By MIKIAS SEBSIBE | Addis Fortune
ADDIS ABABA, ETHIOPIA — The Charities and Societies Agency (CSA) suspended the activities of the Ethiopian Bar Association (EBA) on April 13, 2010, following a dispute over the Association’s English nomenclature.
The association was re-registered and issued a certificate of registration and licence on February 5, 2010, under the English name of Ethiopian Bar Association and the Amharic name of YeEthiopia Yehig Balemuyawoch Mahiber. The Amharic name translates as Ethiopian Law (Legal) Professionals Association.
The agency notified the association that it must change its English name, claiming that it did not translate to the Amharic version and that it was also already taken by another association, YeEthiopia Tebekoch Mahiber, which is literally translated as the Ethiopian Lawyers Association.
The association wrote two letters to the agency on March 1 and 25, 2010, following the latter’s notification. The association argued that its English name had not only been in use for a long time but had also been reregistered by the agency on February 5, 2010 with the same name.
“We admit that there was a mistake by an officer during the re-registration process, but it is the duty of the agency to correct such mistakes,” said Atakilty Gidey, deputy director general of the CSA.
The agency shall refuse applications for registration if the name to be registered resembles an already existing name of any institution, the Charities and Societies Proclamation says.
The agency suspended the activities of the association for 30 days, during which it is to come up with a new English version of its name. Failure to do so could lead to the cancellation of the registration of the association, the agency warned.
“We called a meeting of the executive committee on April 14, 2010,” Sileshi Ketsela, president of the EBA told Fortune. “We reached an agreement to ask the agency to reconsider its decision.”
The association was forced to change its name to the Ethiopian Law Professionals Association during the Derg era, according to an official from the EBA.
“After the Derg era, we requested the appropriate authority to recognise us with our former name, but we received no response until the re-registration. However, we had had no suspension, and we do not know of any other association having a similar name,” said the official from the EBA.
The agency denied the claim.
“They did not present any evidence proving that they were officially using this name during or after the Derg,” said Atakilty.
The EBA, one of the oldest associations in the country, was established over 40 years ago. Currently, the association has over 550 registered members, most of whom are lawyers.
The association has been a member of the Pan African Lawyers Union (PALU) and International Bar Association (IBA) for almost four years. It is engaged in the legal and human rights arenas of the country. It is the publisher of Temuagach, a newsletter that comes out once every two months. “Temuagach” is an Amharic word described by the newsletter as litigant, advocate, and barrister. The association also publishes the “Ethiopian Bar Review” twice a year.
The pressure of the Charities and Societies Proclamation has also been felt by a couple of other civil society organisations that have allegedly been found in violation of the proclamation’s restriction on the use of funds from foreign sources. These are the Human Rights Council (HRC), which was formerly known as the Ethiopian Human Rights Council (EHRC), and the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA). Both of their accounts have already been blocked as a result. The two organisations have been found to fully depend on foreign sources, according to Atakilty.
“It was not done to discourage their activities,” Atakilty said, “However, we did release 10pc of the blocked amounts.”
The director general of the HRC opted not to comment on the issue. They are currently in talks with the agency to settle the matter peacefully, he said.
However, the branch offices of the council have gone down to three from 12, sources disclosed to Fortune.
Currently, the HRC, which is based in Addis Abeba, has branches in Nekemt, Hawassa, and Bahir Dar. The council’s human resources have also gone down to 13 from 60, these sources disclosed.
The re-registration period, which lasted from September 2009 to February 13, 2010, saw the registration of 1,615 societies and charities at the agency. Of these, 283 were foreign and the rest Ethiopian.
Out of the Ethiopian charities and societies, 1,052 are registered as “resident” Ethiopian charities and societies, which are allowed to engage in developmental activities only and not in areas identified as for the advancement of human and democratic rights. The 283 are registered simply as Ethiopian charities and societies, allowing them privileges not given to others.
The CSA was established in 2009 with the main responsibilities of licensing, registering, and supervising charities and societies in Ethiopia.