Ethiopia Niebel expresses regret at closure of the Heinrich Böll Foundation's offices in Ethiopia
Berlin - In response to the news that the offices of the Heinrich Böll Foundation in Ethiopia's capital Addis Abeba were closing, Development Minister Dirk Niebel said:
We find it very regrettable that the Heinrich Böll Foundation has taken the decision to close their offices in Ethiopia because of the difficult conditions there. However, since Germany's political foundations are free to make their own decisions, we of course respect this decision. I also find regrettable the fact that Ethiopia's government has failed to give civil society the latitude it needs to operate properly, despite the pledge to do so by Ethiopia's former Prime Minister, Meles Zenawi. In our view it is vital for a country, in particular for its long-term success, that it have an active and committed civil society, which can participate freely in discussions about how best to advance development and what conditions are necessary to do so.
During his trip to Ethiopia in January 2011, Minister Niebel put a strongly-worded request to Prime Minister Meles Zenawi that the political foundations in Ethiopia be allowed to do their work unhindered. He raised in particular the difficulties which legislation adopted in 2009 had caused for non-governmental organisations. The law in question provides, among other things, that non-governmental organisations working in Ethiopia must not engage in work in politically sensitive areas if more than 10 per cent of their budget comes from foreign sources. Which areas are meant by the new law are very broadly defined, so that it is impossible for NGOs to undertake any kind of meaningful work with regard to human rights issues, women's empowerment or conflict resolution within society.
That is why the BMZ intends to continue raising the issue of the difficult working conditions imposed on national and international non-governmental organisations in intensive political dialogues. Niebel emphasised: We shall remain an observant partner who will not turn a blind eye but intends to support processes of change. I am confident that Ethiopia's government under the new Prime Minister, Hailemariam Dessalegn, will take the opportunity to have another look at this legislation and will put its pledge to work together with civil society into action. In fact, I should like to strongly encourage the new government to do so. In all the partner countries with which we cooperate, the rigorous protection of democracy and human rights is a prerequisite for all development cooperation. It is a matter that we keep under close scrutiny - and shall do so in Ethiopia too.