Is the constitution Supreme in Ethiopia? – Girma Kassa(

January 28th, 2009 Print Print Email Email

The ruling party in Ethiopia often portrays itself as a government that stands for the interest of Ethiopia and is committed to the rule of law.


The ruling party in Ethiopia often portrays itself as a government that stands for the interest of Ethiopia and is committed to the rule of law.

As the International community and Ethiopians all over the world are calling for the unconditional and immediate release of the popular UDJ leader Birtukan Mideksa et other prisoners of conscious, Mr. Meles Zenawi has been hiding behind the “law”.

His senior advisor Bereket Simon dismissed calls for the release of Birtukan Mideksa whom Amnesty International called a Prisoner of conscious, arguing that the issue is not a political issue but legal. “The Ethiopian government believes government has a mandate and an obligation to ensure the rule of law in Ethiopia.” he said to make the international community believe that there is a separation of power between the judiciary and the executive branch. At one point he even mentioned that there is no double standard when it comes to executing the law of the land and that all are equal under the law.

The constitution is supposed to be the supreme law of the land. Article 9 of the constitution says “The Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Any law, customary practice or a decision of an organ of state or a public official which contravenes this Constitution shall be of no effect. All citizens, organs of state, political organizations, other associations as well as their officials have the duty to ensure observance of the Constitution and to obey it.”

Article 51 talks about the Powers and Functions of the Federal Government which is to protect and defend the Constitution.

Describing the functions of the chief executive officer, the prime minister, Article 74, section 13 says “He (The Prime Minister) shall obey and enforce the Constitution.”

Is the constitution the supreme law of the land? Is the federal government protecting and defending the constitution? Is Mr Meles Zenawi who has been the ruler of the Ethiopia since May 1991 obeying and enforcing the constitution? As Mr. Bereket Simon alluded are there not double standards when it comes to executing the law?

I wish the answer to the above question is “Yea”. I wish Mr. Bereket Simon is right. However evidences on the ground are telling us different stories. The constitution is supreme only on paper.

One of the characteristics of dictators is to lie and keep on lying. Adolf Hitler once said “Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it”. Could it be the case where Mr. Meles Zenawi and his friends are lying big time hoping that those who listen to them would ultimately believe them? If so, then a good lesson can be learned from Hitler. Lies more big lies did not help the German dictator; nor would it help TPLF leaders as well.

Under the regime of Mr. Meles Zenawi we have not seen the rule of law. We have not seen a constitution that is supreme. We have not seen a federal government that protects and defends the constitution and a prime minister that obeys and enforces it. We have not seen equal treatment of all citizens under the law.

Allow me to cite just three examples out of many that clearly show the gross violation and disrespect of the Ethiopian Constitution by the ruling party in Ethiopia.

The Right of Access to Justice denied

Mrs. Birtukan Mideksa, chairperson of the Unity for Democracy and Justice has been illegally arrested for about a month now. Article 21 section 1 of the constitution says that all persons held in custody and persons imprisoned upon conviction and sentencing have the right to treatments respecting their human dignity.

However it has been reported that Ms Birtukan Mideksa was placed in solitary confinement and under very harsh and difficult condition since her incarceration. We do not see the human dignity of Ms Mideksa respected at all from the very beginning when the federal police commissioner Workneh Gebeyehou intimidated her and when more than 10 security forces hold her in custody in a very unethiopian, unprofessional and barbaric manner.

Article 21 section 2 of the constitution explicitly says the following:” All persons shall have the opportunity to communicate with, and to be visited by their spouses or partners, close relatives, friends, religious councilors, medical doctors and their legal counsel.”

This section does not need any interpretation. It is clear, straightforward and unambiguous. It explicitly guarantees the unequivocal right of Ms. Mideksa to see medical doctors, consult her lawyer, and be visited by her friends.

However what we see is a direct subversion and violation of the Ethiopian Constitution. Ms. Mideksa has been denied access to her lawyers, doctors, and friends.

Article 37 of the constitution says “Everyone has the right to bring a justiciable matter to, and to obtain a decision or judgment by, a court of law or any other competent body with judicial power.” Again I stress the word “everyone”.

Ms Birtukan Mideksa believes she is innocent and truthful. Her stories were corroborated by individuals who were jailed wit her and TV interviews given by elders a year and half ago. Sadly disregarding the law of the land, the regime put her to jail again, by misstating and spinning some of her speeches she gave to supporters.

