The Council of Ministers is currently considering a draft CSO Regulation to give effect to the new CSO Proclamation and is expected to replace the Charities and Societies Regulation No. 168/2009. The draft CSO Regulation governs, among other matters, the establishment and registration of CSOs, the CSO Board, and self-regulation in the sector. Moreover, the Agency for Civil Societies Organizations (ACSO) is preparing a number of directives. Please see the Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives section below in this report for more details on these pending items.
The Civil Society Organizations Board of the ACSO recently adopted the following directives:
- Directive on Provision of Support and Administration of Professional Associations: The preamble of this directive mentions the role of professional associations in ensuring not only the rights and interests of their members but also contributing to the nation and the public at large. The preamble also underlines the need for creating a situation that is conducive to individuals ability to associate and promote the rights and interests of their members. The preamble further underscores the need for detailed directions regarding the partnership that should be established between associations and their leadership to enhance their effectiveness. Article 9 describes the different forms of support that will be accorded to professional associations, while Article 10 provides details regarding the roles and responsibilities of professional associations.
- Directive on Auditors, Procurement, Sales and Disposal of the Properties of CSOs: This directive was adopted on the basis of Article 6(17) and Article 84(1) of the CSO Proclamation, which vests the Agency with the power to prepare a list of liquidators and monitor their performance upon the dissolution of CSOs. It regulates issues regarding the operation of liquidators, the appointment of liquidators, the criteria for the eligibility of liquidators, the roles and responsibilities of liquidators, remuneration of liquidators, suspension and removal of liquidators, as well as procurement, sale, and disposal of property of CSOs upon dissolution.
- Directive to Determine Administrative Cost of CSOs: The preamble of this directive mentions Article 64(4) of the CSO Proclamation, which entitles CSOs to devote the funds they gain from their income-generating activities for the purpose of covering administrative and operational expenses. The preamble invokes Article 63(3) of the CSO Proclamation, which envisages the Agency’s formulation of a directive on the situations in which the 20% administrative cap provided in the Proclamation will not be applicable. Article 4(1) provides that one of the objectives of the directives is to ensure that CSOs devote 80% of the total income for the purpose of attaining the objectives they were established to pursue, and to ensure their administrative expenses do not exceed 20% of their total income.
- Directive on the Establishment of CSO Fund: Article 86 of the CSO Proclamation envisages the establishment of CSO Fund to be administered by ACSO. The preamble of the directive states that it is necessary to create a situation that promotes financial support of the civil society sector so that it thrive. The directive also states it is necessary to provide details of the administration of the CSO Fund, so that the sector can further promote volunteerism and can grow. Article 4 of the directive provides three objectives of the CSO Fund: promoting volunteerism and growth of the sector, promoting the national contribution of CSOs, and encouraging and assisting CSOs working on vulnerable segments of the society.
Ethiopia has a long tradition of informal community-based organizations like the “idir” and “iqub” —self-help associations that operate at the local level and offer mutual socio-economic support to their members. Formal civil society—that is, organizations with legal personality—is a recent development. Civil society was slow to take root under the Ethiopian Empire regime from 1137-1974. It was also severely restricted under the rule of the Derg (a military junta) from 1974-91. Modern civil society organizations were first established as faith-based organizations in the 1930s, and welfare organizations like the Red Cross started to operate in Ethiopia beginning in the 1950s. As a result of the 1973-74 and 1984-1985 famines, many more non-governmental organizations (NGOs) with a focus on relief and humanitarian services emerged. It was after the downfall of the Derg regime in 1991 that NGO numbers substantially increased.
In February 2009, the Government adopted the Proclamation to Provide for the Registration and Regulation of Charities and Societies (CSP), Ethiopia’s first comprehensive law governing the registration and regulation of NGOs. The 2009 law and its associated Directives violate international standards relating to the freedom of association. Notably, the Proclamation restricted NGOs that receive more than 10% of their financing from foreign sources from engaging in essentially all human rights and advocacy activities. The then-UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Mr. Maina Kiai, commented on the CSP saying that, “The enforcement of these provisions has a devastating impact on individuals’ ability to form and operate associations effectively, and has been the subject of serious alarm expressed by several United Nations treaty bodies.” Mr. Kiai went on to recommend that “the Government revise the 2009 CSO law due to its lack of compliance with international norms and standards related to freedom of association, notably with respect to access to funding.”
Following parliament’s confirmation of Abiy Ahmed’s appointment in April 2018, the new Prime Minister established a Legal and Justice Affairs Advisory Council to review a range of current laws. A new CSO Proclamation, which entered into law in March 2019, is the first step in this legislative reform process. A new Anti-Terrorism Proclamation was adopted on January 2, 2020.
