Emergency Law in Ethiopia: Why Do We Need to Extend It Any Further?

Ethiopia is a party to a number of international and regional human rights’ treaties signed and ratified on several occasions. In fact, any human rights’ treaty ratified by the country forms part and parcel of the domestic law system pursuant to Art. 9 Sub-Art. 4 of the Federal Constitution. One such instrument of profound significance is the International Covenant on Civil & Political Rights, (ICCPR) adopted by the UN General Assembly Resolution in December 1966.

Part of this formidable human rights’ instrument discusses and regulates the sensational issue of derogation from the substantive provisions of the covenant by way of public emergency laws.

In order to shed some light on the outgoing exceptions, the non-derogate provisions of the law cite vital issues. Such as the rights to life, not to be subjected to torture or cruelty, inhumane or degrading treatment/punishment. Also, not to be held in slavery/servitude, not to be punished with imprisonment on account of one’s inability to fulfill contractual obligations, protection from prosecution due to an act/ omission not constituting a criminal offence at the time of its perpetration, to be recognized as a person everywhere before the law as well as freedom of thought, conscience, and religion.

Unfortunately, the constitution cites only those rights be infringed upon by the emergency actions of the government. Thus, it is the principal duty to take note of the regional and international treaties in effect relevant to the constitutional provisions while declaring a state of emergency decree.

It is our obligation as a state party to the ICCPR “to immediately inform the other friendly states parties to the covenant on those specific provisions from which we have derogated and the reasons justifying our action”. A further communication should also be made to the international community through the agency of the UN Secretary-General as to the date on which we wish to terminate such derogation.

Ethiopia is now entering its second round of emergency rule. The House of People’s Representatives has unanimously approved on March 30, 2017, the government’s draft proposal for the extension of the six-month State of Emergency Proclamation which was originally introduced in October 2016 for an additional four months. We will thus be compelled to stay effectively under such an emergency rule until about the end of July, to our reluctance.

The main explanation echoed by Siraj Fegessa, minister of Defense and secretary of the Command Post, was the unfinished business by coordinated law-enforcement forces to crackdown on or eliminate the remaining fugitives on the run, especially around the peripheries or cross-border areas. He also added that underground papers agitating for an increase in the organized violence continue to be disseminated by anti-peace elements moving about in some isolated pockets of certain regional states.

The crucial issue here is whether such protracted and intermittent activities provide an adequate justification for the alleged extension of the state of emergency proclamation in the strict sense of the relevant constitutional provisions. Under the law, what calls for a state of emergency is ‘an external invasion’ or the overwhelming ‘breakdown of law endangering the constitutional order’ and the concomitant inability of the government to manage and control the prevailing state of peace and security using the regular law-enforcement agencies and established procedures.

Three weeks ago, Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn told the Parliament that more than 82pc of the country’s population had assured him of the need for an extension of the state of emergency. Yet, he did not provide details on the nature of the opinion survey conducted, the methodology employed and the inference to arrive at that conclusion.

By its very nature, a state of emergency is not something that one desires to live with, under normal conditions. Thus, it would be naive to assume that a rational human being wishes to get his private home and property searched and seized without a properly issued and administered court warrant. No matter how instrumental it might be to contain a national crisis.

I never knew or heard of a bizarre society which has demanded its sitting regime to continue ruling it by a draconian decree restrictive of a dozen of fundamental rights and liberties.

Should the government desire to extend it, in any case, the public opinion survey is neither a legal or political requirement as perceived by the leaders.

Undeniably, the waves of public anger and frustration which had hit the country with particular reference to the Oromia and Amhara regional states for several months has subsided down following the restraining state of emergency measures. Now that the widespread unrest has gradually come under normal control to a considerable degree, the upcoming course of action should have been to look at the causes which may have sparked the public grievance. Not to ponder over the possible prolonging of the operating state of emergency decree in an attempt to overcome the profound challenges adversely impacting the nation’s sustainable peace and tranquillity.

The law is now in full swing and there is no point murmuring about its extension any longer. Instead, I have to frankly advise and encourage the State of Emergency Inquiry Board established by the legislature to closely and consistently watch over the activities of the Command Post in charge of the implementation of the emergency law. In a case of gross human rights’ violations, the board in question is, far from prosecuting individual culprits, called upon to recommend corrective and timely measures either to the Prime Minister or the Council of Ministers as officially mandated to do so by virtue of the law rather than to the Command Post itself.

In my view, the track record of its performance so far does not seem to have impressed upon the citizenry as far as the proper exercise of its supervisory functions is concerned. After all, it is not the inquiry board that constitutionally answers for the command post, but the other way round.


By Merhatsidk Mekonnen
Merhatsidk Mekonnen is a lawyer with decades of experience in prosecution and legal advice. He can be reached at clickmerha1@gmail.com

Published on Apr 08,2017 [ Vol 17 ,No 883]



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