UPDATE: Introduction to the Ethiopian Legal System and Legal Research

By Girmachew Alemu Aneme

Update by Alemayehu B. Bekele

Alemayehu B. Bekele received his law degree from Addis Ababa University College of Law and Governance (LL.B., 2013) in Ethiopia. He is currently working as an attorney and investment consultant in Ethiopia.

Published January/February 2020

(Previously updated by Hanna A. Zemichael in April 2016)

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Table of Contents

1. Introduction

1.1. Country Profile

Ethiopia is located in East Africa in the subregion known as the Horn of Africa. It covers an area of about 1.2 million square kilometers. It is a landlocked country bordered by Sudan and South Sudan on the west, Kenya on the south, Somalia and Djibouti on the east, and Eritrea on the north. It is the second most-populous country in Africa with a population of more than 108 million.[1] Ethiopia is a multiethnic country made up of more than 80 distinct ethnic groups. The five largest ethnic groups – the Oromo, Amhara, Somali, Tigre, and Sidama – together make up more than 75 % of the total population.

Ethiopia is a developing country with a GDP per capita of about 768 USD (2017). The economy is one of the fastest growing in the world with an annual GDP growth rate of 8.8%.[2] Agriculture is the backbone of the national economy. Life expectancy at birth is 62 years for males and 66 years for females.[3] Ethiopia’s capital city, Addis Ababa, is the seat of numerous international and regional organizations including the African Union and the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa.

1.2. Overview of Modern Political History

Ethiopia is one of the ancient countries in the world. Present-day Ethiopia was created by highland rulers through twin processes of political and economic conquest in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Emperor Menelik II (r. 1889-1913) embarked on a campaign of expanding his rule from the central highland regions to the south, west and east of the country and established the current map of Ethiopia.[4] Emperor Menelik II also led the Ethiopian forces that defeated the Italian colonial army at the battle of Adwa in March 1896, in Tigray, North Ethiopia, successfully preventing the country from falling under colonial rule. After the demise of the power of Emperor Menlik II and his eventual death, Ras Tafari Mekonnen won the power struggle and was crowned Emperor Haile Selassie in November 1930. Although Emperor Haile Selassie is credited for the modernization of the bureaucracy and for establishing a relatively longer period of political stability, his reign was controversial, inter alia, because of his exile during the second Italian invasion of Ethiopia in 1936-1941 and the oppressive control of the political and economic life of the citizenry.[5]

In 1961 the royal bodyguard attempted a coup d’état which was taken as a sign of the popular dissatisfaction with the pace of development and liberalization at the time. The lack of proper and adequate reform led to a growing movement against Haile Selassie’s regime mostly led by the radical and left-wing intelligentsia. The popular movement caused the breakdown of Haile Selassie’s regime in 1974. The lack of organized political groups to lead the country enabled a group of low-ranking military officers called the Derg[6] to assume power in September 1974. The Derg era was characterized by massive human rights violations and internal conflicts. In 1991 the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) launched a successful military assault through central and western provinces, while in the east, Eritrean forces closed in on the cities of Assab and Asmara.[7] In May 1991, the Head of State, Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, fled to Zimbabwe. EPRDF forces took control of Addis Ababa at the end of May 1991. In July 1991 a national conference established the Transitional Government of Ethiopia. The conference also endorsed a Transitional Charter that worked as an interim constitution. In December 1994 the newly elected federal parliament ratified the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (hereinafter FDRE Constitution).

2. Overview of the Ethiopian Legal System

2.1. The Constitutional Framework

The FDRE Constitution establishes a federal form of government in which sovereign power belongs to the “Nations, Nationalities, and Peoples of Ethiopia.”[8] The Constitution is declared supreme and any law that is contrary to it is invalid.[9] The Constitution espouses separation of state and religion as well as transparency and accountability as its basic principles.

