By: Hiwot Abebe Mekuanent
Ethiopia is an ancient country ruled by kings and kings of kings. The kings ruled with tribal modalities and by-laws offered by religious institutions. No constitutional procedures were maintained for centuries. It was Emperor Haile Selassie who proclaimed the 1930 Constitution, which was later revised in 1955. Though it was a good beginning, there was no popular participation.
In 1974, the military junta known as DERG overthrow the king and declared a socialist state. During the DERG regime, it was difficult for citizens to fully exercise their human rights. Privately owned companies have confiscated the right to organize, speak and write were prohibited. The intellectuals, teachers, students, youth, and factory workers fight peacefully against the regime. In response to the opposition, the regime killed, imprisoned, and tortured thousands and fear and anxiety arose to the maximum in the population. In fear of the massacre, thousands of people migrated to western countries and asked for political asylums, and others formed rebel groups and started guerilla warfare. Furthermore, the DERG, organized and resettled thousands of people from drought-oriented areas of northern and central Ethiopia to the unsettled and sparsely populated areas in the southern and western parts of the country, which is a cause of conflict in that region till today. The Constitution of the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, also known as the 1987 Constitution of Ethiopia, was the third constitution of Ethiopia and went into effect on 22 February 1987 after a referendum on 1 February of that year. Its adoption inaugurated the People’s Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (PDRE). The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, also known as the 1995 Constitution of Ethiopia, is the fourth constitution. It came into force on 21 August 1995. It was adopted by the Transitional Government of Ethiopia on 8 December 1994 and came into force following the general election held in May–June 1995.
The 1995 Constitution is the supreme law of the land. This is clearly stated in Bold under Art 9 of the constitution. In other words, anybody including the prime minister or the president, who have the highest government power in the country, are under the constitution. The constitution has a chapter dedicated to fundamental rights and freedoms. These are rights given to all citizens of Ethiopia without any discrimination. Of course, there are exceptions where an individual might be banned from exercising their constitutional rights. For example, committing a crime and being under prison, a person can not exercise his right to movement, elect or be elected, etc. One of the fundamental human rights protected under the constitution is right to life. Government has three main responsibility regarding this right or any right in general; the obligation to respect an individual’s right to life, to protect their right to life from other third persons, and the obligation to fulfill. When we see these constitutional rights from the perspective of Amhara ethnic minorities living in Oromiya, Benshangul, and Southern Nation, Nationalities and People region, it flashes a red light. The people who settled for hundred of years in those areas are denied political participation, to teach their children in their mother tongue, to defend their cases in their own language in courts, etc.
However, it has been a while since innocent and defenceless civilians (women, children, infants, pregnant women, elderly, men, and religious leaders) are brutally killed in different cities of these regions mainly because of their ethnicity and religion. It is almost daily news to hear about the alarming number of Amharas who are killed at the meeting place, their home, their farmland, church, etc. These places are not war zones! They are places where people do their daily life activities. Very recently, 26 individuals, who gathered at the church, in Horo Gudru, Wolega, were taken and brutally killed in the forest. The people living there and in these regions are still calling out the government to give them protection. In a region that have its police force and tens of thousands of Special Forces, it is questionable how it is still impossible to wipe out the insurgent groups and protect the civilians. Those surviving Amhara minority groups have an equal constitutional rights as each and every individual in the entire of Ethiopia. However, they are in continuous physical and psychological fear. They have no guarantee of what is going to happen today, let alone tomorrow. They lost their loved ones. Children are left without parents, fathers, who are breadwinner in most families, are killed, and now the whole family has no means of survival. Their properties are selectively targeted and demolished. Their farmlands, houses, churches, etc. is burned down. They escaped to neighbouring cities fear of being the next victim. They left their village, which they have been leaving since birth, with nothing. Majority of them have never been outside of their village and have no relatives in other parts of Ethiopia. So, they are forced to shelter in churches. All these triggers basic constitutional questions. Where is their constitutional right ‘right to life’ (Art 14)? A right that is clearly described in the constitution as ‘inviolable and inalienable’. A right that is the mother of all right. A right that nobody can take it from us unless we have committed serious crime and punished with a death penalty. Where is their constitutional right ‘right to security of person’ (Art 16)? A right that safeguards everyone from any form of bodily harm. Where is their constitutional right ‘right to property’ (Art 40)? A right that allows individuals to own property and benefit from its fruit. Where is their constitutional right ‘Freedom of Religion, Belief and Opinion’ (Art 27)? A right that allows individuals to freely practice and manifest one’s religion. Where is their constitutional right “Freedom of Movement’ (Art 32)? A right that gives freedom to individuals to move within the territory of Ethiopia and choose their residence. Where is their right to ‘justice’? Under Article 58 of the Criminal Code, any individual who committed a crime with intention should be punished. Where is their right to ‘compensation’ (Art 2028, 2095, 2105, 2110, 2113, of Civil Code)? A right to be compensated for the moral and material damage inflicted on them. For their suffering due to the bodily injury and the loss of their loved ones. However, we have seen many cases where criminals are forgiven and even get the support from the government to re-establish their life. This shows how the justice system is paralyzed. I pinpointed these rights however there are so many rights violated in their situation.
The answer to these questions is simple for me. These civilians’ live is not a priority for the government. I say this because I have seen how the Prime minister promptly take action when the military camp in the northern parts of Ethiopia is attacked by TPLF. This is because it endangers his power. On the other side, there is nothing substantial action taken regarding the alarming killings of Amharas. So, a country that can not protect, at least to the minimum, the fundamental right ‘RIGHT TO LIFE’ of its citizens is a failed state. The government should fulfill its obligation to respect, protect and fulfill the Constitutional rights of these citizens by taking serious action to STOP the killing of Amharas in Oromia, Benshangul and SNNP regions and also to ensure peace and security in the entire Ethiopia.