Ethiopia: UN Experts Commend Civil Society Law Reforms, but Concerns Remain

Geneva — "We acknowledge the positive steps which the Government has taken in order to reform its laws on civil society organisations and encourage Ethiopia to continue in this vein of liberalisation. It is essential that civil society organisations are free to operate as they provide vital contributions to the cultivation of an open and vibrant democracy in which human rights are protected and promoted."

"As the Government embarks on its implementation of the Proclamation, we encourage the authorities to put in place measures, in consultation with others including civil society, that could mitigate the gaps to ensure that the enforcement of this legislation does not lead to violations of the right to freedom of association."

The new Civil Societies Proclamation introduces a number of positive changes, including clear recognition of the right to operational freedom, the lifting of restrictions on finances considered "foreign", particularly for those working on human rights, and expansion of fund-raising capabilities.

It also encourages civil society groups to play a more active part in policy and law, improving the living conditions of women, children, people with disabilities, the elderly and others at risk.

"However, a number of worrying provisions were added to the text during its revision by Ethiopia's Council of Ministers, including changes to the Civil Society Agency Board, compromising its independence and granting it additional powers to dissolve organisations. This power was initially granted only to founders of organisations or the Federal High Court," the experts said.

"The dissolution of an association is the severest type of restriction to the right to associate, and should be permitted only after a full judicial process when all appeals mechanisms have been exhausted.

"The investigative powers of the Civil Society Agency are also too broad, permitting invasive Governmental supervision of civil society organisations and the Proclamation includes restrictive provisions requiring mandatory registration and burdensome auditing obligations."

The experts offered technical assistance to the Government if requested.


(*)The UN experts: Mr. Clément Nyaletsossi Voule (Togo), Special Rapporteur on the rights to peaceful assembly and of association; Mr. Michel Forst (France), Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders.

The Working Groups and Special Rapporteurs are part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council's independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity.

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