Wednesday, July 02, 2008

The Horn and its human right and anthropology history! Human Rights Watch, US July 1, 2008 Ethiopia:

Government Prepares Assault on Civil Society Repressive New Legislation Should Be Amended or Scrapped New York – Ethiopia’s government should immediately abandon plans to impose strict government controls and draconian criminal penalties on nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said today.

The two groups called on donor governments, whose behind-the-scenes efforts to see the bill reformed appear to have failed, to speak out publicly against the de facto criminalization of most of the human rights, rule of law and peace-building work currently being carried out in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia’s government has already made meaningful public engagement in governance impossible in many areas by persecuting its critics and cracking down on freedom of expression and assembly. The clear intention of this legislation is to consolidate that trend by taking the ‘non’ out of ‘nongovernmental’ and putting civil society under government control.
Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch

Ethiopia’s federal government claims that its draft Charities and Societies Proclamation (draft law) is a benign attempt to promote financial transparency among NGOs and enhance their accountability to stakeholders.

In fact, the law’s key provisions are blunt and heavy-handed mechanisms to control and monitor civil society groups while punishing those whose work displeases the government. It could also seriously restrict much of the development-related work currently being carried out by some of Ethiopia’s key international partners, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said.

“Ethiopia’s government has already made meaningful public engagement in governance impossible in many areas by persecuting its critics and cracking down on freedom of expression and assembly,” said Georgette Gagnon, Africa director at Human Rights Watch. “The clear intention of this legislation is to consolidate that trend by taking the ‘non’ out of ‘nongovernmental’ and putting civil society under government control.”

The law would apply to every NGO operating in Ethiopia except religious organizations and those foreign NGOs that the government agrees to exempt. Many of the key provisions of the draft law would violate Ethiopia’s obligations under international human rights law and fundamental rights guaranteed in its own constitution, including the right to freedom of association and freedom of expression. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have both produced separate detailed analyses of the draft law. Among its most damaging provisions are articles that would:

Impose stiff criminal penalties for anyone participating in “unlawful” civil society activity. The draft law would accord government agencies nearly unfettered discretion in deciding whether to register individual NGOs, and then defines as “unlawful” any civil society group that is not registered.

To lend teeth to this restriction, the draft law would impose fines and prison sentences of up to 15 years for a range of new offenses including participation in any meeting held by an “unlawful” organization. It would also make dissemination of any information “in the interests of an unlawful charity” punishable by imprisonment. If the law were in effect today, this last provision could potentially be used to imprison anyone in Ethiopia who disseminated this statement.

Subject all civil society groups to intrusive government control and surveillance. The draft law would set up a Charities and Societies Agency (CSA) with extensive discretionary powers to refuse to accord legal recognition to NGOs, to disband NGOs that have already been legally recognized, and to interfere in the management and staffing of NGOs up to the point of altering their organizational missions.

The CSA would also have broad powers to monitor all activities of every NGO covered under the law. No NGO could hold any meeting without notifying the CSA in writing at least one week in advance, and the CSA and other government agencies would then be empowered to send police officers to attend and report on those meetings.

Prohibit all activities carried out by non-Ethiopian NGOs that relate to human rights and other identified fields. The draft law draws an important distinction between “foreign” and “Ethiopian” NGOs.

“Foreign” NGOs are expressly barred from doing any work related to human rights, governance, protection of the rights of women, children and people with disabilities, conflict resolution and a range of other issues. This would make expressly illegal any attempt by Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International or any other international human rights organization to engage in human rights activities in Ethiopia unless the government would choose to exempt them from the law.

Strip Ethiopian NGOs that work on human rights issues of access to foreign funding. The draft law would effectively close down the few independent domestic NGOs that continue to work on human rights- and governance-related issues by stripping them of access to foreign funding.

The draft law defines as “foreign” any Ethiopian NGO that receives more than 10 percent of its funding from foreign sources or has any members who are foreign nationals, and then bars “foreign” NGOs from working on human rights and governance issues. This would hit hard, given the lack of obvious fundraising and development opportunities inside Ethiopia, one of the poorest countries in the world.

