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News‘Meeting international standards crucial for Ethiopia’s transitional justice success’: Experts

‘Meeting international standards crucial for Ethiopia’s transitional justice success’: Experts

Civil society organizations and scholars urge that meeting international standards is crucial for meeting the targets set out by the government’s transitional justice initiative.
The call came during an event organized by the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) Ethiopia country office at the Hilton Hotel on May 31, 2024. Under the theme ‘From Policy to Practice: Implementing Ethiopia’s Transitional Justice Policy with International Standards,’ the event saw local and international experts convene with the representatives of civil society organizations to discuss the effective implementation of the initiative.

The discussions centered around ensuring the policy’s adherence to best practices and international frameworks and emphasized the necessity of tailoring the initiative to fit Ethiopia’s distinct social, political, cultural, and historical context.

The workshop also explored existing customary practices for truth-seeking, reconciliation, and conflict resolution within the transitional justice process, with experts calling for the government to incorporate international standards in its implementation.
When the final draft of the TJ policy was adopted over a month ago, the Ministry of Justice had announced plans to establish several commissions to execute the policy’s recommendations. According to the Ministry, experts at the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission and civil society organizations took part in preparing the policy, which includes specific processes, timelines, stakeholder roles, and budgetary requirements necessary for effective implementation.

The policy aims to investigate and prosecute human rights violations dating as far back as evidence permits, with a cutoff in 1995. The government hopes to see the policy address major human rights violations from the past three decades, provide justice for past crimes, ensure lasting peace, and offer a comprehensive response.

John Ikubaje (PhD), principal transitional justice officer and head of the Transitional Justice Unit at the AU Commission, advised that any TJ implementation should follow international standard practices and principles outlined in global TJ instruments like the African Union Transitional Justice Policy.

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He stressed that TJ commission must be independent and mandated to carry out the process, allowing for widespread citizen participation. Ikubaje highlighted the importance of inclusivity, involving all stakeholders, and ensuring both local and national ownership of the process.

“A one-size-fits-all approach should not be adopted,” he remarked. “The process must be locally and nationally owned, with inclusivity and public ownership being critical for successful implementation.”

Ikubaje also noted that a victim-centered approach is crucial and stressed the importance of accountability as a key aspect of implementing TJ according to international standards.

However, he pointed out that there is no universally perfect transitional justice policy and that the Ethiopian TJ process cannot address all human rights abuses as a Policy but a right step in the right direction.

“No policy is perfect anywhere,” he said, acknowledging efforts in terms of coverage, reparations, and truth-seeking.

According to him, the Ethiopia and Tigray crisis has international dimensions, with violation of human rights in Eritrea and Ethiopia respectively. He thereafter argued for support to the ongoing effort by the IGAD for a development of a sub-regional Human Rights and transitional justice protocol and strategy towards addressing such human rights violations that are cross border in nature “The recently adopted Ethiopian National Policy is not applicable in Eritrea, yet there are human rights violations occurring beyond Ethiopia’s national boundaries, with some perpetrators located in Eritrea,” he added, questioning how the Ethiopian TJ Policy would address such issues.

He also noted that the Ethiopian TJ process lacks attention to victims’ issues and does not address environmental and climate change concerns, which are integral to the TJ process.

“These gaps can be addressed by developing a more inclusive roadmap aligned with international standards,” he said.
Ikubaje urged the Ethiopian Diaspora to support and finance the TJ process, emphasizing that they should take ownership of the policy process as Ethiopians.
Also attending the event, Samrawit Tassew, a senior consultant at the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), stated the Ethiopian TJ Policy process needs to be participatory of victims, among other key aspects that need to be highlighted in the next steps to encourage victims’ participation.

“Safety and protection provisions for victims are missing from the policy, therefore the implementation phase has to bridge the gap.” She also cautioned, “Building the confidence of victims that they will not be re-traumatized or subject to retaliation is the only way to ensure their participation. A victim-centered approach in the implementation is one key factor that determines legitimacy of the process.”

For the Ethiopian TJ process to be effective in ways that it is nationally owned, which is the key principle in the Policy, “academics and think tanks should support the process by providing empirical data and evidence. Transitional justice is a judicial and non-judicial process, and therefore demands an interdisciplinary approach,” says Samrawit.
The UN outlines ‘Truth and Reconciliation, Reparations, Institutional Reform, and Prosecutions as the fundamental principles and guidelines for the TJ process.

The United Nations Office for the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had submitted a document to the Ministry of Justice on March 1, 2024, urging the inclusion of international human rights laws in the Transitional Justice policy. This request was made nearly two months before the policy was approved by the Council of Ministers.

However, the final policy failed to incorporate these recommendations.

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