Fundamental rights are recognized under Chapter Three of the Constitution and are to be interpreted in light of the international human rights obligations adopted by Ethiopia.[10] The FDRE Constitution makes a distinction between “human rights” (e.g. right to life, security, liberty…) and “democratic rights” (e.g. freedom of expression, right of assembly, right to property…).[11]

Governmental power is first constitutionally divided horizontally between the federal government and 9 autonomous regional states. Accordingly, the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia consists of the Federal Government and nine member states (also referred to as regions or regional states) and two federal cities, Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa. The 9 regional states are:[12]

The Constitution lists the powers and functions of both the federal and state governments.[13]It provides that the nine Regional States shall have legislative, executive and judicial powers over matters falling under state jurisdiction.[14] Within their legislative mandate, the member states of the federation have the power to enact and execute state constitutions.[15] All member states of the federation have enacted their respective constitutions which provide the details of the legislative, executive and judicial branch of State administration. The working language of the federal government is Amharic and each of the states has determined their own working languages.

2.2. Law-Making Institutions

2.2.1. The Federal Legislature

The FDRE Constitution establishes a two-house parliament for the federal government: The House of Peoples’ Representatives and the House of Federation.[16] Although the FDRE Constitution establishes a two-house parliament, the Ethiopian Parliament is not bicameral in the strict sense of the term. The highest legislative authority is vested in the House of Peoples’ Representatives (HPR), which is comparable to the first or lower chamber of a legislature, normally serving the interests of the people in the federation as a whole. The members of the HPR are elected by a plurality of the votes cast in general elections every five years.[17] The HPR will have a maximum of 550 members, and at least 20 seats are reserved for minority nationalities and peoples in order to ensure their representation. However, the FDRE Constitution does not define these groups, save that it declares that particulars shall be determined by law.[18]

The Ethiopian system is essentially parliamentarian, where the political party or parties with the greatest number of seats in the HPR shall form and lead the executive and approve the appointment of members for the executive Council of Ministers and the Prime Minister.[19] The HPR shall also nominate the candidate for the president, who will be accepted by a two-thirds majority of both chambers of the legislature.[20]

Members of the HPR are popularly elected for a five-year term in a “first-past-the-post” electoral system. The most important function of the HPR is to enact laws on matters assigned to federal jurisdiction and ratify national policy standards.[21] The HPR also exercises other important functions including the appointment of federal judges, the ratification of international agreements and the investigation of the conduct of members of the executive.

The House of the Federation (HOF) is the second or upper chamber in the federal government of Ethiopia. In conventional federal systems, the second chamber serves as the representative institution for the regional units. In the Ethiopian system, the HOF has essentially the same function, but in the FDRE Constitution, this is formulated in a slightly different way: it is not composed of representatives from the federal units, but “of representatives of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples.”[22] Each officially-recognized ethno-national group should have in principle one representative in the HOF. Additionally, the population number of each nation or nationality is taken into consideration by giving one more representative for each additional million of its population.[23] Members of the HOF are elected by the State Councils in each regional state.[24]

The most important function of the HOF is interpreting the FDRE Constitution.[25] It is constitutionally mandated to establish the Council of Constitutional Inquiry to assist it in this task.[26] The HOF is also empowered to decide upon issues related to the rights of states to self-determination including secession, find solutions to disputes between states, determine the division of joint federal and state revenues and the federal subsidies to the states, order federal intervention in the states when the constitutional order is threatened, and determine which civil matters require federal legislation.[27]

2.2.2. The State Legislature

The FDRE Constitution empowers member states of the federation to establish a legislative organ called the State Council.[28] The State Council is composed of representatives accountable to the people of the State. The State Council represents the highest level of state authority and has the power of legislation on all matters falling under state jurisdiction.[29] The State Council is also given the power to draft, adopt and amend the state constitution.[30] State Constitutions provide the number of the members of the State Councils in each state and the modalities of their election. Most states have only a single parliamentary council that both enacts laws and decides State constitutional issues. In at least two States, however, second legislative houses have been established to decide State constitutional issues, similar to the role of the Federal House of Federation.[31] Where they exist at the state level, these separate constitutional decision-making parliamentary bodies are known as the House of Nationalities.

