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Cablegate: Engaging Parliament On Cso Law

VZCZCXRO9324
OO RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #3381/01 3530815
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 180815Z DEC 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 3126
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RUEWMFD/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEPADJ/CJTF HOA PRIORITY
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 003381

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV EAID PHUM ET
SUBJECT: ENGAGING PARLIAMENT ON CSO LAW

REF: A. ADDIS 3100 (AND PREVIOUS)
B. ADDIS 2482

SUMMARY
-------

1. (SBU) With the draft Charities and Societies Proclamation
(CSO Law) submitted to Parliament on December 2, Ambassador
and Pol/Econ Chief met with the Speaker of Parliament and
Chairmen and representatives from the Standing Committees on
Foreign Affairs, Legal Affairs, and Social Affairs on
December 15 to press for amendments to the restrictive law by
the legislature. Parliament will hold public hearings on the
bill on December 24 and 25 before considering amendments and
passing the bill into law before the end of the Ethiopian
month (January 7). Speaker of Parliament Teshome Toga
asserted that "there is no doubt that the law will pass
because there is already consensus within the ruling party."

STRATEGICALLY PLANNED PUBLIC DIALOGUE
-------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Claiming to want what the Speaker called a "robust
public dialogue," Parliament has scheduled an "unprecedented"
two days of public hearings before the joint standing
committees on December 24 and 25. Without identifying the
parties invited to attend, Foreign Affairs Standing Committee
Chair Ambassador Mohammed Ali noted that university and
teachers' groups had been invited as well as experts from the
Ministries of Justice and Foreign Affairs and the Prime
Minister's Office. When asked whether the timing of the
hearings may undercut a "robust" public hearing due to the
likelihood that senior civil society organizations' officials
will be away on holiday or school vacation, Speaker Teshome
noted that "the hearing is for Ethiopians and will be in
Amharic." As Ethiopians are largely Orthodox Christians who
celebrate Christmas on January 7, Teshome argued that the
dates should not be problematic.

3. (SBU) Despite previous discussions between USAID, other
donors, and Parliament to provide technical assistance on
public consultations and hearings via technical support,
Speaker Teshome quickly refused technical assistance provided
through Women's Campaign International (WCI) for these
hearings. Teshome argued "no, we do not want assistance for
this bill; we look to WCI for more general capacity building."

EXPECT A LAW SOON
-----------------

4. (SBU) Following the December 24 and 25 public hearings,
the three Standing Committees will convene to discuss the
bill and propose any amendments. These will then be
presented to the full parliament where any member can
introduce his/her own amendments. Ambassador presented the
Speaker and committee members a technical analysis of the
bill highlighting potential areas which may spur unintended
consequences for foreign assistance and which offered minor
changes that would make the bill less objectionable without
violating the main tenets driving the bill. The Speaker
replied that he did not expect major amendments noting that
"there is no doubt that the law will pass because there is
already consensus within the EPRDF." Several committee
members, however, actually snickered when accepting the
document, suggesting that the very notion of parliament
amending the bill was unrealistic.

5. (SBU) The Ambassador's warning that as the new U.S.
Administration' transition team begins devising its foreign
policy, the passage of a restrictive law may not cast
Ethiopia in the best light and could prompt unintended
consequences. The Speaker replied by noting that the law was
"not the constitution, so it can be amended later based on
consequences of implementation."

COMMENT
-------

6. (SBU) Despite final efforts to engage Parliament to revise
some of the more egregious elements of a highly restrictive
law, the Speaker and Committee members' reactions and
responses demonstrated that the legislature has no intention
of seriously considering the CSO Law. These reactions were
also consistent with reports from contacts close to the

ADDIS ABAB 00003381 002 OF 002


ruling party that the ruling party has recently convened its
parliamentarians to indoctrinate them on the party's version
of reality in which civil society groups are "neo-liberal
rent seekers" doing the bidding of the west to undermine the
ruling party's democratic and development agenda. As was
done in the case of civil society detainees in 2007 and a
contentious press freedom case also scheduled for December 24
this year, the timing of the December 24 and 25 public
hearings appears to be a blatant attempt to minimize
international attention and scrutiny by timing open debate of
a contentious issue to coincide with western holidays when
foreign observers are expected to be minimal. As it is clear
that Parliament intends to pass the CSO Law in the opening
days of 2009, Embassy Addis Ababa again encourages Washington
to prepare to issue a public statement as proposed in Ref. B
in response to its passage. The Ambassador discussed the
meetings with the EU ambassadors, particularly the UK
Ambassador, since the UK, French and U.S. Ambassadors spoke
privately with the Prime Minister on changes necessary. Our
EU colleagues were not pleased with the energy expended with
trying to make changes and having a bill which in essence
reverts back to the original bill and makes the penalties for
administrative lapses very severe. This will force NGOs to
re-evaluate whether they will stay in Ethiopia or move
operations off-shore. End Comment.
YAMAMOTO

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