A proposed new law in Ethiopia to regulate charities and societies threatens to halt the work of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), particularly those working in the field of human rights and justice and law enforcement services. The Charities and Societies Proclamation as currently drafted would give a newly-established Charities and Societies Agency very wide discretion to regulate NGOs and control their activities. Of crucial particular concern is the ban on NGOs which receive more than 10% of their funding from overseas from participating in work that promotes human and democratic rights, equality (including that of women), the rights of children and people with disabilities, conflict resolution, and the efficiency of justice and law enforcement. NGOs already fear the cancellation of valuable projects because the money to fund them comes from outside the country and it is unrealistic to expect local fundraising to make up the shortfall. In anticipation of passage of this bill, NGOs are also losing valuable staff who need to secure a more certain livelihood. This draconian and oppressive law, if it comes into force, could end the valuable work of many organizations and would be a severely wounding blow to an open and transparent society in Ethiopia.
EWLA faces a significant scaling down of its projects and eventual closure. It was founded by Ethiopian women lawyers in 1996 and its mission is to promote the economic, political, social and legal rights of women. It assists women to secure full protection of their rights under the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia and international human rights conventions to which Ethiopia is a party. EWLA also operates shelters for women survivors of violence. In September 2001, the Ministry of Justice attempted to bar EWLA from operating on the basis that it was engaging in activities other than those permitted by law. The attack on EWLA came after it made public the case of Hermela Wosenyeleh, a victim of sexual harassment, who was not able to secure adequate police protection. Domestic and international protests eventually rescinded EWLA’s suspension. EWLA is particularly concerned that the law could potentially reverse the gains made so far since organizations such as EWLA have been the catalyzing force behind women’s rights promotion and protection by advocating for law reform and pioneering the provision of free legal aid to poor women victims of violence.
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