2.3. Executive Institutions

2.3.1. The Federal Executive The Prime Minister

The highest executive powers of the federal government are vested in the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers, who are accountable to the HPR.[32] The Prime Minister is elected from among members of the HPR and is not subject to a term limit. The Prime Minister has extensive powers, akin to those of presidents in presidential systems and has the following powers and functions:[33] The Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers along with the Prime Minister is vested with the highest executive authority. The Council of Ministers is comprised of the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister, Ministers and other members as may be determined by law. The Council of Ministers has the following powers and functions:[34]

The Council of Ministers currently consists of 21 Ministries and 1 commission, namely:

Each of these ministry offices have the power to enact regulations in accordance with powers granted by the HPR in proclamations. Various authorities, commissions, and offices under these ministries further enact Directives and Orders detailing out the regulations of their respective ministries. However, the National Bank of Ethiopia can issue its own directives. It is an autonomous institution that is directly accountable to the Prime Minister. In addition to its role in regulating and managing the national monetary policy and currency, the Bank issues a number of important Directives and Circulars in the areas of banking and insurance as well as microfinance businesses. [35] The President

The President is the head of state and has very limited powers. Similar to other constitutional presidents and monarchs, he formally signs all new laws coming from the HPR. [36] Other powers include appointing ambassadors and other envoys, and granting pardon. [37]

2.3.2. The State Executive

The state administration constitutes the highest organ of executive power.[38] The state administration has a Chief Administrator, or Regional Administrator as its chief executive officer. The Chief Administrator is elected among members of the State Council by a political party or coalition of political parties that constitutes a majority in the State Council. The Chief Administrator establishes the state executive council and nominates its members. The members of the state executive council (the Chief Administrator, Deputy Administrator and the heads of the various regional bureaus) need to be confirmed by the State Council. State executive councils have the power to implement laws and policies enacted by the State Council and the federal legislature. The state executive structure is replicated in lower state administration levels such as Zones and Weredas (districts).

2.4. Judicial Institutions

2.4.1. Federal Courts Structure and Jurisdiction

Ethiopia has a dual judicial system with two parallel court structures:[39] the federal courts and the state courts with their own independent structures and administrations. Judicial powers, both at federal and state levels, are vested in the courts. The FDRE Constitution states that supreme federal judicial authority is vested in the Federal Supreme Court and empowers the HPR to decide by a two-third-majority vote to establish subordinate federal courts, as it deems necessary, nationwide or in some parts of the country.[40] There is a Federal Supreme Court that sits in Addis Ababa with national jurisdiction. Federal High Courts have been established in five States.[41] Federal courts at any level may hold circuit hearings at any place within the State or “area designated for its jurisdiction” if deemed “necessary for the efficient rendering of justice.”[42] Each High Court has a civil, criminal, and labour division with a presiding judge and two other judges in each division.

The Federal Supreme Court includes a Cassation Division with the power to review and overturn decisions issued by lower federal courts, the Supreme Court itself in its regular division, and State Supreme Courts containing fundamental errors of law. Besides, judicial decisions of the Cassation Division of the Federal Supreme Court on the interpretation of laws are binding on federal as well as state courts.[43]

The Federal Courts Proclamation allocates subject-matter jurisdiction to federal courts on the basis of three principles: laws, parties and places. It stipulates that federal courts shall have jurisdiction over, first, “cases arising under the Constitution, federal laws and international treaties,’ second, over parties specified in federal laws.”[44] Article 3(3) of the Federal Courts Proclamation states that federal courts shall have judicial power in places specified in the FDRE Constitution or in federal laws. Article 5 of the same proclamation stipulates that federal courts shall have civil jurisdiction over “cases to which a federal government organ is a party; suits between persons permanently residing in different regions; cases regarding the liability of officials or employees of the federal government in connection with their official responsibilities or duties; cases to which a foreign national is a party; suits involving matters of nationality; suits relating to business organizations registered or formed under the jurisdiction of federal government organs; suits regarding negotiable instruments; suits relating to patent, literary and artistic-ownership rights; and suits regarding insurance policy and application for habeas corpus.”