These and other similar provisions in the draft law would have a devastating impact if implemented. But the likely impact is still more ominous when understood in its broader context.

Should this law be passed, Ethiopia’s already-limited political space would be further narrowed. Over the years, the government of Ethiopia has demonstrated a pattern of repression, harassment of political opponents and human rights defenders critical of the government, and pervasive human rights violations.

These trends have accelerated since the country’s controversial 2005 elections. Disputes about the results of those elections led to street protests that were brutally suppressed and then followed by the arrest of opposition politicians and leading activists on charges of treason.

Official tolerance of political dissent, already thin, has waned markedly in the years since then. Formal political opposition has largely evaporated in most of Ethiopia. April’s kebele and wereda elections saw the ruling party running unopposed in most constituencies and winning more than 99 percent of all seats.

“This law is not just an assault on independent civil society organizations,” said Michelle Kagari, deputy Africa director at Amnesty International. “It’s part of a broader effort to silence the few independent voices that have managed to make their criticisms of the government heard in an increasingly repressive climate.”

Ethiopia is one of the world’s most aid-dependent countries. Ethiopia’s key bilateral donors, however, have largely maintained a public silence in the face of the government’s worsening human rights record.

For example, the United States and Britain, which collectively provide Ethiopia with more than $600 million in foreign assistance each year, are the Ethiopian government’s most important donors. Both governments have consistently failed to speak out publicly against longstanding patterns of repression and human rights violations including war crimes committed by Ethiopian armed forces in Somalia.

Several donor governments, along with a range of international and domestic NGOs, have had intensive private discussions with Ethiopian officials in an attempt to convince the government to abandon the most repressive aspects of the draft law. These efforts, however, have failed to improve many of the most worrying provisions of the law according to the latest draft released in late June.

“Ethiopia’s bilateral partners have consistently failed to speak out publicly against severe patterns of government-sponsored human rights violations,” Gagnon said. “Their policy of silence has had the effect of helping to embolden the Ethiopian government to make further assaults on human rights, exemplified by the draft NGO law.” Somali gunmen kidnap workers with Italian charity

Tue 1 Jul 2008Abdi Mohamed and Ibrahim Mohamed

MOGADISHU, July 1 (Reuters) - Somali gunmen have kidnapped two local workers with an Italian charity in the latest attack on humanitarian staff in the Horn of Africa nation, locals and foreign aid sources said on Tuesday.

About a dozen men with rifles stopped the Somalis on their way to Mogadishu on Monday and turned their two cars into bush near Afgooye, west of the capital, witnesses said.

"I could see the two cars marked 'WFL' being hijacked," bus-driver Hassan Osman said.

Regional governor Abdiqadir Sheikh confirmed that a Somali man and a woman -- whom he identified as working for Italian non-governmental organisation Water For Life -- went missing as they were travelling to Mogadishu.

"They are nowhere to be found now ... they must have been kidnapped," he told Reuters.

Suspicion for kidnappings generally falls on clan militia and Islamist insurgents who are fighting the Somali government and their Ethiopian military allies.

Gunmen are still holding hostage four foreign aid workers -- two Italians, a Kenyan, a Briton -- and another three Somalis abducted in April and May.

Two U.N. workers from Sweden and Denmark were briefly taken on Saturday in south Somalia, until local elders and colleagues negotiates their release with Islamists.

Mired in anarchy and awash with weapons since the 1991 overthrow of dictator Mohamed Siad Barre, south Somalia is off-limits for all but a small band of foreign aid workers, and local staff face extreme risks by association.

Sheikh, the Lower Shabelle region governor, said the kidnapped Somali pair had been due to fly to Italy on Tuesday.

The WFL charity trains Somali geologists.

Kidnapping is lucrative business in Somalia, with hostages generally treated well in anticipation of a large ransom.

But the attacks are hampering the operations of aid agencies at a time when U.N. officials say Somalia ranks as one of the world's worst humanitarian crises along with Sudan's Darfur region, Congo, Iraq and Afghanistan.

Over 1 million of Somalia's 9 million people live as internal refugees, and their plight has been worsened by record food prices, hyper-inflation and drought.

