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Transitional Justice in Ethiopia: What is it and is it a Viable Solution?

June 26, 2024
 By Habtamu Kebede

Transitional justice is a term used to describe the various processes and mechanisms that are implemented in order to address human rights violations and promote reconciliation in societies that have been affected by conflict or authoritarian rule. Its primary goal is to hold perpetrators accountable for their actions, including human rights violations, war crimes, and other atrocities.

In recent years, Ethiopia has been facing significant political turmoil and hostility, leading to the loss of over a million lives, injuries, and extensive property damage. Furthermore, the country currently has the highest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world. Human rights violations are rampant, and individuals who hold differing beliefs from those in power are at constant risk of persecution. Additionally, due to the lack of law and order, many Ethiopians do not feel safe traveling by car, fearing for their lives and well-being.

The current hyperinflation is causing immense suffering for both public sector and private industry workers. Even college professors, who are typically seen as well-educated and financially stable, are struggling to afford their own rent and are being forced to live in college dormitories. Additionally, small business owners are being forced to shut down their businesses due to the inability to pay exorbitant taxes and bribes. Foreign investors are leaving the country due to the lack of stability for their businesses. While the country is enduring numerous calamities, the prime minister is constructing a lavish palace estimated to cost ten billion dollars.

During the Tigray conflict, Ethiopian authorities have been targeting and assaulting individuals from the Tigray region, even those who live far away from the battlefield zones, such as in Addis Ababa. This violence is solely based on their ethnicity, as they are from the Tigray region. Unfortunately, the Amhara people are also facing similar violence. Even those who are supposed to be protected by immunity are being unjustly imprisoned simply because of their Amhara ethnicity. Furthermore, the authorities have granted themselves unprecedented powers and are using them to forcefully bulldoze and destroy homes and centuries-old landmarks without facing any consequences.

The Ethiopian Orthodox Church and Islam are ancient religious institutions that have played a significant role in Ethiopian history, education, the study of astronomy, medicine, culture, and civilization. However, they have been constantly targeted by warlords affiliated with the administration. The administration, particularly the prime minister, has been making divisive and inflammatory statements against the Orthodox Church and has gone to great lengths to falsely associate the church with certain armed groups. The Secretary General of the Church, His Eminence Abune Petrose, has been barred from entering the country and is currently forced to stay overseas in the United States.

The prime minister has greatly diminished the power divisions between the federal and state governments, positioning himself as the supreme ayatollah and a monarch. Additionally, he has devalued the importance of ministerial positions and has inserted himself into all aspects of government affairs. The prime minister is often seen lecturing medical professionals, educators, military officers, economists, diplomats, and business executives, projecting an air of superiority and omniscience despite lacking expertise in these fields.

The prime minister is known for his inconsistency and unreliability. For example, he has appointed his hand-picked and loyal supporters to promote transitional justice, with the intention of deceiving the public. However, he has also demanded that those who oppose his administration surrender and submit to his ruling party, effectively shutting the door on any possibility of a peaceful resolution.

While the people of Ethiopia are currently enduring horrific political and economic crises, recently, there has been a noticeable rise in the use of political rhetoric by individuals who have little to no experience in politics and are solely driven by their personal agendas. This type of rhetoric not only lacks coherence, but also fails to address the pressing issues faced by our society. One of the most commonly used phrases in state-controlled media outlets and their corporate affiliates is “transitional justice.”

Unsurprisingly, the individuals at the forefront of promoting transitional justice are hand-picked individuals in positions of power who often support the government’s agenda. For them, transitional justice means prioritizing forgiveness and reconciliation over holding perpetrators accountable for their crimes, often through measures such as amnesty or pardons. Predictably, they are overly advocating the government’s talking points and are suggesting that we should forget about the millions of lives lost, the millions who have been displaced, and the tens of thousands who have been victims of sexual violence during the past and present conflicts.

One of the most pressing issues in Ethiopia is the lack of functional branches of government. This is evident in the judiciary system, which actively aids and enables the administration’s suppression of dissent and violation of human rights. This lack of separation of powers undermines the democratic principles of the country. For instance, the Ethiopian Minister of Justice, Gedion Timotiwos, has repeatedly appeared on national television or in parliament to defend the state of emergency imposed in the Amhara region. Additionally, the parliament has proven to be incompetent and has simply acted as a rubber stamp for the ruling party. As a result, there are currently no possibilities for transitional justice and it is time for a fundamental change and an all-inclusive transitional government to be established.

Transitional justice, without holding those responsible accountable, will not only fail to serve the interests of the people, but also open the door for future injustices and human rights violations. Therefore, it is crucial for us, the people, to resist the deception of empty rhetoric and instead focus on actions that will truly lay the foundation for the rule of law and democratization. This can be achieved through a transparent process that ensures the participation of all political and civic leaders in an inclusive transitional government. Such a government will lead the nation towards a democratic transition, lasting peace, and stability, ultimately resulting in true prosperity.


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