Article 4 of the Federal Courts Proclamation bestows upon federal courts criminal jurisdiction over: offences against the national state; offences against foreign states; offences against the law of nations; offences against the fiscal and economic interests of the federal govern­ment; offences regarding counterfeit currency; offences regarding forgery of instruments of the federal government; offences regarding the security and freedom of communication services operating within more than one region or at international level; offences against the safety of aviation; offences of which foreigners are victims or defendants; offences regarding illicit trafficking of dangerous drugs; offences falling under the jurisdiction of courts of different regions or under the jurisdiction of both the federal and regional courts as well as concurrent offences and offences committed by officials and employees of the federal government in connection with their official responsibilities or duties.[45]

NOTE: Important cases are selected and compiled by the Federal Supreme Court. These compilations are in Amharic (the national working language) and are sold by the Federal Supreme Court. Otherwise copies of cases can be acquired from the registrar of the court where they are finally settled.

More information can be found at the Federal Courts of Ethiopia website where one can find Cassations decisions by volume, file number, and revised Cassation decisions). Abyssinialaw.com offers access to laws and court decisions (Cassation decisions by volume as well as a searchable database, and FFI Court Commercial Bench decisions). LawEthiopia also offers access to legislation (federal, regional, and codes) and court decisions (organized by subject matter, by reporter, and pulling constitutional court decisions together). Accountability and Administration

The FDRE Constitution provides that the President and Vice-President of the Federal Supreme Court shall be appointed by the House of Peoples’ Representatives upon the recommendation of the Prime Minister; other federal judges are appointed by the HPR from a list of candidates selected by the Federal Judicial Administration Commission.[46]

The FDRE Constitution prohibits the removal of judges before retirement age except for violation of disciplinary rules, gross incompetence or inefficiency, or illness that prevents the judge from carrying out his responsibilities.[47] Such determinations are made by the Federal Judicial Administration Commission, which likewise decide issues of appointment, promotions, disciplinary complaints, and other conditions of employment.

The Federal Judicial Administration Commission is a ten-member body comprising of six Federal judges and three members of the House of Representatives.[48] The Commission is composed of the following members:[49]

The Commission has the power, inter alia, to select candidates for federal judgeship; to provide its opinion on regional appointments; issue the Code of Conduct, Rules of Disciplinary Procedure and Performance Appraisal criteria for federal judges; oversee the administration of federal judges including their appointment and dismissal from office; and to conduct periodic evaluation of the judicial activities of federal courts and judges.[50]

The day-to-day operations of the Federal Courts in Ethiopia are supervised and managed by court presidents, who therefore act both as judges and administrators with responsibilities and obligations towards the President of the Supreme Court.

2.4.2. State Courts Structure and Jurisdiction

The FDRE Constitution provides for the establishment of three levels of state courts: the State Supreme Court (which also incorporates a cassation bench to review fundamental errors of state law), High Courts, and First-Instance Courts.[51] State Supreme Courts sit in the capital cities of the respective states and have final judicial authority over matters of State law and jurisdiction. State High Courts sit in the zonal regions of states while State First Instance Courts sit at the lowest administrative levels of states.

The FDRE Constitution delegates to State Supreme Courts and State High Courts the jurisdictions of the Federal High Court and Federal First Instance Courts respectively.[52] In order to guarantee the right of appeal of the parties to a case, decisions rendered by a State High Court exercising the jurisdiction of the Federal First Instance Court are appealable to the State Supreme Court while decisions rendered by a State Supreme Court on federal matters are appealable to the Federal Supreme Court.[53] Accountability and Administration

The state systems of judicial administration and accountability mirror the federal process. The state governments have also established Judicial Administration Commissions with a view to safeguarding the independence and accountability of State Courts. With respect to appointment, the President and Vice-President of the State Supreme Court are recommended by the President (Chief Executive Officer) of the states and appointed by the State Council; all other State judges are appointed by the State Council based upon recommendations made by the State Judicial Administration Commission. Similar guarantees of tenure of judges exist in State Judicial Administration Commissions.

2.4.3. Municipal Courts

The Addis Ababa City Charter creates two levels of City Courts exercising municipal jurisdiction: First Instance and Appellate Courts.[54] It also establishes the following bodies with judicial power: the Labour Relations Board, Civil Service Tribunal, Tax Appeal Commission, and Urban Land Clearance Matters Appeal Commission. [55] There is no Supreme Court in the municipal system, although a cassation bench is included within the Appellate Court. Cassation review of the Appellate Court decisions can be brought before the Federal Supreme Court, which also decides jurisdictional conflicts between the city and federal courts.[56] The Addis Ababa City Courts have civil, criminal and petty offence jurisdictions.[57] The State of Oromia has also established similar Municipal Courts in cities with more than 10, 000 people.