|Organizational Forms||Associations, board-led organizations, charitable endowments, charitable trusts, and charitable committees|
|Registration Body||Civil Society Organizations Agency (ACSO)|
|Approximate Number||As of July 2021, there are a total of 2,953 CSOs registered by the Agency for Civil Society Organizations in Ethiopia. 2,460 of these CSOs are local organizations, while 422 are foreign-founded CSOs. There are 61 consortiums and ten committees.|
|Barriers to Entry||CSO Proclamation Articles 2 & 57 indicate that registration is still mandatory. Article 57 also permits the government to refuse registration to CSOs whose aims or activities are contrary to public morals.|
|Barriers to Activities||The CSO Proclamation gives the government discretion to supervise CSOs and imposes rules that interfere with organizations’ functioning, and charitable committees must get approval from the CSO Agency before collecting funds or performing any activities.|
|Barriers to Speech and/or Advocacy||The restriction on NGOs from engaging in aims or activities that are contrary to public morals (Article 59(1)(b) of the CSO Proclamation) may impact the ability of some CSOs from freely discussing or advocating on certain issues.|
|Barriers to International Contact||No legal barriers|
|Barriers to Resources||Article 75(1) of the CSO Proclamation requires organizations to obtain written approval from the CSO Agency to open a bank account. Article 49 of the CSO Proclamation prohibits charitable committees from collecting funds without the approval of the CSO Agency.|
|Barriers to Assembly||48-hour advance notification requirement; wide government discretion to impose time, place, manner and content restrictions; and vague provisions on criminal penalties for violations.|
Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) are non-governmental, non-partisan entities established by two or more persons on a voluntary basis and registered to carry out any lawful purpose. CSOs include non-governmental organizations, mass-based societies, professional associations, and consortiums (Article 2(1) of CSO Proclamation). Local organizations are CSOs formed under Ethiopian laws by Ethiopians, foreign residents, or both (Article 2(2) of the CSO Proclamation). Foreign organizations are those formed under the laws of foreign countries and registered to operate in Ethiopia (Article 2(3) of the CSO Proclamation). Charity organizations are organizations established with the aim of working for the interest of general society or a third party (Article 2(4) of CSO Proclamation). Professional associations are organizations formed on the basis of a profession with objectives that may include protecting the rights and interests of its members, promoting professional conduct, building the capacities of members, or mobilizing the professional contributions of its membership to the community and the country (Article 2(5) of the CSO Proclamation). Consortiums are groupings of two or more civil society organizations, including consortia of consortiums (Article 2(6) of the CSO Proclamation). Charitable endowments are organizations by which a certain property is perpetually and irrevocably destined by donation or will for a purpose that is solely charitable (Article 21(1)). Charitable trusts are organizations established by an instrument by which specific property is constituted solely for a charitable purpose to be administered by persons (the trustees) in accordance with the instructions given by the instrument constituting the charitable trust (Article 31 of the CSO Proclamation). Charitable committees are collections of five or more persons who have come together with the intent of soliciting money or other property from the public for purposes that are charitable (Article 47 of the CSO Proclamation).
|Population||110,871,031 (July 2021 est.)|
|Type of Government||Federal Republic|
|Life Expectancy at Birth||67.9 years|
Ethiopian Orthodox 43.8%, Muslim 31.3%, Protestant 22.8%, Catholic 0.7%, traditional .6%, other 0.8% (2016 est.)
|Ethnic Groups||Oromo 34.9%, Amhara (Amara) 27.9%, Tigray (Tigrinya) 7.3%, Sidama 4.1%, Welaita 3%, Gurage 2.8%, Somali (Somalie) 2.7%, Hadiya 2.2%, Afar (Affar) .6%, other 12.6% (2016 est.)|
|GDP per capita||$2,221 (2019 est.)|
Source: The World Factbook. Washington, DC: Central Intelligence Agency.
|Ranking Body||Rank||Ranking Scale
(best – worst possible)
|UN Human Development Index||173 (2020)||1 – 182|
|World Justice Project Rule of Law Index||114 (2020)||1 – 128|
|Transparency International||94 (2020)||1 – 180|
|Fund for Peace: Failed States Index||11 (2021)||179 – 1|
|Freedom House: Freedom in the World||Status: Not Free
Overall Ranking: 22
Political Rights: 9
Civil Liberties: 13 (2021)
|Free/Partly Free/Not Free
100 – 0
40 – 0
60 – 0
International and Regional Human Rights Agreements
|Key International Agreements||Ratification*||Year|
|International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)||Yes||1993|
|Optional Protocol to ICCPR (ICCPR-OP1)||No||—|
|International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR)||Yes||1993|
|Optional Protocol to ICESCR (OP-ICESCR)||No||—|
|International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (ICERD)||Yes||1976|
|Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)||Yes||1981|
|Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (OP-CEDAW)||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC)||Yes||1991|
|International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families (ICRMW)||No||—|
|Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD)||Yes||2010|
|African Charter on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR)||Yes||1998|
|African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child||Yes||2002|
|Treaty Establishing the African Economic Community||Yes||1992|
|The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa||Yes||2018|
|African Union Convention for the Protection and Assistance of Internally Displaced Persons in Africa (Kampala Convention)||Yes||2020|
* Category includes ratification, accession, or succession to the treaty
The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia was adopted in 1994. Ethiopia is divided into eleven Regional States and two chartered cities run by the federal government. Regional States have legislative, executive and judicial powers. The Constitution provides the Regional States with residual power. Thus, all powers not expressly given to the Federal Government alone or concurrently with the States are reserved for the States. (Article 52)
Relevant constitutional provisions include:
- Article 29 Right to Hold Opinions, Thoughts and Free Expression
(1) Everyone shall have the right to hold opinions without any interference. (2) Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression without interference. This right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any media of his choice.
- Article 30 Freedom of Assembly, Public demonstration and the Right to Petition
Everyone shall have the freedom, in association with others, to peaceably assemble without arms, engage in public demonstration and the right to petition. Appropriate procedure may be enacted to ensure that public meetings and demonstrations do not disrupt public activities, or that such meetings and demonstrations do not violate public morals, peace and democratic rights.
