In its recent past Ethiopia’s problems have primarily arisen out of internal conflict, wide-scale drought and the influx of refugees. In 1991 the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) took control with the intention of bringing the country toward free-market economic development. In 1994 the EPRDF implemented a new Constitution, a new federal system with quite strong states has been put in place, and efforts have been made to devolve power to a level where democratic institutions effectively allow citizens to participate in, and monitor and evaluate government performance.
Legal education has changed little in Ethiopia during this time, though the law and society have changed drastically. The Ethiopian government and many international actors are seeking to fortify the rule of law throughout the country, hoping it will encourage human rights-based economic development. The newest stage of decentralisation has been in higher education, and in legal education in particular.
In early 2008, the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice requested assistance in the form of legal training on the concept of the rule of law and its role in ensuring an open and functioning democratic society. Following extensive consultation with the Ministry, the Law Society and the Bar Council devised a proposal for a five-day seminar to provide training to over 80 judges, prosecutors and staff of the Ministry itself. The idea of directing the seminar at these participants was to promote an awareness and understanding of the fundamentals of the administration of justice, and respect for human rights, amongst those with the most direct power to influence the Ethiopian legal system.
The initial visit focused on examining the constitution of Ethiopia, judicial independence, access to justice, gender issues and the basics of criminal law. Later visits in 2009 and 2010 concentrated on two particular areas where ongoing capacity building is required: the use of Alternative dispute resolution in construction and intellectual property disputes and the importance of international human rights law in achieving the rule of law.
Each year, it has become more apparent that, while there is an enthusiasm for the improved administration of justice, the participants are often hampered by inadequate knowledge of their own laws, access to legal or practical resources, or by the failure of the Ethiopian government to ensure the separation of powers amongst the different arms of government and the independent functioning of the judiciary. Regardless of this fact the participants by and large are optimistic about the potential for the development of a functioning, independent legal system in Ethiopia. Moreover, the participants recognise the absolute importance of achieving this aim for the purpose of economic progress and stability.
Long-term, with the help of Connect Ethiopia, the group’s aim is to establish ongoing programmes of training in these areas and further links with the Ethiopian legal and judicial sector.
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This is an Irish Aid funded project