2.4.4. Social Courts

The Addis Ababa City Charter established Kebele[58] Social Courts to hear property and monetary claims up to 5,000 birr.[59] Social Court decisions can be appealed to the First-Instance City Courts.[60] If there is a fundamental error of law in the decisions of the First-Instance City Courts on appeal from Social Courts, it can be a ground to lodge cassation before the Appellate Court of the City.[61] Some states have also established Social Courts that handle small claims and minor disputes. [62]

2.4.5. Religious Courts

The FDRE Constitution provides the framework for the independent validity of non-state or unofficial laws such as customary and religious laws in some fields of social activity. Article 34 (5) of the FDRE provides that: “This Constitution shall not preclude the adjudication of disputes relating to personal and family laws in accordance with religious and customary laws, with the consent of the parties to the dispute. Particulars shall be determined by law.” Article 78(5) of the FDRE Constitution also stipulates that: “Pursuant to sub-Article (5) of Article 34 the House of Peoples’ Representatives and State Councils can establish or give official recognition to religious and customary courts that had state recognition and functioned prior to the adoption of the Constitution shall be organized on the basis of recognition accorded to them by this Constitution.” As can be gleaned from the above-cited constitutional provisions, formal legal pluralism under Ethiopia’s new constitutional order is confined to certain matters: only personal status and family law.

To date, Sharia Courts that apply Islamic law are the only religious courts that have been officially established both at the federal and state levels. Sharia Courts apply only Islamic law and have their own appellate system. They are required, however, to follow the procedural rules of ordinary courts and receive their budgets from the state. Parties must voluntarily submit to the jurisdiction of these courts, or the dispute should be redirected to the regular courts. Proclamation 188/1999[63] spells out the circumstances under which Islamic law can be applied by Sharia courts at the federal level. The Sharia Courts at the federal level have been reconstituted in to a three-level judicial structure, distinct from the regular federal judicial structure. These are: (1) Federal First-Instance Court of Sharia, (2) Federal High Court of Sharia, and (3) Federal Supreme Court of Sharia. Like the federal state judicial organs, all the federal Sharia courts have been made accountable to the Federal Judicial Administration Commission. All of the State Councils have also given official recognition to Sharia Courts within their respective jurisdictions.

Article 4(1) of Proclamation No. 188/1999 stipulates that Federal Courts of Sharia have common jurisdiction over the following matters:

Sub-Article (2) of the same reiterates the principle of parties’ consent as the basis for the adjudicatory jurisdiction of Sharia courts. Sharia courts can assume jurisdiction “only where... the parties have expressly consented to be adjudicated under Islamic law.” Tacit consent has also been provided for in addition to express consent. Pursuant to Article 5(2) of Proclamation No. 188/1999, failure to appear before the Sharia court amounts to consent to the court’s jurisdiction on condition that the defaulting party has been duly served with summons. Thus, the suit will be heard ex parte. Article 5(3) of the same provides that in the absence of clear consent of the parties for the case to be adjudicated by the court of Sharia before which the case is brought, such court shall transfer the case to the regular federal court having jurisdiction. Moreover, once a choice of forum has been made by the plaintiff and the defendant has consented to the jurisdiction of such a forum, under no circumstance can either party have their case transferred to a regular court.[64]

2.4.6. Customary Courts

Customary courts are not established by law, despite their constitutional recognition. They are only recognized, not created, by law. The authority of these courts stems from tradition and local customs. These courts have evolved from traditional elder councils, which do not have legal authority, but carry moral force and still operate widely as primary decision-makers in rural areas throughout Ethiopia. To name but a few of the customary courts: the Shemagelle in Amhara, the Bayito and Abo Gereb in Tigray, and theLuba Basa in Oromia. In addition, the choice whether to take a dispute to regular courts or to one of those non-official forums is entirely left to the parties.

3. Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms

Alternative Dispute Resolution Mechanisms as they are applied here refer to the mechanisms of resolving differences through processes other than formal litigation in courts. This section outlines the mechanisms found in formal laws and institutions rather than customary/ traditional methods.

