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Cablegate: Government Set to Pass Cso Law

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RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
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UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 ADDIS ABABA 002482

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV EAID PREL ET
SUBJECT: GOVERNMENT SET TO PASS CSO LAW

REF: ADDIS 2105

This is an Action Request. Please see paras 5, 6, and 7.

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) The release of a minimally altered, near final
version of Ethiopia's highly contentious Civil Society
Organizations (CSO) law suggests that the Ethiopian
Government (GoE) is preparing to rush the bill through
Parliament this Fall. The impact of the law on U.S. foreign
assistance programs remains unclear as the provision
exempting foreign CSOs operating under an agreement with the
GoE from the provisions of the law simply codifies the
current procedure by which U.S. project assistance in
Ethiopia is pre-vetted with the GoE, providing a potential
exemption therefor. The larger impact, however, will be to
eviscerate Ethiopian civil society engaged in building strong
and transparent national institutions by prohibiting them
from receiving significant foreign funding. The net effects,
therefore, will likely be the restriction of foreign
assistance aimed at democratic institution building,
undercutting development of a civil society and the
establishment of strong and transparent institutions of
governance that represent, and respond to, the will of the
people. Post will continue to press the GoE to avoid passage
of such restrictive legislation, but we are increasingly
pessimistic about the ability to stop this juggernaut. Post
strongly recommends that Washington prepare to release a
strong public message when this legislation does pass. End
Summary.

VERSION III...
--------------

2. (SBU) The Ethiopian Government (GoE) discretely released a
minimally revised version of its highly contentious draft
Civil Society Organizations (CSO) law on September 2. A copy
has sent to AF/FO, AF/E, DRL/AE, and USAID/AFR on September
4. This third draft is substantively revised only by
replacing specific references to criminal penalties with the
more oblique provision that violations of the law will be
punishable in accordance with provisions in the criminal
code. The new draft leaves intact contentious provisions
including the definition of "Ethiopian" CSOs based on foreign
funding levels of no more than 10 percent; the prohibition on
"foreign" CSOs from engaging in human and democratic rights,
gender equity, children's and disabled rights, conflict
resolution, and efficiency of the justice and law enforcement
sectors; and the denial of the option for foreigners to
appeal administrative decisions to the judiciary. As the
most formal draft presented yet, with a pre-printed effective
date of 2008, and only minimal cosmetic alterations, this
latest version of the law reaffirms the Prime Minister's
confirmation in reftel that the GoE will pass this law this
year. Sources close to the GoE suggest that the government
will present the draft to the Council of Ministers shortly
following the September 15-19 ruling party congress; the
Council will, in turn, refer it to Parliament upon convening
on October 10.

...AND ITS EFFECTS
------------------

3. (SBU) The minimal alterations to this bill, after three
rounds of senior diplomatic engagement (reftel and previous)
highlighting the impacts of the law on donors' and NGOs'
activities, leaves little question that the GoE is fully
aware of, and intent on enforcing, the projected restrictions
on Ethiopia's CSO operations. As virtually all Ethiopian
CSOs with whom the U.S. Mission engages, or which have
demonstrated any appreciable level of capacity, secure the
majority of their support from foreign sources, the Article
2(2) definition of "Ethiopian Charities" as those which
receive not more than 10 percent of their funds from foreign
country sources renders all such CSOs as de facto "foreign."
Articles 14(2) and (5) continue to prohibit these partners
from engaging in the advancement of human and democratic
rights, the promotion of gender and religious equality, the
promotion of children's and disabled rights, conflict
resolution and reconciliation, and the efficiency of the
justice and law enforcement services. As current U.S.