The insurgency has killed 2,136 civilians so far this year, bringing the death-toll since it began in early 2007 to 8,636, according to a local human rights group.


San Francisco Chronicle

Anthropology chair found 'Lucy's Daughter'
David Perlman
Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Headlines around the world hailed the fossils as "Lucy's Child" and "Lucy's Daughter" when anthropologists first reported finding the skull and bones of a 3-year-old girl who lived and died more than 3.3 million years ago in what is now Ethiopia's Afar Desert.

"But she lived at least 150,000 years before Lucy was ever born, so that little girl couldn't ever have been any child of Lucy," said anthropologist Zeresenay Alemseged with a laugh.

"Yet she certainly belonged to Lucy's lineage - and they both lived in what we can now call the cradle of mankind."

Lucy, of course, is the most famous fossil ever discovered. Her bones were found in Ethiopia in 1974, and she gave scientists fresh evidence for a crucial epoch in evolution when chimplike creatures first walked upright along the many-branched paths toward modern humans.

Zeresenay and his colleagues had found their 3-year-old child's bones in 2000, and the discovery swiftly made his career. Her bones provided the most nearly complete skeleton of her species ever unearthed, and she was the first to offer such rich insights into the form and function of all her hominid kind as infants - the species called Australopithecus afarensis.

Zeresenay (Ethiopians use first names as their formal names) named her Selam, which means "peace" in the Amharic language, and her bones are now safely under study by his team in his country's National Museum in Addis Ababa.

Now Zeresenay lives in Woodside with his wife, whose name is also Selam, and their daughter Alula, who by coincidence is also nearly 3. He has just been named chairman of anthropology at the California Academy of Sciences, and his office - still barely furnished, but with his computer up and running - is in the academy's dramatic new building in Golden Gate Park.

After Nina Jablonski, then the academy's renowned chair of anthropology, announced she was leaving to become a professor at Penn State University in 2007, academy leaders advertised in scientific journals that the post was open. Thirty scientists applied, and after search committee members vetted the records of them all and interviewed several, they chose the Ethiopian scientist from Germany.

His new post makes him curator of more than 17,000 anthropology specimens and artifacts - a collection representing just about every kind of culture in the world - Native American ceremonial dolls, Japanese folk toys, ancient Mayan ceramics, Inupiat art from Alaska and much, much more.

Many of those objects will be on public view from time to time after the new academy opens on Sept. 27, and meanwhile Zeresenay - everyone at the academy calls him Zeray - is boning up on the unfamiliar.

"I don't necessarily specialize in Native American culture," he conceded with a grin during an interview, "or Japanese dolls, but I'm certainly interested in what makes us all human - and how we and our cultures have changed over time.

So part of my job here is to find new ways of bringing all the fascinating material from our anthropology collections out where visitors can see them and understand how they reflect the cultures of so many different people."

Zeresenay, 39, was born in Axum, the Ethiopian city where the biblical Ark of the Covenant is believed to lie hidden in an ancient church and where the Queen of Sheba was supposedly born.

He studied at the University of Paris, wrote his doctoral thesis in French, and was back in Ethiopia as a research fellow at Germany's Max Planck Institute for Human Evolutionary Studies in Leipzig in December 2000. That's when he and a colleague first spotted the fossil skull's tiny face peering, eye sockets up, from a block of sandstone on the desert floor.

The barren, rocky site, called Dikika, is about 6 miles from the Hadar site where Lucy was found, and Zeresenay's tiny prehuman creature has already added fresh insights into the infancy of pre-humans, he said. Her lower-leg development indicates that even at the early age 3 she could probably walk upright, while her arm bones confirm that her tribe might have still retained a chimp's ability to climb trees and swing from branches - a neat way to escape quickly from predators prowling the ground.

Even while he is curator at the academy, Zeresenay will continue his fossil hunting in Ethiopia. He is heading back to Dikika in January - studying the region's geology and the varied animals that lived there - and, hopefully, finding the fossil bones of more Australopithecines, young or old. They might even be Salem's parents, or Lucy's other relatives - who knows?

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