3.1. The 1960 Ethiopian Civil Code (Civil Code)

3.1.1. Conciliation

The Civil Code Title XX, Chapter 1, Section 2, Article 3318 (1) defines conciliation as a process “where parties may entrust a third party with the mission of bringing them together and, if possible, negotiating a settlement between them.” The definition shows that conciliation is a voluntary process of mediation based on negotiation between two or more parties for the amicable settlement of their dispute. Moreover, Articles 3319 and 3320 of the Civil Code provide the duties of the parties to the negotiation and the conciliator. Article 3319 of the Civil Code states that: (1) The parties shall provide the conciliator with all the information necessary for the performance of his duties; (2) They shall refrain from any act that would make the conciliator’s task more difficult or impossible.

In a similar parlance, Article 3320 of the Civil Code provides the duties of the conciliator as follows: (1) Before expressing his findings, the conciliator shall give the parties an opportunity of fully stating their views;(2) he shall draw up the terms of a compromise or, if none can be reached, a memorandum of non-conciliation; and (3) he shall communicate these documents to the parties.

The Civil Code further provides that the conciliator shall carry out his/her duties within the period of time fixed by the parties. Where the parties did not fix any time limit, the law provides that the conciliator shall finish his work within six months from the date of her/his appointment. The law further declares that the parties are not allowed to bring their case to the court before the expiry of the fixed period of time unless the conciliator draws up a memorandum of non-conciliation. This means in effect the parties cannot take their case to a court before a negative or positive outcome of the process of conciliation to which they have submitted themselves voluntarily (see Article 3321 (1) and (3) of the Civil Code). As indicated in Article 3320 (2), the conciliation process can end up in drawing a non-conciliation memorandum (a negative outcome) or it may end up in drawing a compromise (a positive outcome). Where the outcome is a compromise, the meaning and legal consequences of a compromise are provided under Title XX, Chapter 1, and Section 1 of the Civil Code. The following section (B) analyses the relevant provisions on compromise.

3.1.2. Compromise

As indicated above, conciliation may result in compromise. The Civil Code defines ‘compromise’ as a mechanism where parties to a dispute ‘terminate an existing dispute’ or prevent future dispute ‘through mutual concessions’ (Article 3307). In terms of format, the Civil Code provides that a compromise should be made in a form of contracts. That means a compromise document drawn up as a result of the conciliation process described in the section above should be made in writing and the parties to such compromise will be bound by the terms only when they declare their acceptance in writing. Article 276 of the Ethiopian Civil Procedure Code provides the content of a compromise agreement. Once a compromise is properly drawn and accepted by the parties, the Civil Code declares that “ [a]s between the parties, the compromise shall have the force of res judicata without appeal” (see Article 3312(1)). This means the agreement of the parties that resulted from the conciliation process is taken as final and binding. The strong position of the Civil Code can also be inferred from its declaration that a compromise can be invalidated only when there is a fundamental mistake (where for instance the agreement of one of the parties was based on a false document) or when there was a court judgment on the same issue that was subject of the compromise and when such judgment was unknown to at least one of the parties. The compromise is considered void ab initio, where it relates to a contractual agreement the object of which is contrary to the law or public morality (see Article 3316).

3.1.3. Arbitration

The Civil Code recognizes the procedure of arbitration to resolve cases out of the formal courts of law. The provisions of the Civil Code (Articles 3325—3345) provide the details on arbitration.

3.2 The Labour Proclamation No.377/2003 and the Labour Conciliation Office

3.2.1. The Labour Proclamation No.377/2003

The Labour Proclamation No.377/2003 is a law enacted by the federal government that recognizes and protects the rights of employees and employers and governs their relationship.[65] The Labour Proclamation provides for the possibility of conciliation between parties in a labour dispute. Article 136(3) of the Labour Proclamation defines labour dispute as “any controversy arising between a worker and an employer or trade union and employers in respect of the application of law, collective agreement, work rules, employment contract or customary rules and also any disagreement arising during collective bargaining or in connection with collective agreement.”

