The delusory independence of the Judiciary under the TPLF regime: rule of law vs. rule of man

12 mins read

Million Feyyisa Lenjiso,
can be reached at

Since the time of their formation by a crew of only eleven men who declared their establishment at Dedebit,Woyane, or Tigrayan People’s Liberation Front (TPLF), have been committing various atrocities on the people of Ethiopia in order to realize their rush to power. Recent statements by Kahsay Berhe, one of the 11 TPLF founders, and Tesfay Atsbeha, as posted on Ethiomedia, tell an untold story of TPLF crime on Tigrayan People. There is no crime they did not commit to make their way toward government control since their formation, and then to strengthen it over the last two decades. During the Transitional Government period, 1991-1994, the TPLF, led by Meles Zenawi, slaughtered innocent people in different parts of the country, videotaped their killings and then aired them through national television, ETV, naming rival parties as the culprits. Later, they continued state-sponsored terror and crimes to turn opposition groups against one another while they imitate peace-makers. Their recent drama, titled Akeldama, is similar to the kind of deceptive tools they use for propaganda. They occupied government power officially in 1994.


The Constitutional Assembly, which was established during the Transitional Period, did not include any member elected by people. Nor is the Federal Constitution of 1994 what the people created through its representatives; rather it is a gift from the Woyane bandits. In his interview with ESAT, Gebremedhin Araya, one of the founders of the TPLF, said that the constitutional document was drafted by Woyane rebels, including Meles Zenawi (click here to watch the video). Mr. Zenawi, who was the main architect of the constitution, was named president of Transitional Government, a strategic move for TPLF leaders. While this went on in the capital, they were stopping at nothing to occupy government power by burning villages, looting farmers’ chattels, and killing them in the countryside. Latter, on after a fake national election, Meles was named the Prime Minster of the Federal Republic and began the one-man rule journey he had already provided for in his construction of the office of prime minister in his constitution.

Now, two decades have passed since the TPLF occupied government power and established an illusory Federal [Democratic Republic]. The end of the Derg era was a huge relief for the people of Ethiopia, who have been oppressed since time immemorial. In particular the promising speech of the Woyane leaders through their new organization, the EPRDF, was innocently welcomed by the people, who needed above all peace and respect for humanity. However, the promises  shortly transformed into oppression, terror, and prevalence of the “rule of man” instead of the “rule of law,” and the people fell under oppressive rule once again. The domination of the judicial organs and judicial personnel by the leading party has particularly made rule of law and justice unthinkable in the empire.

The incapacitated judicial organ

Setting aside legal actions that involve government as a party in lawsuits, the rule of law is a fundamental tool for tranquility and confidence of the people in the normal course of events. Independence of the judiciary from other government organs, especially the executive, creates suitable conditions for people to have trust in the law, to obtain legal remedies, and to be protected from individual breaches and state violations. However, the judicial system in Ethiopia is under the influence of the TPLF leaders, top to bottom. They designed the constitution such that the substantial part of government powers is controlled by the office of the prime minister. Due to the reasons I state in the next few paragraphs, there is no independent judiciary in contemporary Ethiopia, not practically, nor constitutionally. On a flip-side of all judicial entities and personnel, including judges and lawyers, there is TPLF oversight. It is hardly thinkable that one can get fair judgment at all.


Judiciary dependence is systematically designed in the constitution. The general provisions of the constitution that deal with the judiciary promise on their face to establish independence of the judiciary. Article 78.1 provides for an independent judiciary to be established and 79.3 adds that judges shall exercise their functions in full independence and shall be directed solely by the law. And in promising such institutional independence, the right of access to justice for all Ethiopians was promised under article 37 of the constitution. However other provisions of the constitution distract these potentially good rules, and make the promises worthless. This has been framed with purpose. The executive controls the judicial system, among other ways, through the power to appoint judges. The judges of federal and state courts are appointed by the Prime Minister, chief executives of states, the parliament, and state councils. The members of the parliament are not freely voted to represent the people and it is for mere formality of purpose that they are given power of approval. These organs, which a constituted one-hundred percent by EPRDF members, appoint judges not based on merit, but their loyalty and membership to the party. The judges appointed cannot be non-supporters of the party though they say they are independent. Additionally, the judicial organ is created to be dependent financially on the executives and the legislatures. The House of Representatives and state councils approve the budget of federal and state courts, respectively. It is hard to imagine that an independent judiciary shall exist. There is undue influence on the administration and functioning of courts, which makes them ineffective.


Over the last three years another form of political strategy has been established in a name of judicial reform. Political membership of university and college law students is one of the major tools the EPRDF uses for its political motives. The newly established judicial training centers are intended to further facilitate the party’s influence on judicial organs. Institutes that train judges and prosecutors for federal and state courts have been opened in Hawassa, Adama, Bahir Dar and Mekele. In order to join the institutes, law graduates from public universities and private colleges need to show that they are members of EPRDF and they support it. They must obtain letters of membership from kebele and police offices located in their places of residence. The membership history of each student is tracked from their university to a kebele they reside in. So it is easy for the party to determine who has been an active member or not. They only select students who they think are loyal to them and who would follow their instructions, though we know that not everyone supports them cordially. They are recruiting many more judges and prosecutors who are matured in their politics. In the training institutes, all they do is preach them their policies and plans. They do not teach them how they should serve their country through the laws and basic principles, but rather they teach them to operate through the policies of EPRDF designs. After they undergo the training for almost two years, they are placed in courts in which the EPRDF assigns them, and they are supposed to serve the best interests of the party.


Due to the constitutional and institutional dependence of judicial organs on the EPRDF, it is hard to imagine that rule of law will prevail in Ethiopia. No accusation will be made opposing any unfair enrichment and corruption of government officials and wealthy merchants who cooperate with state officials. Courts are not independent enough to control business transactions, or to intervene in state-sponsored crimes and other violations committed by the state or someone working with the state. Most of the wealthy merchants do not pay any kind of tax and the uncontrolled amount of imported goods without tariffs has created a big gap among traders in the country. Due to this, the economy is not showing equitable progress. Corruption is rampant, few are prospering, and millions are starving. The judicial organs and personnel who are supposed to enforce the law are not in a position to do so. The TPLF is using courts of law as its tool to legalize its criminal actions. Their law makers frequently design laws that help them hunt down persons who hold different political opinion and their courts legalize the actions the state takes. It is slippery slope. How can we expect different results from actions brought before courts where the law makers and executives themselves are sitting on court benches? How can we say the judiciary is independent while the wicked are prospering, and the righteous are suffering? Thousands of university students have been unlawfully denied their liberty, tortured, and disappeared, and courts have legalized these actions. Several journalists and academicians have suffered and still suffering punishments merely for their political opinions. EPRDF courts have applauded many other state-sponsored crimes of this type. Courts have no power to review state actions. They are incapable even of reviewing government officials for offences they commit in their personal capacities. The failure of the judiciary under the EPRDF’s control has withered people’s confidence in the law and the courts. Ethiopia is almost a country governed by will of the leading party rather than by law.


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