An advisory council, composed of 13 members, has landed to reform anti-terrorism, mass media and civil society laws, which have been criticised for restricting the political space in the country and limiting freedom of expressions.
The Advisory Council for Legal & Justice Affairs is tasked with supporting the Office of the Attorney General in reforming the current justice and legal systems. The council, which has yet to be approved, will be composed of legal practitioners and academics.
“The public has shown grievance against laws and proclamations of the country, particularly with those dealing with anti-terrorism, charities and civil society regulations and the mass media,” said Berhanu Tsegay, attorney general.
The charities and societies, anti-terrorism and mass media laws were passed almost a decade ago.
The new members were chosen based on their educational background and work and life experiences, according to Berhanu who added that the Council would hold a meeting to elect a chairperson and to establish a code of conduct.
Zewdneh Beyene (PhD), a notable law practitioner, Belachew Mekuria (PhD), commissioner of the Ethiopian Investment Commission (EIC), Tilahu Teshome (Prof.), a lecturer at the law faculty of Addis Abeba University (AAU), Meaza Ashenafi, founder and executive director of the Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), and Mamo Mihretu, program leader for Ethiopia Trade Logistic project at World Bank are among the council members.
“A law shall be autonomous, and an institution must be fair,” he told reporters at a press conference on Friday at his office on Jomo Kenyata Street, “when legal institutions are the tools of public officials, injustice thrives.”
The Federal level Council will have an office and will be set up with a permanent staff.
Yiliqal Getnet, an opposition party leader, believes that there should be structural and policy reforms.
“The government has been using the legislative, executive and judicial branches of government as tools to impose its agenda – that is where the problem lies,” he says. “The Council can have some effect, but I do not believe it addresses the core grievances of the public.”
The Council’s establishment has followed a secretive process when it should have been put up for public deliberation, according to Yiliqal.
A similar opinion is held by Dereje Zeleke (PhD), lecturer on international law at Addis Abeba University.
“The secrecy surrounding the procedure of the Council’s members’ selection raises a question of credibility and ability to address the legal and judicial problems we have,” said Dereje.
He adds that the Council must be able to understand the political reasons behind the enactments of the laws before beginning to recommend reforms in the legal and justice systems.
“The Council must boldly push for the complete repeal of the anti-terrorism law while ordinary association laws should govern civil societies,” he adds.
The Council will have a three-year lifespan with a possible extension period based on relevance. It is part of a broader reform agenda by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed (PhD) that has included the pardon and dropping of charges of thousands of prisoners and the restructuring of the leadership of federal agencies.
A day before, parliament passed an amnesty bill tabled by the Law, Justice & Administrative Affairs Standing Committee that establishes a board accountable to the Prime Minister.