Tag Archives: Attorney General’s Office

Mass arrests in Ethiopia raise spectre of repressive past

13 Aug

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

By Dawit Endeshaw

Aselefech Mulatu, wife of Dejene Tafa, a politician who is in custody, talks during a Reuters interview at their home in Oromiya region

ADDIS ABABA (Reuters) – Ethiopia has detained more than 9,000 people after deadly clashes last month, the state-run human rights commission told Reuters, raising fears that a government hailed for reforms is returning to the iron-fisted tactics of past administrations.

Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, who came to power in 2018 promising democratic changes in one of Africa’s most repressive nations, is struggling to rein in resurgent ethnic nationalism that sporadically explodes in bouts of violence.

Abiy’s changes have unleashed old disputes over land, resources and local power, and he now faces the challenge of protecting citizens while preserving fledgling freedoms that helped win him the Nobel peace prize last year. He’s promised to hold Ethiopia’s first free and fair elections in 2021, which would be a milestone for Africa’s second most-populous nation.

But the state-run Ethiopian Human Rights Commission said around 9,000 people had been arrested since the June 29 shooting of a musician sparked days of protests that killed more than 178 people in the capital and surrounding Oromiya region – the deadliest spasm of violence since Abiy took office.

Asked to comment on the arrests, the government signalled that order was its immediate priority.

Billene Seyoum, a spokeswoman for the prime minister, told Reuters, “One of the government’s primary roles and responsibilities is ensuring security and stability and that the rule of law prevails … actions taken over the past weeks are a reflection of the commitment to law and constitutional order.”

Abiy’s critics detect disturbing echoes of the past.

Among those detained: opposition activist Dejene Tafa, whom police dragged from his bed in the middle of the night on July 8 as he slept next to his pregnant wife. Dejene is a university professor and secretary of the Oromo Federalist Congress party.


Aselefech Mulatu, his 42-year-old wife, said her husband is being held without charge and has contracted COVID-19 in prison.

“We thought we had transitioned to a democratic system,” she said, her belly large with their fifth child.

Tegene Regassa, spokesman for Ethiopia’s health ministry, confirmed Dejene had been hospitalised for COVID-19 but said he had recovered.

Dejene had already spent two years in prison without charge for taking part in the street protests that toppled the previous prime minister, his wife said.

Getachew Balcha, a regional government spokesman, confirmed 7,126 people had been arrested in Oromiya alone. He said did not know how many had been charged but said “files were being prepared” on 500 of them. The state office of the attorney general did not respond to requests for comment.

Mass arrests were common under the previous administration which used security forces to crush dissent. When anti-government protests propelled Abiy to power, he speeded up the release of tens of thousands of political prisoners.

But now activists like Fisseha Tekle, Amnesty International’s Ethiopia analyst, fear Abiy’s government is resorting to the arbitrary mass arrests of his predecessor.

“The government arrests people and then looks for evidence,” said Fisseha. “This is in line with previous experience.”

Ethiopia Must End Culture of Impunity to Heal from Decades of Human Rights Violations!

2 Jun

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

TEO Editor:

As a citizen, my view is that the Ministry of Peace has become too weak and putative to deliver what its name promises. This was seen and proved during ministerial meet, chaired by the Deputy Prime Minister during discussion on the Covid-19 State of Emergency implementation.

Already the office of the Attorney General had a bad start with its first occupant Abiy Ahmed appointee leaving the post to become ambassador to Australia—not a reward for a job reportedly mishandled. Likewise, the new AG assumes her task is dispensing justice, but not what the nation’s law says.

This showed the country is not ready to move forward from its decades of human rights quagmire, in the face of the AG Adanech Abebe’s reaction to the advice and suggestion the nation’s Human Rights Commissioner offered on his office’s Facebook.

The AG reacted on 25 May, among others, tweeting: “ኮሚሽኑ የሚያወጣቸው መግለጫዎች ተገቢነት የላቸውም።”

All that the Commissioner had done, consistent with his responsibilities, to issue a statement that this ministerial committee members found annoying. All that the Commission did was emphasising the need for full respect for the human rights of citizens, in accordance with core principles Ethiopia has accepted. Unfortunately, the police spend their days mistreating citizens, clubbing them around town or in prisons!

It appears we all are in post-Abiy Ahmed’s 2018 promise that now is being sarcastically referred on the social media as the Abiy Ahmed “አሻግራችኋለሁ” pledge!

For our own sakes, we need to move forward, show respect to each other. Only then can our human rights be respected and our country’s progress begins!


by Haben Fecadu* Addis Standard

But human rights violations did not end with the ouster of the Derg in 1991. The Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) which took over leadership in 1991 also carried out serious violations—such as arbitrary detentions, torture, rape and enforced disappearances.

Again, in what seems like a repeat of history, Ethiopian youth were angry at systemic human rights repression and economic and political marginalization. They took to the streets and protested in vast numbers and in a sustained manner until there was a change of Ethiopian leadership in early 2018. This paved the way for the appointment of Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed and a new Ethiopian leadership.


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What Ethiopia needs is an independent prosecution

19 Jul

Posted by The Ethiopia Observatory (TEO)

More than a year after his rise to power, the honeymoon period for Ethiopia’s Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed has finally come to an end. Following the federal government’s relatively strong response to a failed “coup” in the Amhara Regional State, prominent national and international media and watchdogs have raised concerns over a possible lapse to old habits of mass arrests and internet shutdowns in Ethiopia – a past Abiy has sought vehemently to distance himself from.

Since taking power in April 2018, the reformist prime minister has taken a series of confidence-building measures, including releasing thousands of political prisoners, facilitating the return of exiled political groups, some of them armed, and initiating legal reforms aimed at enabling and institutionalising a transition to a democratic dispensation.

