When working in foreign countries, it’s not just US laws that charities have to follow, they also must be cognizant of local laws. Human-rights organizations working in Ethiopia just learned that the hard way.
Ethiopia banned charities from working on human-rights issues in the country if they received more than 10% of their funding from abroad. The Ethiopian government also mandated that charities spend no more than 30% of their revenue on administrative costs. These laws are having a devastating effect on human-rights efforts.
According to Bloomberg, the Ethiopian government reasoned that it is the role of the state, not foreign-backed groups, to protect human and democratic rights of Ethiopians.
Amnesty International reported that many human-rights defenders fled Ethiopia as soon as the law was passed. But of those who stayed, many had to shift their focus to non-human rights issues or scale down their activities. Many, including the Human Rights Council, had foreign funds frozen by the Ethiopian government.
This is a good reminder for charities to ensure that they are aware of and understand both U.S. and foreign law before taking operations abroad. If you don’t know the rules, contact a trusted advisor who has expertise in international philanthropy.