for Faith Based Organizations

By Amjad Mohamed Saleem For many people around the world, faith is embedded in cultures, practices and communities. Earlier this month, World Interfaith Harmony week taught us that religious practices and perspectives continue to be sources…

Sustainable development for all ages

By Danny Sriskandarajah It’s a global phenomenon, already exerting a profound social and economic impact in both rich and poor countries. So why are so few development professionals talking about population aging? Our planet’s rapidly shifting…

Leave no person with disabilities behind

By Leave No One Behind Partneship and ADD International Pushpa Rani had pneumonia when she was eight years old, which left her extremely weak. Eventually, she lost all movement in her legs. Pushpa joined a women's self-help group,…

OGP must protect space for people power - before it is too late

By Cathal Gilbert  In some Open Government Partnership (OGP) member countries, the threats to peaceful dissent and activism are extremely grave. Examples include the assassinations of five social leaders in just one week in Colombia, the police’s…

 The assets of both organizations were frozen on order of the Director of the governmental Charities and Societies Agency, a body created under the law. The order cost HRCO 9.5 million Birr (approximately US$566,000) and EWLA 10 million Birr (approximately US$595,000) in frozen funds.

The freezing of the assets of both organizations, and today’s upholding of this decision, includes a retroactive application of the CSO law to a large proportion of the funds of both organizations which were received before the law was passed, though the law does not provide for its retroactive application.

Both HRCO and EWLA appealed the decision, first to the Board of the Agency, and subsequently to the Federal High Court, which ruled to uphold the decision of the Board on 26 October 2011. Both cases were then referred to the Supreme Court, where they have been subject to several delays. The decision has been postponed twice.

As a result of the restrictions in the CSO law and the freezing of their accounts, HRCO has been forced to close nine of its twelve offices and cut 85 per cent of its staff. EWLA was forced to cut 70 per cent of their staff. In both organizations these cuts have resulted in very significant reductions in their human rights work.

The Supreme Court’s ruling is symptomatic of the wide and ever-increasing obstacles that human rights organisations face in attempting to continue their essential work in Ethiopia. The CSO law places undue restrictions on the rights to freedom of association and expression of human rights organisations in Ethiopia, in violation of Ethiopia’s Constitution and its international obligations. The law also contravenes the UN Declaration on Human Rights Defenders which explicitly protects the right to access funding for the purpose of the promotion and protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms. A number of UN and regional human rights bodies including the UN Universal Periodic Review and the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights have recommended that the law be amended or repealed.

The CSO law has had a devastating impact on human rights organizations. Following the passing of the law, the majority of independent civil society organizations working on human rights issues were forced to discontinue their work. Those who have attempted to continue their work are struggling to survive due to the funding restrictions contained in the law.

In addition to the already significant obstacles to human rights work contained in the law, the government has introduced additional implementing directives which place a bewildering array of bureaucratic requirements on organizations. Further, recent stipulations have required non-governmental organizations’ work to be overseen by a relevant government body, severely compromising the independence of those organizations.

As well as suffering from the international funding restrictions contained in the law and the freezing of its assets, HRCO has been subjected to discriminatory application of the CSO law. HRCO has been denied funding available from the government-allied Ethiopian Human Rights Commission despite the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding to receive funding in August 2011. Other organisations have received funding under the same process. No explanation was provided to HRCO of why they did not receive funds. Further, in August 2012, the Charities and Societies Agency denied HRCO the fundraising permission which the law requires organizations to obtain before conducting any domestic fundraising activities.

A central intention of the introduction of the CSO law was undoubtedly to silence elements of civil society which scrutinise and report on the government’s human rights record.

The attempts to silence human rights civil society have been accompanied by a continued attack on the independent media, which has seen a number of journalists imprisoned in 2011 and 2012, and two of the last remaining independent newspapers forced out of circulation in the same period. This crackdown on the media severely reduces independent scrutiny of government actions. In this context, human rights violations remain widespread but are seriously under-reported, accountability for perpetrators of violations is rare, and victims of violations are deprived of assistance.

Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch urge the Ethiopian authorities to immediately end their attack on Ethiopian human rights organizations and publicly recognize and protect the vital role that civil society has to play in the realization of the rights of all of the Ethiopian people.

As a candidate for election to the UN Human Rights Council, Amnesty International, CIVICUS and Human Rights Watch urge the Ethiopian government to include among its election pledges a commitment to immediately remove the restrictions placed on human rights civil society in the country by amending the Charities and Societies Proclamation, and by ordering the release of the frozen assets of the country’s two leading human rights organizations.
HRCO, EWLA and all human rights organizations in Ethiopia must be allowed to conduct their work, including through unrestricted access to their funds. The Ethiopian government must abide by its obligations under the Ethiopian Constitution and international law to uphold the rights to freedom of association, freedom of expression and freedom of peaceful assembly.

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