He also ended the no-war-no-peace impasse with Eritrea and recently contributed to the breakthrough agreement between the Transitional Military Council and opposition forces in Sudan.

The last few months have, however, brought to the fore the complexity of governing Africa’s second-most populous country where ethnic cleavages have high political saliency. The initial euphoria that followed Abiy’s unexpected rise to power gradually transformed into bewilderment and even pessimism in some quarters.

The prime minister has faced criticism, especially because of the perceived deterioration of the security situation and inter-ethnic skirmishes, which partly contributed to the risein the number of internally displaced persons.

Growing setbacks for Abiy’s reform agenda

Perhaps the most obstinate challenge facing Ethiopia is the escalation of militant ethnic nationalism and regional irredentism in the context of a historically authoritarian political culture bereft of experiences of inter-ethnic or even intra-ethnic dialogue and compromise.

Reports of armed attacks by forces that claim to be associated with the Oromo Liberation Front; excessive tension and a war of words between officials of Amhara and Tigray Regional States; and contestations over the governance and “ownership” of Addis Ababa have compounded the already challenging nascent transition from decades of authoritarianism.

The aspirations of the Sidama ethnic group for internal secession to form a new regional state, which will be put to a vote in a referendum planned for the end of the year, have further exacerbated the tense political situation and could potentially worsen the volatility.

The intensity of the situation has pitted the short term demands of law enforcement to ensure relative political stability and security against Abiy’s declared path of strategic patience as a necessary compromise to nurture a nascent democracy.

Finding himself between a rock and a hard place, the prime minister appears increasingly frustrated and out of patience. This is notable in the rapid change of tone in his language. In a recent address before the Ethiopian Parliament, Abiy declared that he was ready to confront lawlessness and challenges to Ethiopia’s sovereignty “not with a pen, but with a Kalashnikov”.

Perhaps the clearest manifestation of the dangerous level of ethnic militarisation and extremism was the assassination of high-level government officials in the Amhara Regional State, which the government labelled a failed regional “coup”, and the killing of the head of the army and a retired general in Addis Ababa. Following these gloomy incidents, the government has overseen the arrest of hundreds of individuals, including prominent journalists and politicians, and plans to charge some of them under the notorious anti-terrorism legislation.

Abiy had received acclaim for acknowledging state terrorism and promising to reform the anti-terrorism legislation. By resorting to such a discredited legal weapon, therefore, the government is creating the impression that his government is hearkening back to the brutal ways of the old regime, and is signalling the stalling or even reversal of his transformation agenda.

Coupled with a days-long internet blockade following the failed “coup” and Abiy’s change of rhetoric, the arrests have raised concerns over possible setbacks to the reform agenda. Perhaps most damagingly, and regardless of the veracity of the claims, there is a narrative that the government is using the crisis as an opportunity to weaken prominent journalists, activists and politicians seen as propagating hardline Amhara nationalism.

Politicisation of the prosecution service

The escalation of ethnic politics and competition has no doubt fuelled suspicion of opportunistic political motivations behind the arrests and prosecutions. Nevertheless, there is a more fundamental reason that can explain the lack of trust in the decision to arrest and prosecute.

Under the Ethiopian legal framework, the ministry in charge of justice, the Office of the Attorney General, is a political appointee, and an ordinary part of the cabinet fully responsible to the head of government.

The office performs two principal functions: giving legal advice to the government and prosecuting crimes. While the first is a largely political role, the second is or should be a quintessentially legal function. Increasingly, countries around the world have taken measures to insulate the prosecutorial functions from political accountability and influence.

Unfortunately, the Ethiopian constitution makes no mention of the independence of the prosecution service. In practice, as well, the prosecution service is seen as an extension of political institutions.

As a result, while new and politically unaffiliated faces have been appointed to lead the judiciary and the National Electoral Board of Ethiopia has been significantly reformed, the prosecution service has so far escaped attention. Nevertheless, without an independent prosecution, recourse to an independent judiciary would often be too little, too late.

The prosecution process is perhaps the most effective way to harass political opponents, even if ultimately the defendant wins in a court of law. The reform drive would, therefore, remain incomplete without the institutionalisation of an independent prosecution service.

The lack of formal guarantees of prosecutorial independence has fed perceptions of politicisation of the prosecution office. Indeed, the leaders of Tigray Regional State have refused to cooperate in the arrest of former high officials who are suspected of committing serious crimes, including the former head of the intelligence services, mainly because they consider the prosecution selective and politically motivated.

The recent wave of arrests following the attempted regional “coup” has triggered similar accusations of politicisation of the prosecution process. Regardless of the genuineness of these perceptions and accusations, the fact of the matter is that there is no institutional safeguard against politically motivated prosecutions.

Accordingly, a sustainable solution to the historical politicisation of the prosecution services and current fears of its continuity requires the adoption of legal (and constitutional) reforms to institutionally separate the prosecutorial functions from the political role of the Attorney General as legal adviser to the government.

The separate prosecution office should then be guaranteed independence in the same manner as the judiciary. This institutional separation and guarantee of prosecutorial independence would go a long way in establishing and strengthening trust in the office.

While such reform may not automatically liberate the prosecution service and mark the end of frivolous prosecutions, it would provide the foundations for an autonomous institution capable of serving the general public interest rather than the transient needs of the government of the day. It would also proactively preclude accusations of politicised prosecution.

Rather than signalling a reversal of the reform agenda, the controversy arising from the recent wave of arrests has unveiled the missing piece in Ethiopia’s reform jigsaw. The country should take the opportunity to initiate reforms of the prosecution service and diminish its politicisation.

/ Al Jazeera


The author Dr. is advisor and commentator on the African Union, and governance and democracy in Africa.

He is with the Constitution Building Processes Programme of International IDEA.


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