- Article 31 Right to Association
Everyone shall have the right to form associations for whatever purpose. Associations formed in violation of the appropriate laws or associations formed with the objective of overthrowing the constitutional order or associations carrying out these activities shall be prohibited.
National Laws and Regulations Affecting Sector
Relevant national-level laws and regulations affecting civil society include:
Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Constitution
Charities and Societies Council of Ministers Regulation (CSR) No.168/2009
Directives issued by the Charities and Societies Agency
Consortium of Charities and Societies Directive No. 1/2010
The Directive to Determine the Operational and Administrative Costs of Charities and Societies No. 2/2011
The Directive to Provide for the Establishment and Administration of Charitable Committee No. 3/2011
Directive to Provide for the Establishment of a Charitable Endowment, Charitable Trust and Charitable Institution No. 4/2011
The Directive to Provide for Public Collection by Charities and Societies No. 5/2011
The Directive to Provide for the Liquidation, Transfer and Dissolution of Properties of Charities and Societies No. 6/2011
The Directive to Provide for Income Generating Activities by Charities and Societies No. 7/2011
The Directive to Determine the Particulars of the Audit and Activity Reports of Charities and Societies No. 8/2011
The Directive to Determine Cost Sharing, No 9/2013
Labor Proclamation 1156/2019
Chambers of Commerce and Sectoral Association Establishment Proclamation No. 341/2003
Ethiopian Electoral and Political Parties Proclamation
Proclamation to Establish the National Electoral Board
Federal Income Tax Proclamation No. 979/2016
Computer Crime Proclamation 2016
Proclamation to Provide for the Prevention and Suppression of Terrorism Crimes 1176/2020
Pending NGO Legislative / Regulatory Initiatives
- The Council of Ministers is currently considering a draft CSO Regulation that aims to give effect to the new CSO Proclamation. The draft CSO Regulation is expected to replace the Charities and Societies Regulation No. 168/2009, which will remain in force for a year from the adoption of the CSO Proclamation. The draft Regulation governs, among other matters, the establishment and registration of CSOs, the CSO Board, and self-regulation in the sector.
- The draft Civic Engagement Policy currently under preparation seeks to ensurean enabling environment for civil society, government-CSO relationship, the CSO governing body, CSO-private sector engagement, media and access to information, and mainstreaming civic participation.
- The Agency for Civil Societies Organizations (ACSO) is preparing a number of directives. In addition to eight that are currently in the process of being developed, the agency has tabled five for public discussion:
- Draft Directive on Registration and Administration of CSOs: The draft directive seeks to establish a uniform system of registration of CSOs and reaffirms the mandatory requirement of registration of CSOs. The preamble of the draft directive makes mention of Article 6(1) of the CSO Proclamation which vests the Agency for Civil Society Organizations with the power to provide CSOs the necessary support with a view they put internal governance which is transparent and accountable. It reiterates the requirement of mandatory registration of CSOs and outlines the preconditions that must be fulfilled to be registered in relation the different organizational forms of CSOs.
- Draft Directive on Details of Audit and Performance Reports of CSOs: This draft directive provides detailed requirements with which activity and financial reports of CSOs must comply. It also outlines the different particulars that should be registered in the audit reports of CSOs. It provides the manner how expenditure and income of CSOs needs to be regularly kept. It provides rules concerning keeping inventory of permanent property and details concerning the elements of annual financial statement. It sets forth the requirement of maintaining financial records of CSOs for a period of five years both in hard copies and electronically.
- Draft CSO Directive on Conflict of Interests: This draft directive reiterates the obligation of founders and members of CSOs to ensure their individual interests do not run counter to that of the CSO they operate. It defines both real and potential conflict of interests. It outlines the different scenarios which are likely to give rise to conflict of interest of members of CSOs with that of the organization. It stipulates the obligation to declare conflict of interests on the part of members of CSOs and the mechanism for the determination of the existence or otherwise of conflict of interest.
- Draft Directive on Merger, Division, Conversion and Dissolution of CSOs and Authentication of Documents: This draft directive regulates the specific issues and details pertaining to the merger, division, conversion and dissolution of CSOs. The preamble of the directive invokes provisions in the CSO Proclamation which provide for conversion, dissolution, merger and division. The draft directive also provides specific rules regarding the power of the Agency for Civil Society Organizations to register and authenticate documents of CSOs without prejudice other relevant laws.
- Draft Directive on Monitoring, Supervision and Inspection of CSOs: This draft directive is aimed at establishing follow-up mechanisms for ensuring that CSOs are undertaking their activities in line with applicable laws. . The Draft CSO Directive on Monitoring, Supervision and Inspection states that its objectives include “ensuring that the operation of CSOs is transparent and accountable and aimed at achieving optimal benefits to the public.” The phrase “optimal benefits” is susceptible to subjective interpretation and not amenable for measurement both by CSOs and the Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO). The legal analysis by ICNL underscores that the formulation of this provision in the directive runs counter to the international legal obligations which stipulate that laws must be written in clear language. Article 6 of the draft CSO Directive on Monitoring, Supervision and Inspection stipulates that “the Agency can undertake regular monitoring, supervision and inspection of CSOs by any means it deems fit to ensure that CSOs are undertaking their activities in accordance with the law.” The phrase “by any means it deems fit” vests broad discretion for the Agency and opens the door for interference which is not warranted by the law.
Please help keep us informed; if you are aware of pending initiatives, write to ICNL at email@example.com
The CSO Proclamation applies to the following types of organizations: organizations operating in two or more regional states; foreign organizations; organizations established in Ethiopia to work on international, regional or sub-regional issues or not operate abroad; organizations operating in the city administration of Addis Ababa or Dire Dawa; and charitable organizations established by religious institutions (Article 3(1)). It does not apply to religious institutions; edir, equb and similar traditional institutions; or organizations formed under other laws (Article 3(3)).
Under the CSO Proclamation, a CSO can be a local organization formed under the laws of Ethiopia by Ethiopians, foreigners residing in Ethiopia, or both, or it can be a foreign organization formed under the laws of a foreign country and registered to operate in Ethiopia (Article 2(2) – (3)).
A CSO is a non-governmental, non-partisan entity established by two or more persons on a voluntary basis and registered to carry out any lawful purpose (Article 2(1)). There are five types of registered local organizations under the Proclamation: associations, board-led organizations, charitable endowments, charitable trusts, and charitable committees (Article 18). An association is an organization formed by five or members and governed by a General Assembly (Article 19), while a board-led organization is founded by two or more people and governed by a board (Article 20). A charitable endowment is an organization through which certain property is perpetually and irrevocably designated by donation, money, or will for a purpose that is solely charitable. (Article 21). A charitable trust is an organization established by an instrument by which specific property is constituted solely for a charitable purpose and is administered by trustees in accordance with the instructions given by the instrument constituting the charitable trust (Article 31). A charitable committee is a group of at least five people who have come together to solicit money or other property from the public for charitable purposes (Article 48).
Public Benefit Status
All CSOs are able to pursue public benefit activities.
While income from grants, donations and membership fees are not subject to tax, CSOs must pay tax on other items. Organizations carrying out humanitarian activities are exempt from paying custom duties on imported items, and organizations that work with international organizations that have agreements with the Ethiopian government are exempt from paying the VAT in some circumstances.
CSOs that engage in income generating activities must pay taxes on earned revenue in accordance with laws governing organizations involved in activities related to trade, investment or any profit making activities. In addition, the Income Tax Proclamation considers donations to CSOs by business organizations or individuals as non-deductible-expenditures.
Laws affecting access to information in Ethiopia include:
- The Constitution,
- Media Proclamation (Proclamation 1238/2021)
- Provisions in the Mass Media and Access to Information Proclamation (Proclamation 590/2008) which have not been repealed by the Media Proclamation
- Administrative Procedure Proclamation (Proclamation No.1183/2020)
- Legislative Process and Drafting Manual
- Draft Civic Engagement Policy
Article 29(3) of the Constitution guarantees access to information of public interest, including the freedom to seek and receive and freedom. Guideline 32 of the Legislative Process and Drafting Manual of House of Peoples’ Representatives (HoPR) adopted in March 2021 requires the government to invite public comments on draft legislation. Guideline 4 of the Manual also requires public participation if the proposed draft legislation is likely to affect the general public. Although state councils at the national regional levels have similar powers, state legislatures do not make adequate efforts to invite public input on draft legislation. Article 15 of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) Proclamation (Proclamation No. 299/2002) obligates the Environmental Protection Authority to ensure public participation by making the EIA report accessible to the public and soliciting comments on it. In practice, however, consultations with the public are criticized for being pro forma consultations or mere one-way information sharing on a decision that has already been made, as opposed to true consultations. Public consultations seldom provide affected local communities the opportunity to be able to shape, turn down, or veto the proposed draft legislations or projects if is not to their liking.
Article 4(2) of the recently promulgated Administrative Procedure Proclamation (Proclamation No.1183/2020) requires administrative agencies to issue directives through the procedures established under the Proclamation. Article 8 of the Proclamation also requires administrative agencies to notify stakeholders and the public at large about their intention to issue directives well ahead of time, through widely circulated newspapers, website, and media prior to adoption of the directive. The notice publicized in this manner should also include particulars to where, when, and how people may provide comments and access the records, which the administrative agency is required to keep by virtue Article 7 of the Proclamation. Hence, administrative agencies are legally required to invite public input before the adoption of directives.
Nevertheless, some advocacy and human rights groups assert that they have not been given adequate opportunity for consultation or public debate before the issuance of the directives of the Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO). The Centre for the Advancement of Rights and Democracy (CARD), a board-led CSO, hosted a consultative meeting on August 27, 2021 to highlight some of the irregularities noted in the adoption of ACSO directives and to criticize the lack of transparency and include participation of affected CSOs and other stakeholders.
Finally, the low level of literacy and education in the country is one of the major bottlenecks limiting effective public participation.
Barriers to Entry
Organizations that are currently registered must re-register within one year of the coming into force of the new CSO Proclamation (Article 88(3)). Articles 57 – 70 spell out the requirements and implications of registration.
Under the Proclamation, at least five people are required to form an association (Article 19(1)).
Barriers to Operational Activity
The CSO Proclamation includes barriers to CSOs’ operational activity, in the form of invasive supervisory oversight and restrictive rules that govern the regular functions of organizations.
The CSO Proclamation grants the CSO Agency authority to supervise CSOs. Article 77 permits the Agency to investigate the activities of an organization “on the basis of information the Agency obtained from government organs, donors or the public, as well as information obtained by the Agency during the performance of its work.” The Agency may also order the suspension or dissolution of an organization, although the CSO Proclamation includes some procedural safeguards (Articles 77 – 78). The CSO Proclamation also permits the Agency to provide a CSO’s annual activity report “or other document kept by the Agency” to the public when it is requested by “any concerned body or members of the organization” (Article 74).
