Urges to incorporate ‘crimes against humanity’ in Ethiopia’s criminal law
The Ministry of Justice proposes reviving a body tasked with reconciliation in a new document intended to rectify past injustices.
Two different approaches are proposed in a draft document titled “Policy Options for Transitional Justice in Ethiopia” with the goal of resolving the country’s past injustices.
The draft document discusses several strategies, including the creation of a new entity such as the now-defunct Reconciliation Commission and the incorporation of transitional justice parameters into existing institutions.
The Ministry of Justice has disseminated a draft document for review and comment from relevant parties before it is finalized and implemented.
In the document, a national truth and reconciliation commission is proposed to be established in order to oversee the various transitional justice systems and coordinate the relevant institutions. “A stand-alone institution is established by legislation with clearly defined powers and responsibilities that are relevant to the pursuit of transitional justice, taking lessons from best practice and the experience of the now-defunct Reconciliation Commission,” states the document.
There are certain risks with forming a commission with the huge resources required to form an independent commission, the preparatory time it takes, and the bad image of the previous failed Reconciliation Commission, according to the document.
The Reconciliation Commission was established in 2018 to assess, identify, and acknowledge gross human rights violations, injustices, grievances, and failures. However, the Commission’s three-year operational term expired in February 2022 without delivering any of its plans or mandates.
The international community has been pushing Ethiopia to adopt an international court system in order to assure accountability for the war crimes and crimes against humanity allegedly committed during the two-year war in northern Ethiopia. Local human rights advocates have also been demanding the government adopt an extra-national human rights court system since Ethiopia’s judicial system has no arrangement to handle human rights violations.
The Joint Investigation Team (JIT) report compiled by the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission disclosed crimes against humanity and war crimes committed during the Tigray war. While war crimes may be tried in marshal courts, crimes against humanity have no such venue as of yet.
However, the Ethiopian government has been arguing human rights violations can be handled by special units in the existing court system. Meaza Ashenafi, chief justice of the Supreme Court, said this during her interview with The Reporter a month ago.
“Human rights violation cases can be processed by a bench at the high court. This bench was established after the new proclamation was introduced the previous year. Another new bench is also established for administrative cases. Decisions of ministries and higher institutions can now be revised by the judiciary. It is a very important aspect of the democratic process. These are the two very important new benches at the higher court levels,” said Meaza.
However, the draft document stresses that Ethiopia’s criminal law does not incorporate crimes against humanity per se. This is a major gap in any prosecution procedure that is carried out within the framework of transitional justice. “It is therefore important that the substantive element of ‘crimes against humanity’ be incorporated into Ethiopian criminal law. Such a measure ensures a harmonized and fair criminal process,” the document states.
Ethiopia is not a state party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.
The new document also rejects exposure to extra-national court systems. “Other options availed by the international system are neither desirable nor feasible. The only rational alternative is to promote the adjudication of crimes using domestic courts, with a caveat attached in terms of institutional reform; this includes the assignment of judges for this specific process, the establishment of a dedicated bench or court, and the provision of training to judges and their assistants.”
However, the document is also in disarray regarding the scope of reconciliation. It also did not decide whether the scope of the transitional justice should cover only the two-year period of the Tigray war, or post-2018, or post-1995, or post-1991, or post-1974, or start with Emperor Menelik II.
Though the document recognizes the injustices over the century, it states that if the time goes back far, it is difficult to find victims.
“This document is a draft prepared for public discussion. The best idea will be taken and approved. Then it will be implemented,” said Awol Sultan, public relations and communication director at the Ministry of Justice.