The state of emergency Inquiry Board, set up last Thursday October 20, 2016 by the House of People’s Representatives is expected to make public its report with a list of the names and number of people who have been put under custody by the Command Post, in a month’s time.
Article 93, sub article 5 of the Constitution prescribes the establishment of such a board to put a checking mechanism on the government’s actions during a declared state of emergency.
Opposition figures and legal analysts question the neutrality of the Board and cast doubts on its capacity to carry out its constitutionally mandated duties.
“There is a gross conflict of interest here,” Merera Gudina (PhD), chair of the Oromo Federalist Congress said. “The Board is established by the ruling party and it will be as trustworthy as the Front is.”
The seven person board, responsible for checking and reporting on implementation of the state of emergency, is comprised of four Members of Parliament and three legal experts.
The four MPs are Tadesse Hordoffa, Chair of the Educational Affairs Standing Committee, serving as Chair of the board; Genet Tadesse, Chair of the Budget and Finance Affairs Standing Committee, serving as Vice Chair of the board; Muna Ahmed, Chair of the Business & Urban Development Standing Committee and Nuria Abdurahman, member of the House of People’s Representatives Advisory Committee.
The three legal experts on the Board are Kifletsion Mamo – who contributed in the drafting of the current constitution of the country – Federal Supreme Court Justice and member of the Council of Constitutional Inquiry, Habte Fichala, Federal Supreme Court Vice President and Seid Hassen, Head Judge of the Supreme Court of Somali Region, and Dire Dawa town Appeals Court.
“Questions of personal integrity aside, my concern is with the credibility of the Board as an institution,” Mulugeta Aregawi, a legal expert told Fortune. “If you are drawing from the same well, then it is not reasonable to expect something different.”
“The Board was ideal to function as a watchdog, but the lack of transparency in who its members are is a real problem,” Lidetu Ayalew, central committee member of the Ethiopian Democratic Party told Fortune.
The state of emergency was declared by the Minister of Council on October 8, 2016 and the approval by the parliament and the appointment of the Board came twelve days later. The Constitution stipulates that the declaration needs to be tabled to parliament within 48 hours if its in session or within 15 days if it is in recess.
But before the parliamentary approval last week, the Command Post’s Secretariat Siraj Fegessa had announced the issuance of a directive, with more than 31 provisions.
“The directive was as unclear as or confusing as the state of emergency declaration ” a legal expert commented.
The directive was criticised by some experts for its ambiguity particularly on its lack of clearance on provision of detailed instructions on what to do or not. Its ban on watching watching certain media, though some specifications are made still leaves out a lot more; generic prohibition of curfews on development infrastructures without clearly defining what they constitute is open for interpretation and creates a veil of unaccountability.
Aiming to clarify the ambiguity surrounding the directive, Getachew Ambaye, the Attorney General, hosted a press conference on October 21, 2016 to explain further the articles of the declaration of the state of emergency.
“We have to get rid of the questions and confusion about the necessity of declaring a state of emergency,” said the Attorney General. Some elements of the directive remain ambiguous and open for interpretation.
Getachew explained that the restriction of firearms and sharp weapons extends to public spaces such as festivals and marketplaces, meeting spaces, as well as houses of worship and religious institutions. It is also not allowed to carry weapons in the areas designated as Red Zones. However, it is allowed to possess and carry firearms and weaponry in private residences and areas. The Command Post has not issued a blanket ban on owning firearms.
The articles dealing with curfew were also explained. In areas designated as Red Zones, curfews will be enforced. The curfew will be imposed in areas near or on the property of industrial, investment projects and major development infrastructures extending from 18:00 to 06:00. Outside of investment and industrial sites, people are allowed to move freely. This article was included in order to protect investment projects and industries from further property damage and vandalism.
In connection with the article on imprisonment and punishment, the Command Post has issued a directive that anyone can be arrested without a court-issued warrant. When someone is arrested, they will either be given education and be released, or brought before a Court of Law, in accordance with the severity of their crimes.
Anyone who has taken part in the unrest over the past year will receive punishments according to the degree of their crimes. Lesser offenders will receive education and counseling on the dangers and consequences of violent unrest, as well as being educated on the consequences to the country and community of such activities. Anyone who has supported the violence financially, materially or has coordinated any protests and attacks will be brought before the court.
All arrests will be announced by the State of Emergency Inquiry Board which will make public the numbers and names of the persons arrested, the crimes with which they are suspected and the location in which they are being held.
On the subject of security forces being able to conduct searches without a court warrant, the Attorney General mentioned that “there are measures in place to ease the minds of the community that they are safe and the searches are being conducted in a lawful manner.” During any searches of private property, a member of the community policing force must be present and must verify the identity of the security force members carrying out the search. In addition to this, representatives of the community must also be present during any searches. No member of the public is allowed to have or wear any item of clothing that resembles police or military uniforms.
Not all meetings have been banned under the Command Post’s state of emergency directive. Standard business will continue as usual, according to the Attorney General. “Meetings for business reasons are not banned, but protests and rallies, as well as any peace disturbing activities are not allowed,” he noted.
Media restrictions only exist on those outlets that promote messages of intolerance, violence and terrorism, the Attorney General said. ESAT and OMN television stations are banned and promoting or transmitting any message from these outlets is illegal. Sending abroad or receiving from abroad any printed materials that promote religious intolerance and violence is not allowed, although this is a standing law of the country and is not just in effect during the state of emergency.
“The results of the declaration speak for themselves. People are now confident that they can leave and return to their homes in peace, and that they can send their children to school without having to fear any violence, and that the Ministry would be happy to address any other questions and confusions through the local Command Posts throughout the community,” the Attorney General concluded.
In Oromia Region, 1532 people have been arrested on charges relating to the violent protests, looting and property damage that preceded the state of emergency, according to a statement issued by the Secretariat of the Command Post. In addition to the arrests, 194 stolen firearms and weapons have been turned in or confiscated.
In Amhara Region, 93 people turned themselves in to security forces, while 48 people were arrested for stopping services to the public by closing their businesses. In addition, three teachers were arrested for disrupting the learning-teaching process and 13 people were arrested for conspiracy to stir up a strike a statement issued by the Command Post stated.
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