Furthermore, written approval of the Agency is required to open a bank account, and banks must provide an organization’s statement of accounts to the Agency when requested (Article 75). There are also limits on whom organizations can hire: with the exception of the country representative of a foreign organization, foreign nationals may only be hired if the work cannot be performed by an Ethiopian (Article 76).
Charitable committees face an additional restriction: they cannot perform any activities, except those necessary for the formation of the committee, without first obtaining approval from the Agency (Article 49). In addition, international organizations and local organizations established by foreign citizens who are not residents of Ethiopia are prohibited from lobbying political parties, conducting voter education, or engaging in election observation (Article 62(5)).
Finally, the CSO Proclamation restricts how organizations may use their funds. Article 63 limits administrative costs of an organization to a maximum of 20% of the organization’s total income. It defines administrative costs to include “salaries and benefits of administrative employees; purchase of consumables and fixed assets and repair and maintenance expenses related to administrative matters; office rent, parking fees, audit fees, advertisement expenses, bank service fees, fees for electricity, fax, water and internet services; postal and printing expenses; tax, purchase and repair of vehicles for administrative purposes, and procurement of oil and lubricants for the same; insurance costs, penalties and attorney fees.” Furthermore, any organization whose annual flow of funds exceeds Birr 200,000 (approximately 4,232 USD) must undergo an annual audit, the costs of which are considered “administrative expenses” for the purposes of the 20% cap (Article 72). The Agency is able to provide exemptions from this audit requirement, although there are no details in the Proclamation about standards for determining whether an exemption is appropriate or the process for obtaining one (Article 72(3)).
Barriers to Speech / Advocacy
The government’s ability to refuse to register organizations whose aim or activities are contrary to “public morals” may impact the ability of organizations to conduct advocacy activities on sensitive topics.
In June 2016 in response to the role social media played in publicizing human rights violations perpetrated during the protests in Oromia, Ethiopia’s parliament rushed through a Cybercrimes Law, which is known as the Computer Crime Proclamation. The law stipulates serious penalties for a wide range of online activities and gives authorities greater surveillance and censorship powers that will limit access to information on digital platforms. The adoption of this law followed a shutdown of Facebook, Viber, and WhatsApp in parts of the Oromia region. Authorities also cited social media posts as evidence in criminal charges brought against digital activists. These social media posts were images, videos, and audio recordings made during the protests that documented numerous incidents of heavy-handed response to peaceful demonstrators.
Lastly, on April 11, 2020, the Attorney General issued regulations to further define and implement the state of emergency related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The regulations prohibited gatherings of more than four people and spreading information that could cause public confusion or alarm. The regulations also required all media professionals to report COVID-19-related news in a way that is neither exaggerated nor understated, and would be not likely to create confusion or alarm. The regulations further created a legal duty to report anyone suspected of contracting the virus to the police or Ministry of Health. Violations of these provisions were subject to a penalty of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to 200,000 Ethiopian Birr (approximately 4,232 USD).
Barriers to International Contact
The CSO Proclamation does not restrict international communication or contact.
Barriers to Resources
Charitable committees cannot collect funds without approval of the CSO Agency (Article 49). Furthermore, if an organization engages in income-generating activities, it must notify the Agency within 15 days (Article 64(7)). As discussed above, an organization must obtain written approval of the Agency in order to open a bank account (Article 75).
Barriers to Assembly
Article 30 of the Ethiopian Constitution affirms that:
Everyone shall have the freedom, in association with others, to peaceably assemble without arms, engage in public demonstration and the right to petition. Appropriate procedure may be enacted to ensure that public meetings and demonstrations do not disrupt public activities, or that such meetings and demonstrations do not violate public morals, peace and democratic rights.
Relevant national legislation includes the Peaceful Demonstration and Public Political Meeting Procedure Proclamation No. 3/1991 (“the Proclamation”).
Advance Notification / Permission
According to the Proclamation, the organizers of peaceful demonstrations and public political meetings are required to provide advance notification to the authorities. There is no legal threshold for the number of participants in order to trigger the notification process. The application must be submitted 48 hours prior to the event and must disclose the following information about the demonstration or public political meeting: the objective, the place, the date and time and estimated length, the estimated number and kind of participants, whether any assistance is required from the government, and the names and addresses of the organizers.
The government office receiving the notification has 12 hours to inform the organizers of any reservations regarding the time and place of the planned demonstration or public political meeting. The office must give a written explanation if it declines to accept the proposed time or place of the event. Silence on the government’s part may be construed as acceptance of the demonstration. The Proclamation does not provide for an appeal procedure in the case of the denial of permission.
Time, Place and Manner Restrictions
Article 6(2) of the Proclamation provides wide discretion for the government to refuse to permit a peaceful demonstration or political meeting at a certain time or location. According to the provision, peaceful demonstrations or political meetings may not be held if the government office “is of the opinion” that “in order to maintain peace and security” it is preferable for the peaceful demonstration or political meeting to be held at some other time or place.
There is also a list of prohibited places and content. According to Article 7 of the Proclamation, no demonstration or public political meeting can take place within 100 meters of the following areas:
- Offices and residence of embassies and international organization,
- Churches, mosques and similar prayer houses as well as hospitals and graveyards,
- Electric power sources, dams and other dangerous places, and
- Market places unsuitable for peaceful demonstration and assembly during market day.
