20/10/08 (B470) AFP / Le projet de loi contesté sur les ONG a été transmis au Parlement éthiopien. // Disputed NGO law sent to Ethiopian parliament: report (En Anglais – Info lectrice)

The Ethiopian government has submitted to the parliament draft legislation on non-governmental organisations (NGOs) which has drawn fire from rights activists, the state news agency said on Saturday.

« The Council of Ministers on its 70th regular meeting on Friday discussed and passed decision on a draft law of Civil Society Organisations (CSO), » the office of Prime Minster Meles Zenawi told ENA.

« The bill is aimed at strengthening democratic institutions and ensuring constitutional rights of citizens. »

According to ENA, the government has included stakeholders’ recommendations in the plan.

The bill has been strongly criticised by the rights organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW).

On Friday, British International Development Secretary Douglas Alexander, made public his reservations about the bill after meeting Meles.

« We have expressed our concerns to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, » he said at a news conference in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa.

« He informed me that a version recently tabled to his cabinet was in fact the fourth revised law. »

In October, HRW called on donor governments « to speak out publicly against this law », saying it was « alarming ». The organisation claims it violates both the Ethiopian constitution and several international agreements.

NGOs are particularly disturbed by the creation of a state oversight agency which, they say, could at any moment launch a probe into any organisation outside any legal control, take part in meetings or mandate the police to do so, as well as appoint or dismiss senior staff.

Ethiopia, a poverty-stricken nation of 80 million inhabitants in the Horn of Africa, is one of the countries in the world receiving the greatest amount of aid.

In July, the Swiss branch of Medecins sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) said it was withdrawing from the country’s Somali region because of intimidation from the Ethiopian authorities.

« The authorities’ attitude towards humanitarian organisations has translated into recurrent arrests of MSF Switzerland staff without charge or explanation, » MSF said in a statement.

These « repeated administrative hurdles and intimidations » had prevented the aid agency from bringing urgently needed medical aid to the population.