Article 136(1) of the Labour Proclamation defines conciliation as “the activity conducted by a private person or persons appointed by the Ministry at the joint request of the parties for the purpose of bringing the parties together and seeking to arrange between them voluntary settlement of a labour dispute which their own efforts alone do not produce.”[66]

The above definition shows that conciliation is a mediation process between parties with the objective of finding amicable settlement of their labour dispute. The Labour Proclamation does not provide any mandatory procedure that should be followed by a conciliator in finding amicable settlement to labour disputes. In this regard, Article 142(2) of the Labour Proclamation generally provides that the “conciliator shall endeavor to bring about a settlement by all reasonable means as may seem appropriate to that end.” The conciliator is expected to find amicable settlement to a labour dispute within 30 days. If it is not possible to find amicable settlement, the conciliator shall write a report on the dispute and provide the reasons why amicable settlement of the dispute was not possible. Once a report of non-conciliation is drawn by the conciliator, any of the parties can take the case to the Labour Relations Board or the Labour court for judicial settlement.

3.2.2. The Labour Conciliation Office

As indicated above, the Labour Conciliation Office is established pursuant to the Labour Proclamation No.377/2003 and attempts to find amicable settlement of labour disputes based on the voluntary submission of the parties to its mediation efforts. It is also pointed out that the Labour Proclamation No.377/2003 does not provide a procedure to be followed during the mediation process. Nonetheless, a visit to the Labour Conciliation Office at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs in 2010 revealed that the Office follows the following written internal procedure in the mediation process:[67]

According to the information gathered from the Labour Conciliation Office at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs a little, more than half of the labour disputes that went through the mediation process are settled amicably.

3.3. The Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman Establishment (Amendment) Proclamation No. 1142/2019

Article 26 of the Ombudsman Proclamation provides that “[a] complaint may be lodged by a person claiming to have suffered from Maladministration or by a third party.” After a complaint is filed, the institution of the Ombudsman may launch its investigation and examine evidence presented in support of the complaint. Once investigation is done, the Ombudsman Proclamation provides amicable settlement as the first line of remedy. Thus, Article 29 (1) of the Ombudsman Proclamation declares that the institution shall make all the effort it can summon to settle a complaint brought before it amicably.

Nonetheless, the Ombudsman Proclamation does not provide a procedure on the amicable settlement of administrative disputes.

3.4. The Ethiopian Human Rights Establishment Proclamation 210/2000

In similar parlance with the Ombudsman proclamation, Article 26(1) of the Ethiopian Human Rights Establishment Proclamation provides that the Human Rights Commission shall make all the effort it can summon to settle a complaint brought before it amicably. Again, there is no procedure provided for the amicable settlement of disputes. In practice, investigators of the Commission have informally conducted mediation processes to resolve some of the cases that came to their attention.

3.5. Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce and Sectoral Associations

The Addis Ababa Chamber of Commerce was established with the view to promote trade and investment. It established the Arbitration Institute in 2002 in order to provide arbitration and other ADR services. It offers the following services to its customers:

4. Law Enforcement Agencies

4.1. Federal Institutions

4.1.1. Federal Attorney General

The Federal Attorney General is part of the executive branch of the Federal Government. The Federal Attorney General has the primary authority of prosecution of cases falling under the jurisdiction of federal courts. Article 6 of Federal Attorney General Establishment Proclamation No. 943/2016 enumerates the powers and duties of the Attorney General. Its powers include:

Article 10 of the Council of Ministers Regulation 44/98 deals with the accountability of the Federal Prosecutors and according to Article 17 (2) of Federal Attorney General Establishment Proclamation No. 943/2016 stipulate that prosecutors shall be accountable to the Attorney General as well as to their immediate superior and division head. As the ultimate superior of all prosecutors, the Attorney General may thus initiate a specific criminal investigation or stop another. The Attorney General also has the authority to reverse a decision of a prosecutor or to dismiss a pending case.