ADDIS ABAB 00002482 002 OF 003


foreign assistance programs are already pre-vetted with GoE
partners, the Article 3(2)(b) provision exempting foreign
NGOs operating under an agreement with the GoE from the law
allows the U.S. potentially to continue supporting democracy,
governance, and conflict resolution programs in Ethiopia. It
does, however, prohibit significant support to Ethiopian CSOs
to assist with the implementation of such programs,
undercutting the potential to build local CSO capacity to
sustain civil society's watchdog role over government.
Whereas the standard Ethiopian legislative definition of the
term "foreign" pertains exclusively to non-Ethiopian citizens
or governments, the latest Article 2(15) specifically defines
"income from foreign sources" to include "any person in an
foreign country," including Ethiopian citizens resident
abroad.

HIGHLIGHTING THE ZIMBABWE EXAMPLE
---------------------------------

4. (SBU) Over the past few months civil society, Ethiopian
political opposition, and international contacts have
frequently noted the striking similarities between the draft
Ethiopian bill and the similar, but less egregious in its
criminal penalties, CSO legislation passed in Zimbabwe in
2004. In its analysis of the Ethiopian law, Human Rights
Watch (HRW) specifically highlighted the parallels between
the laws and noted that upon Zimbabwe's passage of a similar
law, the Department of State condemned it. Introduction and
progress of this bill through the GoE and Parliament will
almost certainly expose the USG to mounting international
criticism if we remain publicly silent on the issue --
particularly if such progress coincides with current
Ethiopian restrictions on CSOs and humanitarian relief
operations.

PROPOSED PUBLIC STATEMENT
-------------------------

5. (SBU) Passage of an Ethiopian CSO law similar to the
existing draft will significantly undermine U.S. objectives
of transparency, participation, and accountability in
governance. Experience has already demonstrated the bill's
potential to induce widespread public criticism of the USG
for the perceived double standard in our policy toward
Ethiopia. While the Ambassador and Post will continue to
press the GoE against passage of such a restrictive law, all
evidence suggests that the GoE will quickly introduce and
pass this legislation this year. As such, Post strongly
recommends that the Department prepare a public statement in
response.

6. (SBU) PROPOSED TEXT OF STATEMENT

The United States is gravely concerned by the Ethiopian
Government's passage of the Charities and Societies
Proclamation. The law will severely limit the operations and
effectiveness of civil society to contribute to the
establishment, and transparent functioning, of Ethiopian
institutions of governance.

We recognize the importance of effective oversight of civil
society organizations to ensure that they abide by the rule
of law and operate under a uniform set of regulations.
Unfortunately, by stripping organizations that receive
significant foreign funding from contributing to the
advancement of human and democratic rights, promoting
conflict resolution, or gender or religious equality, the law
undermines the ability of the Ethiopian people to contribute
to their own well-being, stability, and prosperity.

Combined with the passage of a highly restrictive press law,
incomplete implementation of the electoral law in the April
2008 elections, and the refusal to engage in dialogue among
political parties, this law represents the latest step in a
series of concerning actions restricting political space in
Ethiopia since the tumultuous elections of 2005.

We call on the Ethiopian Government to reverse this trend and
recommit itself to a political process responsive to the will
of the people and which welcomes, rather than restricts,
their participation.

END PROPOSED TEXT OF STATEMENT

ADDIS ABAB 00002482 003 OF 003

COMMENT
-------

7. (SBU) As the latest move to restrict democratic space in
Ethiopia, the proposed CSO law will not only directly affect
the USG's ability to promote positively democratization and
good governance in Ethiopia, but it will further silence the
already muzzled voice of the people. (Please note our
democracy and governance funds account for less than one half
of one percent of our total aid, but we see the CSO law
affecting activities well beyond this funding). U.S.
interests cannot afford to risk the threat to internal
stability in Ethiopia that the growing public
disenfranchisement since the 2005 elections may bring. The
CSO law directly restricts U.S. foreign assistance programs
and effectively undermines U.S. democracy and governance
objectives. The Ambassador will continue to raise these
concerns with GoE officials until the law passes. Post urges
Washington principals to raise USG concerns about the CSO law
and the broader political trend of which it is a part with
Ethiopian Prime Minister Meles Zenawi when he is in New York
and Washington during the UN General Assembly. End Comment.
YAMAMOTO

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