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NewsCivil society decries delays in constitutional inquiry on wartime police dismissals in...

Civil society decries delays in constitutional inquiry on wartime police dismissals in Tigray 

More than 1,200 police officers lost jobs for allegedly refusing to fight in two-year war

Inaction from the Council of Constitutional Inquiry over issues relating to wartime legislation in Tigray has prompted human rights bodies to file a legal case against the Tigray Interim Administration.

In 2021, amid the northern war, the Tigray Regional Council, which was labeled unconstitutional by the federal government at the time, passed legislation that dissolved the regional police force and dismissed officers in the region who chose not to participate in the war.

More than 1,200 former police officers in Tigray, some who had served for three decades or more, found themselves jobless and without compensation following the introduction of the legislation.

The Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) has yet to reverse the wartime rules, prompting human rights bodies to file a case with the Federal Council of Constitutional Inquiry on behalf of the former police officers.

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On January 1, 2024, Human Rights First, a domestic civil society organization, submitted an appeal requesting the Council to reverse the regulation. The complaint cites the rule as a violation of no less than three constitutional articles.

The organization accuses the TIA of failing to reverse laws first passed under martial law by the now-dissolved regional council

“The Council’s motive for this act is wholly political. They claim that police officers that did not join war efforts had betrayed them, which is why they disbanded the force and filled it with recruits solely from the Tigray Defense Force (TDF),” said Tesfalem Berhe, director at Human Rights First.

The new police officers do not have the experience required for the job, and the officers that have been unlawfully let go include some who have served for up to 30 years, according to Tesfalem.

The constitutional inquiry filing states that the officers have been abandoned without pensions or any consideration of their dependents. The civil society has registered more than 1,200 former police officers currently living through the ordeal.

“The law is a war-time one; the Interim Administration has done nothing for them. In fact, it has ratified a new supposedly transitional law that reaffirms this,” Tesfalem told The Reporter.

Regulations governing the establishment of the TIA state the wartime rules will continue to apply until laws re-establishing the Tigray Police Commission are reviewed and amended. Human Rights First argues this breaches Article 9 of the constitution, which states that any law, customary practice, or state or official decision that contravenes the constitution is void.

The document submitted to the inquiry also states that the dissolved state council had authorized martial law or ‘command-post laws’ that covers crimes listed under the federal criminal code but replaces the corresponding punishments with more severe ones.

The TIA’s legal code continues to uphold the martial law. Opponents argue it is in violation of the constitution not only because it is upholding a law ratified by a legally unrecognized council but also because it contradicts Article 55 of the constitution.

Article 55 states that Parliament permits regional states to enact penal laws on matters not specifically covered by federal penal legislation.

“The regional criminal code mentioned here does not present any new criminal acts but repeats those already listed under federal code, and therefore is unconstitutional,” reads the complaint from the civil society.

Another TIA regulation prohibits people whose legal cases have been ruled over by the wartime penal code from appealing the decision with the Federal Supreme Court’s cassation bench. It is in direct opposition to a constitutional clause that explicitly states that any decision from state or federal courts can be reviewed in cassation by the Federal Supreme Court where it finds the decision to be affected by a fundamental error of law.

The TIA regulation keeps people from filing legal cases concerning issues such as unpaid salaries between November 2020 and January 2023.

It also states that ongoing employment cases, those in cassation, or even those nearing court ruling, are suspended pending the conclusion of “studies.”

The civil society organization argues that this goes against citizens’ constitutional right to submit their justiciable grievances to and obtain a decree or judgment from a court of law.

Human Rights First have been awaiting a response from the Council of Constitutional inquiry for the last three months but have yet to hear anything.

Officials at the Council told The Reporter Human Rights First’s appeal is facing delays because they are busy tending to other cases “filed long beforehand.”

“We prioritize no one. They have to wait until the Council calls on them,” said a representative.

Tesfalem argues for rules to set time limits on how long the Council can take to review a case before sending it to the House of Federation for a final decision.

“These are grave violations. They have shut down the former police force with a regulation, crippling it,” he said. “Unless the Council gives it priority; if it lets the case drag around for two or three years, all of our efforts will be meaningless.”

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