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Working towards shaping legal education

Working towards shaping legal education

Leah Mehari is the head of Students Career Development Unit, CLGS at Addis Ababa University as well as an assistant lecturer of its School of Law. Here, she reflects with Samuel Getachew of The Reporter on a new law clinic established in partnership with the International Committee of the Red Cross, on its vision, on how the new COVID-19 pandemic has affected its launch and on providing legal service to the public. Excerpts:

The Reporter: Tell me about Ethiopia’s first International Humanitarian Law Clinic?

Leah Mehari: The establishment of Ethiopia’s first International Humanitarian Law Clinic is born from discussions by the International Committee of the Red Cross – Delegation to Ethiopia and Addis Ababa University’s School of Law on how to provide better, more practical IHL education. Before the establishment of this clinic, the teaching and learning of International Humanitarian Law (the law of armed conflicts) was confined to classroom lectures for 4th year Law Students across the country and the National International Humanitarian Law Moot Court Competition organized annually by the ICRC and partner universities.

Although these two methods have increased the knowledge of International Humanitarian Law in the country, with the increasing effects of warfare all over the world, classroom lectures are not enough. In addition to lectures given to students, a forum for self-study is necessary.The Addis Ababa University IHL Clinic is developed with the primary objective of providing students with the opportunity to take the theoretical lessons they learn in their classrooms and to improve them with practical experience that can be used in real-life situations. They will take what they have learned and put it into practice through the dissemination, training, implementation, and enforcement of IHL.

What is its long-term vision?

Our long-term vision is to see the IHL Clinic grow to an International Humanitarian Law Center of Excellence. It will be a center for research, training, support, and best practices in Ethiopia and East Africa. We want the IHL Clinic to have a massive societal impact by ensuring the goals of International Humanitarian Law are met. Armed conflicts can happen at any time. Through awareness-raising and protection we want to ensure that persons that are not taking part in or no longer taking part in those conflicts are protected and the means and methods used in those conflicts are restricted.

We plan to achieve this by working with various stakeholders in the raising of awareness about IHL rules. In addition to the armed force and parliamentarians, the IHL Clinic will work with the ICRC and the National Red Cross Society to identify protected persons, such as Civilians, children, women, Health Care Personnel, and objects such as Hospitals, Schools, and Cultural Heritages. We envision that the Clinic will also have a great role in the national policy-making level regarding IHL. The researches conducted and the knowledge gathered from the discussion in the seminars and the publications will be a great input in policy formulation and lawmaking in Ethiopia and East Africa.

I understand, the COVID-19 pandemic has affected its opening. Tell me about that?

This is the first IHL Clinic in Ethiopia and we wanted to launch it with as much traction as possible. We wanted to launch the IHL Clinic in the attendance of senior officials of Addis Ababa University and the International Committee of the Red Cross – Delegation to Ethiopia. We also planned on inviting stakeholders such as members of the FDRE Defense Force, members of the parliament, academicians, students, and the media. We wanted to discuss with these stakeholders on how the Addis Ababa University International Humanitarian Law Clinic will work towards shaping the legal education of International Humanitarian Law and Public International Law at large.

We wanted the discussions on how the clinic will help in policymaking and influencing the laws of armed conflicts and ensuring their respect. However, due to COVID-19 and the restrictions on public gatherings, we are now taking the launch to the cyberspace. We have now launched our new website and social media pages. Through these website and social media pages we will post articles written by students on legal issues on the laws of armed conflicts. We will also engage with a wider audience and work together with other IHL Clinics from all over the world. Once the risk of COVID-19 subsides and life goes back to normal, we will have our physical launch as planned.

I understand, the International Committee of the Red Cross is the partner of the initiative. Tell me about that?

As the International Committee of the Red Cross is the guardian and the promoter of International Humanitarian Law, one way it promotes IHL is through education. The ICRC delegation to Ethiopia has advocated towards ensuring International Humanitarian Law is a compulsory course for all fourth-year law students in all Ethiopian Universities. Now, when we are establishing this IHL Clinic, it was through the financial and technical support of the International Committee of the Red Cross- Delegation to Ethiopia that the Addis Ababa University IHL Clinic became a reality.

The International Committee of the Red Cross supplied our clinic with basic office supplies such as computers, chairs, tables, and a bookshelf. Also, the ICRC is providing us with books that will maintain our own library. The ICRC has also encouraged the establishment and expansion of our network with other IHL Clinics in universities across the world.

Tell me about the Addis Ababa University IHL Clinic?

The Addis Ababa University IHL Clinic has been formed with the motto “Law, in service of Humanity”. It is a legal clinic that will enable students to learn through experience by applying legal theory to real world situations by developing and applying their skills in legal research, critical thinking, legal analysis and problem solving. In addition, the IHL Clinic will enable students to work pro bono on specific projects involving International Humanitarian Law that would allow them to gain valuable practical experience in the field of IHL.We will also work increase the knowledge of International Humanitarian Law Rules in Ethiopia by organizing public awareness seminars and publications.

The IHL Clinic will also be a platform for the practical teaching and learning of IHL. Students will take an active role in the IHL Clinic through Role-Playing and other activities to learn how IHL matters are dealt with on the ground. Students will take the roles of Commanding Officers, Rebel group leaders, and ICRC Personnel, among others to gain firsthand lessons on how IHL is implemented.We will alsowork to ensure that all stakeholders learn and understand IHL rules as we believe knowledge of the rules and the consequences of the infringement will go a long way towards improving the implementation of IHL.

What does this mean for the average person who comes to the clinic looking for basic service?

The IHL Clinic is a bit different from other Legal clinics. Most Legal clinics work on providing pro-bono legal aid services for persons with low income. Students will work in collaboration with a supervisor in providing legal assistance to clients that are unable to afford legal representation. The students will receive feedback and credit for their work.

In Ethiopian law schools, 'Legal Clinics' is a mandatory course for fifth-year law students. But these are not the only types of legal clinics. Many other legal clinics work for social justice through advocacy. The Addis Ababa University International Humanitarian Law Clinic works on advocacy and awareness-raising on the rules of international humanitarian law. The IHL Clinic will be able to offer its service to international organizations, non-governmental institutions, or individuals that don’t have the resources to undertake legal research on matters related to armed conflicts. It will help address issues and effects of warfare, through research and seminars, which have not been addressed before.

There is now an annual student journal for student researchers within the clinic. Tell me about that?

Law Journals are very important documents in various legal systems all over the world. They are valued because they give detailed legal analysis on different topics. Research is an important element of being in law school and students often refer to law journals for their term papers or senior thesis.  In prestigious law school around the world, it is a high honor for a law student to write for or edit a law journal as it helps shape the legal education and discussions.

The Addis Ababa University International Humanitarian Law Clinic is extending this opportunity to our students. Students will get the chance to work on research papers and articles in collaboration with academicians or graduate students. It will be an opportunity for them to dig deep into a topic of international humanitarian law and present it to the public at large. It will also be a good community service that will help the general public know more about that issue. The topics to be covered in the journal will be within the variety of legal issues that are currently a challenge to the field such as the scope of application of IHL to specific situations, the legality of certain weapons and methods of warfare and the relationship of IHL to other branches of Public International Law.

This journal will also give the chance for the inclusion of African and particularly Ethiopian literature to the study conducted on IHL globally, an area that has little exposure so far. This journal will be published annually and distributed free of charge to various stakeholders. We will also organize seminars where the students' research papers will be presented. These IHL Seminars will be attended by government officials, members of the armed forces, members of the judiciary, academicians, ICRC personnel, Media, students, and other interested