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: