In 2008 there were 127 rights-based, non-governmental organizations operating in Ethiopia.1 Largely dependent on foreign donor assistance, Ethiopia’s nascent human rights community acted as a bulwark against the rapidly deteriorating respect for civil liberties and political rights in Ethiopia. However, with the advent of Proclamation 621/2009 (CSO Proclamation) ― which prohibits national, rights-based NGOs from receiving more than 10 percent of their funding from foreign sources and provides the government with a powerful tool of supervision and obstruction ― Ethiopia’s once vibrant human rights community is on the verge of extinction. While specific statistics are not available, today, with international human rights organizations barred from working in Ethiopia and national human rights organizations denied access to foreign funding, it can be assumed that numerous human rights organizations have been forced to rescind their human rights mandate or dissolve completely.
The Human Rights Council (HRCO), as the first and only national, independent civil society organization (CSO) mandated to monitor, investigate and report on human rights in Ethiopia, resolved not to rescind its right-based initiatives following the adoption of the CSO Proclamation in 2009. This decision, to forgo most foreign funding in exchange for authorization to continue conducting human rights activities, has significantly reduced HRCO’s capacity to discharge its mandate. Due to an 80 percent reduction in staff, HRCO has been forced to either dissolve or reduce all of its operations and programs. The resulting decrease in exposure and institutional capacity has greatly reduced the Council’s ability to provide essential rights-based services to Ethiopian denizens and combat oppressive and unconstitutional legislation introduced by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE) Government. While this report focuses primarily on how the passage of Proclamation 621/2009 has adversely affected the Human Rights Council, it should be not forgotten that the true victims of the government’s crackdown on independent human rights activity are the millions of Ethiopians who are now deprived of the protections, information and resources previously provided by international and national human rights organizations.
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