It is also not allowed to hold an assembly within 500 meters of the military bases and security offices.
Since the 2005 national election, the right to freedom of assembly appears to be a right reserved only for the ruling party. No other political party has been allowed to conduct peaceful demonstrations. According to leaders of the opposition political parties, the government office responsible for permits provides various pretexts to restrict the time and place of proposed demonstrations by the opposition. In addition, hotels and conference centers are not willing to provide meeting facilities to political parties for fear of reprisal from government. There have been several instances where hotels and conference centers cancelled reservations for opposition political meetings at the last minute.
Article 487 of the Criminal Code of Ethiopia provides that any person who makes, utters, distributes or cries out seditious or threatening remarks or displays images or drawings of a seditious or threatening nature in any public place or meeting is punishable with simple imprisonment not exceeding six months or a fine not exceeding 500 Birr. Such vague language (“seditious or threatening nature”) may invite arbitrary enforcement.
Authorities also cited social media posts as evidence in criminal charges brought against digital activists. These social media posts were images, videos, and audio recordings made during the protests that documented numerous incidents of heavy-handed response to peaceful demonstrators.
Demonstrations organized by Ethiopia’s Muslim community have been met with excessive force by police. In protests before the African Union meeting in Addis Ababa in June 2012, the leaders and organizers of a protest concerning the Muslim community were arrested and criminally charged under the anti-terrorism law. Since then, any similar attempts to demonstrate by the Muslim community have been met with the same reaction from the police.
In addition, in the wake of the large-scale protests in the Oromia region from November to March 2016, the government took a number of measures aimed at stifling dissent. For example, in addition to extrajudicial killings of hundreds of protesters, security forces arrested thousands of students, social media activists, and opposition party leaders and supporters. Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission has said at least 669 people have been killed in a series of protests that began in November 2015 and led to the country’s current State of Emergency. Nonetheless, the government blames the unrest on opposition groups and foreign media and says security forces used “proportionate measures” to counter the protests.
More recently, on January 23, 2018, seven people were killed when security forces discharged live bullets on festival goers who were taking part in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Epiphany celebrations. The shootings reportedly occurred when the security forces tried to stop people from chanting anti-government songs. The spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights said in a press briefing that the Amhara regional state government should ensure that its promised probe into the matter is “prompt, independent, impartial and effective.”
On April 8, 2020, the government declared a nationwide state of emergency under Article 93 of the Constitution, and on March 20, 2020, the Prime Minister issued a ban on all public gatherings on account of the coronavirus.
While we aim to maintain information that is as current as possible, we realize that situations can rapidly change. If you are aware of any additional information or inaccuracies on this page, please keep us informed; write to ICNL at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Fed. government vows to take punitive measures against CSOs, NGOs who step outside their mandates, threaten Ethiopia’s sovereignty (September 2021)
The Agency for Civil Society Organizations (ACSO) said it will take punitive measures against aid agencies suspected of working on issues outside of the purpose for which they were established that threaten Ethiopia’s sovereignty, unity and security. Deputy Director General of the Agency, Fasikaw Molla, told the state Amharic publication Addis Zemen that various punitive measures will be taken against some charities that are operating outside of the objectives they were established. Fasikaw added, “Depending on the nature of the damage, various remedial measures will be taken, ranging from warnings to suspensions and closures.”
Fed government suspends operations of three humanitarian organizations (August 2021)
In a statement published on Ethiopia Fact Check today, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia’s Agency for Civil Society announced the temporary suspension of MSF Holland, the Norwegian Refugee Council and Al-Maktoume humanitarian operations in Ethiopia. The statement accused MSF Holland and the Norwegian Refugee Council of disseminating misinformation on social media and other platforms outside of the mandate and purpose for which the organizations were permitted to operate, employing foreign nationals without the appropriate work permit from the Ethiopian government for more than six months, illegally importing and using satellite radio equipment which was not authorized by the relevant authority. The empolyees were thus apprehended by the security forces for using the equipment for illegal purposes.
Ethiopia passes controversial law curbing ‘hate speech’ (February 2020)
Ethiopia’s parliament has passed a law punishing “hate speech” and “disinformation” with hefty fines and long jail terms, despite rights groups saying it undermines free speech months before a major election. Nearly 300 legislators voted in favor of the bill, with 23 votes against and two abstentions.
UN experts commend civil society law reforms, but concerns remain (April 2019)
Ethiopia’s reforms of its laws on civil society organisations is commendable but it must take further steps to combat remaining concerns, say UN human rights experts. “We acknowledge the positive steps which the Government has taken in order to reform its laws on civil society organisations and encourage Ethiopia to continue in this vein of liberalisation. It is essential that civil society organisations are free to operate as they provide vital contributions to the cultivation of an open and vibrant democracy in which human rights are protected and promoted.”
New Bill to Reorganize Ethiopian News Agency, Create Civil Society and Education Centers (December 2018)
The Council of Ministers of Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed passed decisions on various draft bills at its regular meeting today in Addis Ababa, according to Ethiopian News Agency. Among other things, the Council of Ministers passed decisions to reorganize the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA). The draft bill will re-establish the Ethiopian News Agency (ENA) and enable the agency to have institutional autonomy and disseminate reliable information accordingly. The Council also deliberated on Ethiopian Space Policy, Constitution and Federalism indoctrination center, and civil society organizations (CSOs) law.
