Access to Justice and Legal Aid in Ethiopia

This is a brief article I wrote for the internal newsletter of the EHRC; it never got published due to delays in the coming out of the newsletter. I have planned to update it with additional information on recent events such as the new mandate of the MoJ to provide assistance to ‘women and children’ in civil cases. The intensified criminal legal aid activities of the Public Defenders Office under the Federal Supreme Court should also be mentioned. Finally, one should be wary of the current status of CSO/NGO legal aid programs in light of the post-Charities and Societies Proclamation challenges. As far as I can tell, the only ones that have survived are those supported through the EHRC funding initiative. Anyway, I believe the original version could serve as a starting point until I (or someone else) can come up with a revised version. So, here it is.

2.    Meaning and Recognition as a Right

The right of access to justice generally guarantees that every person has access to an independent and impartial process and the opportunity to receive a fair and just trial when that individual’s liberty or property is at stake. However, access to justice does not always involve judicial recourse but the availability of accessible, affordable, timely and effective means of redress or remedies.

Access to Justice is recognized under the international human rights instruments Ethiopia has ratified including: the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the  African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). For instance, articles 7 and 8 of the UDHR and article 14 of the ICCPR state that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to effective remedy against violations of fundamental rights.

Access to justice is also recognized as a right in the FDRE Constitution. At the outset, the rights and standards recognized in these international and regional instruments become part of Ethiopian law upon ratification. Since Ethiopia has ratified all of the above listed international human rights agreements, the rights recognized therein including access to justice have become part of the domestic law. Moreover, Article 37(1) of the Constitution expressly guarantees access to justice to all citizens. This constitutional provision reads:

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Conceptions of Access to Justice

The development of this concept paper/article has been informed by a facebook posting on the meaning of access to justice in the Ethiopian context. In commenting on that post, I have mentioned the various meanings that can be attributed to ‘access to justice’. Here is what I meant. Access to justice could be understood in various ways among which the three major conceptions are: as a right recognized under the international human rights framework, as an approach to public sector institutional reform, and a comprehensive rights-based development framework.

2 Access to Justice as a Right

Access to justice and fair trial are rights recognized under the major international and regional human rights instruments including: the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). The core instruments on the issue, the UDHR and the ICCPR, state that everyone is equal before the law and has the right to effective remedy against violations of fundamental rights. Thus, access to justice is a fundamental right that generally guarantees every person access to an independent and impartial process and the opportunity to receive a fair and just trial when that individual’s liberty or property is at stake. However, access to justice does not always involve judicial recourse but the availability of accessible, affordable, timely and effective means of redress or remedies.

3 Access to Justice Approach

The ‘access-to-justice approach’ has brought important implications on the conceptual understanding of access to justice. The approach has a broader scope covering “the full panoply of institutions and devices, personnel and procedures, used to process, and even prevent, disputes in modern societies” rather than the focus on access to legal institutions and their services. In the access to justice approach, access to legal services has become part of wider strategies aimed at legal and institutional reform, and achieving equal and equally effective access to law.

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Access to Justice under the International Human Rights Framework

This is a follow up on the post ‘Conceptions of Access to Justice’. It seeks to outline the international human rights framework on ‘the right to access to justice’ and briefly set out a monitoring framework capable of measuring the extent to which the right has been realized in a given national jurisdiction. Hopefully, this would lay the basis for consideration of the state of access to justice in the Ethiopian context in upcoming posts.

1 Introduction

Access to justice is a right recognized under the major international and regional human rights instruments including: the Charter of the United Nations, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) and the African Charter on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (ACRWC). The core instruments on the issue, the UDHR and the ICCPR, state that everyone has ‘the right to effective remedy against violations of fundamental rights’.

2 Recognition of the Right

The UDHR states that:

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ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የወንጀል ክስ ስለመስማት (Trial in absentia)

1.  ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የወንጀል ክስ ስለመስማት (Trial in absentia) ፅንሰ ሃሳብ

ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የወንጀል ክስ መስማት (Trial in absentia) ማለት ተከሳሹ በወንጀል ክሱ በፍርድ ቤት ጉዳዩ በመታየት ላይ የሚገኝ ቢሆንም ተከሳሹ ግን በአካል በፍርድ ቤት ሳይገኝ ጉዳዩ በሌለበት በመታየት ላይ የሚገኝ ማለት ነው፡፡ ይህ አይነቱ የህግ ስረዓት በተለያዩ ሃገሮች የሚተገበር ሲሆን በእኛም ሃገር በወንጀል ሥነሥርዓት ህጉ እና በመገናኛ ብዙሃን የመረጃ ነፃነት አዋጅ ቁጥር 590/2000 ላይ በልዩ ሁኔታ ተደንግጎ ይገኛል፡፡ ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የወንጀል ክስ መስማት ተገቢነቱ መታየት ያለበት ከወንጀል ህጉ አላማ፤ ከፍትህ እና ከሰብዓዊ መብት አንፃር ነው፡፡

2.  ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የወንጀል ክስ መስማት ያለው ጠቀሜታ እና ጉዳት

የወንጀል ክስ በሚሰማበት ወቅት የተከሳሽ በፍ/ቤት መገኘት ብዙ አይነት ጠቀሜታ ይኖረዋል፡፡ በፍ/ቤት በመገኘትም ተከሳሽ ሙሉ መብቶቹ እንዲከበሩ እና ማንኛውም አይነት የተከሳሽ መብቶች እንዳይታለፍ ማድረግ ይችላል፡፡ በዚህም ሳያበቃ በወንጀል ፍትህ አስተዳደሩ ላይ እውነታውን ከማውጣጣት አንፃር ፋይዳ አለው፡፡ ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የሚታይ ጉዳይ የአንድ ወገንን ማስረጃ ብቻ የሚመዘንበት በመሆኑ ጥፋተኛ የመባል እድልን የሚያሰፋ በመሆኑ ያለጥፋት የሚቀጡ ሰዎችን ሊያበዛ ይችላል፡፡

በሌላ መልኩ ደግሞ ተከሳሽ በሌለበት የወንጀል ክስ መስማት ተከሳሽን በመጠበቅ ሊጠፋ የሚችለውን ጊዜ በመቀነስ አፋጣኝ የፍትህ ስርዓት እንዲኖር ያደርጋል፡፡ ተከሳሽን በመጠበቅ ሊጠፋ ይችል የነበረውን የማስረጃ መሳሳት ይቀንሳል፡፡

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