Wednesday, July 24, 2024
In DepthA peek into the sweeping Transitional Justice policy

A peek into the sweeping Transitional Justice policy

A joint investigation team report released by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNOHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) in November 2021 urged the federal government to embark on a “human rights compliant, holistic, and victim-centered transitional justice mechanism for crimes committed during the Tigray conflict, including accountability for past crimes.”

It is in line with this recommendation that the government established the Transitional Justice Working Group of Experts (TJWGE) under the Ministry of Justice a year later, immediately following the signing of the Pretoria agreement.

The Group published a draft ‘Policy Options for Transitional Justice’ in January 2023 following a series of public consultations across the country. The draft was submitted to the Council of Ministers and the Office of the Prime Minister a few months ago, and the Group was dissolved.

Last week, the Council approved the final Transitional Justice Policy. It aims at instituting several commissions to execute the policy recommendations.

A member of the Group that drafted the policy spoke with The Reporter on condition of anonymity. The expert said the final policy document contains virtually all of the recommendations put in place by the Group.

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“The government accepted almost all the recommendations we made. It made one exceptional amendment to recommended institutional arrangements, replacing ‘special court’ with ‘special bench,’” said the expert. “There are no significant differences between the draft policy we submitted and the final policy, except in one area.”

The Group of Experts recommended a special court system should be installed for transitional justice investigations and trials. The team had specified this in the draft policy, but the final version approved by the Council calls for a special bench within the existing court system to handle the task.

“There is a difference between a special court and a special bench,” the expert told The Reporter. “A special court would also involve constitutional issues. It would be a parallel structure to the existing judiciary. We suggested a special bench within the Supreme Court as a secondary option. The final policy document states autonomous judges will be assigned to the bench. If it were a special court, it would have likely been more independent and neutral. Now, it will be seen as just a bench in the court.”

The transitional justice policy will apply retroactively until 1995, the year the Ethiopian constitution was ratified. However,  the investigation and trial of human rights violations will go as far back in time as there is evidence, according to the policy document.

It contains grand provisions detailing how major human rights violations perpetrated over the last three decades will be brought to trial and justice. A special attorney general’s office, special court system, and a number of other institutions will be established for the implementation, according to the document.

Perpetrators living abroad will be brought to Ethiopia to face justice, and people and whistleblowers who volunteer information on the whereabouts of suspected perpetrators in hiding will be eligible for rewards, according to the document. It also offers government protection for people who testify in court.

The investigation, trial, and compensation process of transitional justice will require a huge amount of financial resources and manpower.

A special office of the attorney general will be established to lead the implementation, and investigators and prosecutors will be under this office. Only highly qualified investigators, judges and legal personalities will be selected for this purpose, reads the document. They are also eligible for government protection.

A special court bench will be established to review the human rights cases. The House of Federation is charged with checking whether the establishment of a special court holds any constitutional contradictions with the existing judiciary.

Only judges with no history of connections to human rights violations will be selected to the tribunals. The judges must have expertise in international law, human rights, and criminal laws, reads the document. The special court system will have first instance and appeal courts.

A Truth Finding Commission will be established with the authority to pardon the guilty and allocate compensation to victims. The Commission will be composed of CSOs, elders, religious leaders, experts and others.

“The institutional reform commission, which we recommended, has also been accepted,” the expert told The Reporter. “This commission will undertake overall institutional reform, amending institutions and systems that have enabled human rights violations in the past. Almost all of the institutional arrangements we have recommended are accepted. This is a big political decision from the government.”

A peek into the sweeping Transitional Justice policy | The Reporter | #1 Latest Ethiopian News Today

He explained that a Special Prosecutors Office (SPO) will be established to handle cases independently of the Ministry of Justice, with its own budget and manpower.

“Its format is similar to the one that led the prosecution of Derg officials,” said the expert.

The government will also make a formal request for forgiveness from victims, who will be recognized and compensated, according to the document. It calls for the creation of a special fund to permanently support the recovery of victim livelihood recovery.

Institutions, policies, legislations and any systems that enabled or created fertile ground for human rights violations will be reformed, according to the policy. Regional states will establish institutions that will lead and implement these ambitious reforms.

Regional states have also been given the responsibility to return IDPs to their homes, among others. Traditional and local conflict resolution mechanisms will also be part of the transitional justice campaign, according to the policy. 

The Ministry of Justice is charged with providing support to establish the institutional arrangements required for its implementation.

“The full implementation of the transitional justice policy, accountability and forgiveness is essential for sustainable peace in Ethiopia,” said Gedion Timotiwos (PhD), Justice minister.

The Ministry of Finance is tasked with providing the financial backing, while the Civil Service Commission is  instructed to introduce a salary scale for the implementers and fulfill the required manpower.

The Federal Supreme Court will work with the special court to be established, and the Central Statistics Service (CSS) will compile relevant data. The National Dialogue Commission will also work with the transitional justice institutions.

The Justice Ministry is also tasked with publishing a road map for the implementation.

“Ethiopia’s existing judiciary and court system is designed mainly for conventional crimes. It has deficits in handling mass atrocities, crimes against humanity and war crimes, disappearances, extrajudicial killings, and others,” said the expert. “We recommended that Ethiopia’s penal code should be amended in a way that includes all types of crimes. The government also accepted this recommendation. So a new law will be introduced soon. It will also enable the apprehension and trial of criminals hiding abroad. Trial in absentia is also one alternative.”

Parliament has reviewed the transitional justice policy since the Council of Ministers approved it.

“The government is committed to the full implementation of the transitional justice policy,” said Tagesse Chaffo, speaker of Parliament.

However, critics still air concerns over the international aspects of accountability, and how armed groups particularly in Oromia and Amhara can be part of the transitional justice process. Officials of the Tigray Interim Administration (TIA) also have concerns about their role in the national initiative.

Yemane Zeray (PhD), head of the Tigray Genocide Inquiry Commission, told The Reporter last week that the federal government has agreed to incorporate the Commission’s crime data in the transitional justice campaign.

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