You are currently viewing Despite concerns, Ethiopia advances Transitional Justice, imperiling path to genuine justice and reconciliation. A call for reflection and revision!

Despite concerns, Ethiopia advances Transitional Justice, imperiling path to genuine justice and reconciliation. A call for reflection and revision!

Transitional Justice, Illustration by Matias Samuel/Addis Standard

Addis Abeba – Ethiopia’s recent endeavor to embrace transitional justice as a means to deliver justice, reconciliation, and accountability to the victims of its political violence has reached a pivotal juncture. Just weeks ago, the Council of Ministers approved a national transitional justice policy, marking a significant step forward.

However, the path to formulating this policy has been fraught with significant concerns, with experts characterizing it as ‘quasi-compliance’, suggesting its primary aim may be ensuring impunity rather than genuine accountability and justice.

Discontent surfaced as early as March 2023 when the Ministry of Justice unveiled the options document for the transitional justice policy. Subsequently, a team of experts, handpicked by the ministry, conducted extensive public consultations to gather input for policy formulation.

This failure not only undermines the concept itself but also erodes one of its fundamental principles: prioritizing the needs of victims

The involvement of the Ministry of Justice, an executive branch entity, from the outset, along with the handpicked experts leading the policy formulation, raised immediate red flags. This led to leaders of several major opposition political parties walking out of a consultation meeting on 10 March this year, and subsequently boycotting the process. They cited concerns regarding inclusivity and credibility and urged the government to prioritize peace and national reconciliation rather than using the transitional justice framework as an opportunity for political expediency and garnering international legitimacy.

Yet, despite mounting concerns, the Council of Ministers proceeded to approve the document, further heightening the likelihood of its rejection for justifiable reasons. Amid active conflicts in the Oromia and Amhara regions, the absence of a clear transition from political violence is a glaring reality that contradicts the very essence of transitional justice. Furthermore, the rush to implement the policy amidst these conflicts, rife with human rights abuses and atrocities, not only undermines the effectiveness of the process but also diminishes the legitimacy of its outcomes. This failure not only invalidates the concept itself but also erodes one of its fundamental principles: prioritizing the needs of victims.

Another glaring issue undermining the transitional justice process is the heavy-handed involvement of the state, accused of perpetrating atrocities, not only in formulating the policy but also in its imminent implementation

Concerns were also raised regarding the marginalized voices of victims, particularly in the Tigray region, where the International Commission of Human Rights Experts on Ethiopia (ICHREE), the State Department, and leading global human rights organizations have documented patterns of ethnic cleansing, war crimes, and crimes against humanity during the two-year brutal war. Similar concerns extend to active conflict zones in the Oromia and Amhara regions during the policy formulation phase.

Another glaring issue undermining the transitional justice process is the heavy-handed involvement of the state, accused of perpetrating atrocities, not only in formulating the policy but also in its imminent implementation. This pervasive state involvement renders the process ineffective and fosters distrust among the public and other stakeholders.

The policy stipulates that investigations and prosecutions will be overseen by a “special attorney” and adjudicated by a “special bench” within the existing court system. However, given the Ethiopian government’s track record, including its aversion to impartial investigations, as evidenced by its treatment of members of the UN-mandated ICHREE, and its propensity to influence investigations, including by presenting the joint probe by the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC), as uncontested final report, it is unlikely that victims will experience a successful transitional justice.

Even if the process proceeds as desired by the government, there remains a significant hurdle: the limitation on the jurisdictional abilities of these local actors to investigate and prosecute crimes committed by foreign elements, especially the Eritrean forces who are accused of committing crimes against humanity and war crimes against civilians in the Tigray region.

In addition to the above major concerns, the policy is also replete with deliberate inconveniences such as inserting the scoop of the time frame to cover human rights violations dating back to 1995, the year Ethiopia’s multinational constitution took effect. Experts argue that will obscure criminal accountability and hinder progress toward reconciliation for the most documented human rights violations of the past four years, which have galvanized the world to speak in unison demanding accountability and triggered the formulation of the policy in the first place.

The incorporation of vague legal terms of criminality including the insistence that criminal accountability will only be pursued for “major human rights violations” and against perpetrators who were “highly involved” in the crimes – despite the policy’s assertion that they will be determined transparently – leaves the victims no room to give the process the slightest chance of trust.

International partners supporting the initiative in hopes of promoting accountability, justice, and political stability in Ethiopia must reassess their positions. It is crucial to recognize that failed transitional justice efforts will only hinder progress toward the true ones

The government’s insistence on proceeding with policy implementation without adequately addressing these and other concerns that render transitional justice impractical risks undermining the country’s prospects for genuine accountability, justice, and reconciliation.

International partners supporting the initiative in hopes of promoting accountability, justice, and political stability in Ethiopia must reassess their positions. It is crucial to recognize that failed transitional justice efforts will only hinder progress toward the true ones, increasing the likelihood of the circle of violence getting more brutal and harder to solve.

This publication calls on all parties involved to pause, reflect, and revise the approach! AS

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