Joint Letter on Ethiopia’s New Draft NGO Law (November 2018)
The undersigned international, regional and national human rights and development organisations write to urge your government to ensure that the draft Charities and Societies (CSO) Proclamation complies with regional and international human rights norms and standards relating to freedom of association. The tabling of the draft law represents a pivotal moment to address long standing deficits in existing legislation, create a robust and resilient civil society and an enabling environment for human rights defenders in Ethiopia. Authorities should ensure that the new text is in line with the African Commission’s Guidelines on Freedom of Association and Assembly in Africa, the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights and international law.
Ethiopia establishes Advisory Council to reform justice system (July 2018)
Ethiopia has established Law and Justice Advisory Council to reform the justice system, including the anti-terrorism law. The Council has 13 members, Attorney General Berhanu Tsegaye told journalists today. Freedom of the mass media and access to information law, anti-terrorism law and charities and societies law are among the proclamations which caused public outcry and contradict with the constitution, he said. According to him, the Council established today is tasked to provide policy recommendations to the government for the amendment of the aforesaid laws and reform of the justice system.
Unchaining Our Human Rights Record (June 2018)
In his report on current affairs to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) this week, Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (Ph.D.) boldly acknowledged previous accusations of torture and dark rooms. He then explained that the treatment of anti-constitutional activities as terrorism should not end with opposition party members, strongly affirming that some of the measures taken by the government were all anti-constitutional. In his report, he openly stated the need to amend the Anti-Terrorism legislation, the Charities and Societies Proclamation and the Mass Media Law.
Ethiopian parliament votes to end state of emergency (May 2018)
Ethiopian lawmakers voted to lift a state of emergency imposed three months ago across the country to curb widespread anti-government protests. The ending of the emergency rule two months before it was due to expire is the most significant reform so far by the country’s young new Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who has promised change. The controversial emergency rule, imposed in mid-February after deadly protests, mainly in the Oromia and Amhara regions, led to several hundred arrests.
Ethiopia forces responded to anti-govt chants with bullets: U.N. backs probe (January 2018)
Spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights has in a press briefing called for a probe into the latest clash between the Ethiopian security forces and anti-government protesters. According to Ravina Shamdasani’s statement issued on Tuesday January 23, the Amhara regional state government should ensure that its promised probe into the matter is “prompt, independent, impartial and effective.” Seven people were killed when security forces discharged live bullets on festival goers who were taking part in the Ethiopian Orthodox Church’s Epiphany celebrations over the weekend.
Ethiopia Should Release All Political Detainees (January 2018)
The Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights says it welcomes Ethiopia’s decision this week to release 115 detainees, including several leading political figures. But it says the government should free all those imprisoned for holding opposing opinions. One of those freed Wednesday was Merera Gudina, a senior leader of the Oromo Federalist Congress party. Gudina was arrested in late 2015 and charged with collusion with groups outlawed by the Addis Ababa government.
Ethiopia Needs to Open Up Civic Space (May 2017)
The Ethiopian government has rejected requests by the United Nations and the European Union to investigate months of anti-government protests that left hundreds dead. Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn said not allowing an outside investigation was an issue of sovereignty. Ethiopia’s Human Rights Commission has said at least 669 people were killed during the protests that began in November 2015 and led to the country’s current state of emergency. Its report puts the blame for the unrest largely on opposition groups and foreign media and says security forces used “proportionate measures” to counter it. Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who visited Ethiopia this week, told DW in an exclusive interview he would push the government to allow his agency to investigate rights abuses.
Ethiopia’s Oromo leader, 2 others, finally charged with terrorism (February 2017)
Dr Merera Gudina, leading opposition figure in Ethiopia and Chairman of the Oromo Federalist Congress (OFC), has finally been charged with terrorism by Ethiopian prosecutors. Gudina is accused of meeting anti-government elements during a European tour last year. He was twice denied bail by the courts as the police continued to gather evidence for charges. The privately run Addis Standard news portal reported that the opposition chief was charged along with two others. Jawar Mohammed, a popular Oromo activist and Executive Director of the Oromia Media network, and Berhanu Nega, were also charged with terrorism. Ethiopia is currently under a six-month state of emergency imposed to quell spreading anti-government protests in the Oromia and Amhara regions of the country. The protests which started in November last yearhas continued into this year.
Attack on Civil Society Escalates as Dissent Spreads (August 2016)
In the wake of the large-scale protests that rocked the Oromia region from November to March, the government, led by the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF), has taken a number of measures aimed at stifling dissent. While consistent with EPRDF’s authoritarian posture, these steps are a devastating blow to the country’s independent media and civil society. While the initial trigger for the protests in Oromia was opposition to an unpopular government development plan, the scale and persistence of the protests in the country’s largest and most populous region point to a deeper ethnic discontent after years of misrule.
Ethiopia’s New Cybercrime Law Allows for More Efficient and Systematic Prosecution of Online Speech (June 2016)
The Ethiopian government has passed a dangerous cybercrime law that criminalizes an array of substantive computer activities including the distribution of defamatory speech, spam, and pornography online among others offenses. The law, dubbed the “Computer Crime Proclamation,” was passed, the government says, in an effort to more accurately attune the country’s laws to technological advances and provide the government better mechanisms and procedures to “prevent, control, investigate, and prosecute the suspects of computer crimes.”
Civil society groups urge international community to address killing of Oromo protesters (January 2016)
Amnesty International, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, and the East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (DefendDefenders) urge Ethiopia’s development and international partners to address the killing of at least 140 protesters in the Oromia region since December 2015. On November 12, 2015, peaceful protests started in the Oromia Region, southwest of the capital, Addis Ababa, in response to measures taken to transfer the ownership of a community school and portions of a local forest to private investors. The protests have since expanded in scope and size against wider grievances concerning the expansion of Addis Ababa into the Oromia Region under the government’s Integrated Development Master Plan. They have also turned violent, resulting in the killing of protesters, and arrests of protesters and opposition leaders. The government’s labelling of the mostly peaceful protesters as “terrorists” on December 15, 2015 further escalated the response of the police, and the military.
Government lauds CSOs’ development role (March 2015)
Speaking at the Third National Charities Good Practice Day held at Consortium of Christian Relief and Development Associations (CCRDA) conference hall, Deputy Prime Minister Demeke Mekonnen said that the number of development projects implemented, funds utilized, the number of people outreached, and the geographic coverage of charities has been encouraging. Although there remains a lot of room for improvement, the contribution of developmental charities certainly has been notable and worth appreciating in the areas decentralized health services, drastic reduction of extreme poverty,expansion of educational services and provision of potable water. “With regard to further enhancing our partnership and creating an enabling environment for charities to operate smoothly and carry out their developmental objectives, the government will continue to ensure that our legal frameworks are consistent with the developmental priorities of the country,” said the Deputy Premier.
Remarks by President Obama and Prime Minister Desalegn Before Bilateral Meeting (October 2014)
At the UN building in New York, PM Desalegn told President Obama, “we value also the support the United States has offered to us in terms of engaging the private sector, especially your initiative of the Power Africa program, which is taking shape… You know that through your initiative and the leaders of the United States, we have the Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition, which is the most important program, where the private-public partnership is the initiative.” President Obama told PM Desalegn, “we’ll have an opportunity to talk about civil society and governance and how we can make sure that Ethiopia’s progress and example can extend to civil society as well, and making sure that throughout the continent of Africa we continue to widen and broaden our efforts at democracy, all of which isn’t just good for politics but ends up being good for economics as well — as we discussed at the Africa Summit.”
Secretary of State Kerry Shares Concerns about Arrests of Ethiopian Bloggers and Closing Space for Civil Society (May 2014)
Secretary Kerry is on travel to Addis Ababa to encourage democratic development, promote respect for human rights, and advance peace and security. He said,”I made clear to Ethiopian officials that they need to create greater opportunities for citizens to be able to engage with their fellow citizens and with their government by opening up more space for civil society. I shared my concerns about a young Ethiopian blogger that I met last year, Natnail Feleke, who, with eight of his peers, had been imprisoned. And I firmly believe that the work of journalists, whether it’s print journalists or in the internet or media of other kinds, it makes societies stronger, makes them more vibrant, and ultimately provides greater stability and greater voice to democracy.”
Individuals and Groups Cite Government Abuse in New Opposition Party Report (January 2014)
Members of Ethiopia’s most prominent opposition party say they weren’t doing anything wrong one day in late September when police officers came along to stop, question and detain them. Several members of the group had gathered in Kazanches, a central neighborhood in Ethiopia’s capital city of Addis Ababa, to hand out flyers and promote a Sept. 29 demonstration. Having already secured governmental permission for their upcoming protest, they expected no interference.
CSO Law Stumbling Block in Mining Transparency Application (September 2013)
Ethiopia’s restrictive civil society law may remain as much of a stumbling block today as in 2009, as the country pushes forth with its efforts to be accepted as member of the international Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI), with a reapplication in September. The EITI is a set of standards, which essentially requires a country to be transparent and accountable about revenues collected from its oil, gas and mineral resources. A country is expected to publish reconciled and audited reports of payments made by mining companies and revenues collected by the government in the sector, according to the EITI standards.
Jailed journalist Eskinder Nega calls for sanctions against Ethiopia (September 2013)
According to Nega, aid should have an impact on GDP growth. Ethiopia now ranks in the world’s top ten fastest-growing economies, the pride of Eurocrats. But aid should also increase trade between donor and recipient, as was the case with US aid to Europe under the Marshall Plan. By this measure, Europe has failed. Ethiopian trade with China has exploded, while stagnating or shrinking with Europe. Again, China wins without lifting a finger.
Where is the Humanitarian Requirements Documents for 2013? (February 2013)
Cooperatives championed amid NGO restrictions (November 2012)
NGOs call for Ethiopian human rights reform (November 2012)
German NGO pulls out of Ethiopia (November 2012)
Why Europe should speak out about Ethiopia’s human rights (September 2012)
After Meles: what next for US aid in Ethiopia? (August 2012)
Bahrain and UN Human Rights Council (August 2012)
The passing of Meles Zenawi (August 2012)
EU praises Meles Zenawi (August 2012)
International community must act against latest curbs on free speech in Ethiopia (July 2012)
Violence against women on the rise (September 2011)
Terrorism law undercuts free speech (July 2011)
EU Parliament hearing on Development Aid and Human Rights (March 2011)
Ethiopian Charities & Societies Agency shuts down organizations (February 2011)
Four NGOs get government ban (February 2011)
Human Rights Watch: Ethiopia uses Aid to Bribe Voters (October 2010)
The foregoing information was collected by the ICNL Civic Freedom Monitor partner organization in Ethiopia.