Wednesday, June 19, 2024
UncategorizedLawlessness and the law

Lawlessness and the law

The recent mass arrest in Addis Ababa by the law enforcement demonstrates the lack of understanding Article 25 and the ability of our laws to have due process. Arbitrary detention is unconstitutional. Moreover, the decision to detain individuals and teach them to be good citizens is beyond the moral and legal right of law enforcement, writes Sisay Woldemichael.

The Roma Statute (1998) of International Criminal Court (ICC) ratified by Ethiopia of its international agreement as stipulated in article 28 of the Ethiopian constitution speaks on the very issues and concerns of what this article trying to address.

Article 6 and 7 of the Roma Statute stipulate:   Genocide and Crimes against Humanity:

Article 6: Genocide:

“Genocide For the purpose of this Statute, ‘genocide’ means any of the following acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such: (a) Killing members of the group; (b) Causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group; (c) Deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part; (d) Imposing measures intended to prevent births within the group; (e) Forcibly transferring children of the group to another group”.

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Article 7: Crime against humanity:

“The definition of ‘crimes against humanity’ is codified in article 7 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court (ICC). “The notion encompasses crimes such as murder, extermination, rape, persecution and all other inhumane acts of a similar character (wilfully causing great suffering, or serious injury to body or to mental or physical health), committed ‘as part of a widespread or systematic attack directed against any civilian population, with knowledge of the attack’ ”.

The demand in those articles (Article 6 and 7) is to make groups and/or states to be accountable for their action or in action, to which, the public expects protection.

Article 28 of Ethiopian constitution clearly indicates that the public have the right to be protected. Therefore, before we embark on issues of international law and Ethiopia’s obligation to the agreement, we should first look at our laws, its ability and obligation to enforce the laws. The issue whether the recent incident meets the international laws and the threshold it ought to meet is subject to another days discussion.

What is Lawlessness and what is the responsibility of the law?

Lawlessness is defined as Anarchy, Disorder, and Mayhem etc… Lawlessness prevails –negatively – when the law is seen to be weak or ineffective. Ineffectiveness of the law is measured by how it enforces the legislation, and executes the decision of the court.

The recent clash, killing and looting in and all over Ethiopia, specifically in Addis Abeba and surrounding areas of innocent civilians by armed groups, constitute terrorism, and crime against humanity by any international standard.  The international law and Ethiopian law does not exempt individuals or groups who commit this hennas crimes.

Article 28 (1) under Crimes against Humanity stipulates:


  1. Criminal liability of persons who commit crimes against humanity, so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia, such as genocide, summary executions, forcible disappearances or torture shall not be barred by statute of limitation. Such offences may not be commuted by amnesty or pardon of the legislature or any other state organ.


The incident tests the wisdom of our law, and its ability to enforce it. It is inconceivable to see how one “Ethnic group” that is, a group of people with the motive of ethnic cleansing and/or disbursing commit crime with impunity. In the same breath, it is also alarming the unprecedented verbal and online attack by individuals and groups to retaliate, without the required due process and sober legal thinking.  

What is the role of law enforcement?

The recent mass arrest in Addis Ababa by the law enforcement demonstrates the lack of understanding Article 25 and the ability of our laws to have due process. Arbitrary detention is unconstitutional. Moreover, the decision to detain individuals and teach them to be good citizens is beyond the moral and legal right of law enforcement.

It is not the job of law enforcement to detain and teach. The legal right of law enforcement is to legally arrest, read the individual his/her legal rights, lay charges, and present the case through (Prosecutors) to court, where the court have the ultimate say of the charges before the court.

The right to be protected as an individual and community is enshrined in our constitution. Article 25 under Right to Equality, stipulates:


All persons are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to the equal protection of the law. In this respect, the law shall guarantee to all persons equal and effective protection without discrimination on grounds of race, nation, nationality, or other social origin, colour, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, property, birth or other status.

Law enforcement consist of uniform and non-uniform members, including intelligence branch. While the uniform branch enforces the law within its power, the non-uniform and intelligence branch gather information, gather intelligence as to threats, imminent treats and lawlessness to be able to deal with it prior its occurrence. The Burayu episode is not an exception.

My contention is, the main job of the intelligence agency is, to gather information that could harm the country within and out. Unless the intelligence community was sleeping on the wheel, it should have anticipated and stop the killing and the looting before it happen. After all that is what they do and are getting paid for.

Equally, the uniform body of law enforcement ought – in corroboration with the intelligence community – to know that trouble is brewing in the community. Due the nature of their work being community policing, it would not be a starch of imagination that they see and hear things that requires an immediate action. That is, law enforcement being part of the community, has the ability to simulate with the community and collect information and enforce the law.

Law enforcement in general are not in place only to be proactive. They – with in the law, and the legal authority – can act preemptively to stop crime before it happen. The question is what went wrong in that context the incident we saw a few days ago in Addis Abeba and surrounding areas of the law and law enforcement?

Individuals and communities relay on the experience, the enforcement ability, wisdom of the law and its enforcement mechanism to serve and protect them. Part of the community reliance come from the ability of the law to be executed and its willingness to do whatever it takes – with in its authority – to protect innocent civilians. The concept of “the ability to enforce” is a creation of a statue by the legislators. Therefore, it is not negotiable for law enforcement when is should enforce the law, no exceptions.

The recent development in Burayu and surrounding areas, beg to test our wisdom as a society to answer a fundamental question of the supremacy of the law. It also force us to pause and demand an answer from authorities, can we rely on them to do their job? Because the alternative is not one we want to proceed.  It is up and down road where accountability goes both direction.

Ed.’s Note: Sisay Woldemichael is a Judiciary (Justice of the Peace) and former adviser of communication to the Chief Justice of Ontario, at Ontario Court of Justice in Canada. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of The Reporter. He can be reached at [email protected]

Contributed by Sisay Woldemichael


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