She requested to make her case heard before the court for she has the right under the constitution. However Mr. Meles Zenawi, who is supposed to obey and defend the constitution, denied the right of Ms Birtukan to go to court. Her lawyers we not allowed to see her.

This is again a gross, direct subversion and violation of the constitution.

The Right of Assembly denied

Article 30 section 1 of the constitution says “Everyone has the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably and unarmed, and to petition.”

In a small town called Mersa, not far from Dessie, Wello (North Eastern part of Ethiopia] the UDJ officials were recently arrested by security forces when they try to hold a town hall meeting with residents of the town. When UDJ leaders and organizers tried to explain that it is their constitutional right, the officers arrogantly replied that whether the constitution is saying or not they would not care.

This incident is not common. Government officials who were supposed to protect and defend the constitution have become the ones who are constantly violating the law of the land. We do not see government officials respecting the constitution. We do not see Mr. Meles Zenawi obeying and defending the law of the land.

The Right of the Security of a Person denied

Article 17 of the constitution says “Every one has the right to protection against bodily harm. “. When Ms Birtukan Mideksa was held in custody she was with the 78 years old human right activist professor Mesfin Woldemariam. At that time, more than 10 security forces stormed out from four cars to arrest one woman. When the professor said that one officer with a warrant could have been enough, he was brutally beaten by one of the officers. The professor had to be taken to Hospital for he was severely harmed.

Security officers are government officials. They were supposed to protect and defend the constitution. However such barbaric actions that we saw against professor Mesfin is clear indication that the right of the security of citizens is denied.

What happened to professor Mesfin is not an exception. It is common all over Ethiopia. When officers are doing whatever they want, when they rape, when they burn villages, when they kill no-one is holding them accountable.

For instance, more than 250 villages were burned down in Ogaden. More than 200 innocent civilians were killed by security forces after the aftermath of the May 2000 election. More than hundred thousands civilians were detained in various concentration camps in Dedessa, Ziway, Shewarobit .. Where is the law that was supposed to protect civilians? Where is justice that holds criminals, killers accountable? If there is no double standard when it comes to respecting the law, as Mr. Bereket said how come we do not see any single prosecution out of all these humanitarian disaster ?

We do not see officers uphold the law. We do not see criminals being prosecuted and killers apprehended. We do not see the law respected. We do not see the Ethiopian Constitution as the supreme law of the land.

Instead what we are seeing is innocent people being scapegoat and shamefully convicted for crimes they did not committed. What we are seeing is a double standard where few acting above the law. What we are seeing is a regime that is controlled by few individuals and basically acting no better than the cold blooded old Marxist dictators.

High Tech dictatorship

I have a name for these dictators. I am calling them “high tech dictators”. Unlike to other old fashioned dictators they do not defy the constitution in the open. They do not rule by decree. They claim they abide by the constitution. They say they are for the rule of law. However, they manipulate the law at wish so that it can server their evil purpose and hit hard dissidents by using this manipulated law as a “baton”.

When they are asked by diplomats and human right groups to release prisoners of conscious “it is up to the judiciary, the pardon board … to decide. We have nothing to do with it. In Ethiopia the executive and judiciary are separate, we can not interfere in the court business …” they say. However behind the scene, by giving instructions to judges, they make political decisions from the court bench themselves.

If judges refuse to implement their instructions, they will make sure they are dealt with appropriately.

I think the international community must not allow deceit and honey talk of the TPLF officials and focus away from the truth. They must not justify brutality and tyranny by arguing that building a democratic process takes time and the regime is learning. The regime has been in power for 18 years. Excuses must not be given anymore. 18 years is a lot. If one does not learn in 18 years, then he/she will never learn.

I believe the International community must demand accountability, transparency and good governance before it dumps billions of dollars into the hand of governments. Failure to do so is a historic mistake which is equivalent to basically promoting and supporting injustice and dictatorship since the money they give to dictators will boost them tremendously and continue with their tyrannical actions.

It is time for the International Community to support the people of Ethiopia, stand with the rule of law, democracy and humanity by rejecting tyranny, deceit and corruption.

(Note – When I argue for the constitution to be respected it does not mean that I agree in all articles that are written within it. For instance I am for some section of Article 39 that gives regions the right of cessation, to be removed from the constitution. I am also for amending article 8 of the constitution which gives all sovereign power to Nations Nationalities and the Peoples of Ethiopia. Sovereign power must reside in the People of Ethiopia as one people. )

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