The 2019 CSO Law: winds of change for human rights defenders in Ethiopia?

Press release

Geneva-Paris-Brussels, April 19, 2019. After ten dark years, a process of socio-political transformation, sparked by last year’s resignation of the prime minister, is slowly reopening the operational space for civil society organisations (CSOs) in Ethiopia. In a briefing note published today, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (OMCT-FIDH), the Association for Human Rights in Ethiopia (AHRE) and the Human Rights Council (HRCO) analyse the impact and scope of this reform process, with a focus on the new CSO Law.

In February 2018, three years of violently repressed protests led to the resignation of former Prime Minister Hailemariam Dessalegn, opening the way to a process of reforms which has included the release of several human rights defenders and political prisoners, the signing of a peace agreement with Eritrea, and the appointment of the first women President of Ethiopia and President of the Supreme Court.

One year later, in February 2019, the adoption of the revised Civil Society Proclamation represented another important breakthrough for civil society organisations in the country(1). The new law repeals repressive 2009 legislation, which had ushered in a decade of severe crackdowns on human rights organisations in the country(2).

Under the new law, CSOs will now be able to freely decide the scope of their activities, including those concerning human rights. However, hindrances remain in the registration process and international organisations’ activities are still limited.

Read the briefing note HERE


The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders (the Observatory) was created in 1997 by the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and FIDH. The objective of this programme is to intervene to prevent or remedy situations of repression against human rights defenders. OMCT and FIDH are both members of, the European Union Human Rights Defenders Mechanism implemented by international civil society.

For more information, please contact:
OMCT: Marta Gionco: +41 228 09 49 39;
FIDH: Samuel Hanryon: +33 1 43 55 25 18 -
AHRE: Yared Habtegiorgis: +32 486 336367 -
HRCO: Biniam Abate:

(1) See the Observatory, AHRE and EHRCO joint press releases “Ethiopia: a New Era for Human Rights Organisations?” published on February 8, 2019.

(2) See the Observatory press releases “Ethiopia: Law on Charities and Societies: Freedom of association in jeopardy!” published on January 9, 2009 and “Ethiopia: A decision by the Federal High Court undermines the survival of prominent national human rights organization” published on November 3, 2011.

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