4.1.2. The Federal Police Commission

The Federal Police Commission is established by the Federal Police Commission Proclamation No.720/2011. The Commission is accountable to the Ministry of Federal Affairs (now the Ministry of Federal & Pastoralist Development Affairs).[68] Article 6 of Proclamation No.720/2011 provides that the Federal Police Commission has, inter alia, the following powers and functions:

4.1.3. The Federal Prisons Commission

The Federal Prisons Commission is established by Proclamation No.365/2003 as an institution and according to “Federal Prisons Commission Establishment (Amendment) Proclamation No. 945/2016 accountable to the Attorney General. The objectives of the Commission are to admit and ward prisoners, provide them with reformative and rehabilitative services in order to enable them to make attitudinal and behavioral changes, and to help them become law abiding, peaceful and productive citizens. The Federal Prisons Commission has powers and functions akin to most prison facilities.

4.2. State Institutions

4.2.1. The State Justice Bureaus

The State Justice Bureaus mirror the Federal Attorney General in their structure and mandate. The State Justice Bureaus are part of the executive branch of the State government. They have similar powers and functions with that of the Federal Attorney General. The head of a State Justice Bureau has similar powers with the Federal Minister of Justice.

4.2.2. The State Police and Prison Commissions

States are allowed to establish their own Police and Prison Commissions.[69] The Police and Prison Commissions of the states are accountable to the State Justice Bureaus. Even though the State Police and Prison Commissions are functionally independent, they are obliged to cooperate with their federal counterparts in order to maintain improved conditions of prisons across the nation.[70]

5. Sources of Ethiopian Law

5.1. Federal Laws

5.1.1. The FDRE Constitution

The Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE Constitution) was adopted in Addis Ababa by the Constitutional Assembly on December 8, 1994 and came into force on August 21, 1995. The FDRE Constitution is the supreme law of the land and, as such, all laws of the country derive their legal validity from the Constitution. The FDRE Constitution contains 106 provisions 29 of which are dedicated to the recognition of the fundamental political, economic, social, and cultural rights of citizens.

NOTE: All laws in Ethiopia (including the codes) are published by the state owned Berhanena Selam printing press. The laws are sold at stores owned by the press in Addis Ababa and in other parts of the country. Laws are also available online on the website of the Parliament (in Amharic).

5.1.2. International Treaties

Article 9(4) of the FDRE Constitution provides that “all international agreements ratified by Ethiopia are an integral part of the law of the land.” Moreover, Article 13(2) of the FDRE Constitution provides that the fundamental rights and freedoms recognized under Chapter 3 of Constitution shall be interpreted in a manner conforming to International Covenants on Human Rights and international instruments adopted by Ethiopia. Ethiopia has ratified numerous international and regional treaties. For instance, Ethiopia has ratified the [Banjul] African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights,[71] the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights,[72] the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,[73] the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women,[74] the Convention on the Rights of the Child,[75] the 1965 Convention on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination,[76] the 1982 Convention Against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment,[77] and the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.[78]

5.1.3. Codified Laws and Statutes

During the period between 1957 and 1965, six comprehensive legal codes were enacted in Ethiopia. A new Penal Code was introduced in 1957, which largely drew upon its counterpart in Switzerland. In the 1960's, in rapid succession, a large body of law was introduced into Ethiopia, in the form of five codes. First, the Civil, Commercial and Maritime Codes in 1960, followed by the Criminal Procedure Code in 1961, and finally, the Civil Procedure Code in 1965. All of the six codes were promulgated in the form of proclamations as extraordinary issues in the Negarit Gazetta, the official legal gazette in place for the publication of Ethiopian laws since 1942. In addition, a Revised Family Code was promulgated in 2000 and has been in force only within the federal jurisdiction. A new Criminal Code has replaced the Penal Code of 1957 and has been in force throughout the federation since 2005.

5.1.4. Decrees, Regulations and Directives

The Council of Ministers of the Federal Government can issue regulations. In practice the federal ministries issue directives. The mandate to issue regulations and directives of the Council of Ministers and Ministries respectively emanates from the House of Peoples’ Representatives as expressed in primary legislations. Moreover, the Council of Ministers of the Federal Government is also empowered “to decree a state of emergency should an external invasion, a breakdown of law and order which endangers the constitutional order and which cannot be controlled by the regular law enforcement agencies and personnel, a natural disaster, or an epidemic occur.”[79]

5.1.5. Precedent

A precedent is a judicial decision, normally recorded in a law report, used as an authority for reaching the same decision in subsequent cases by virtue of the doctrine of stare decisis. The doctrine of stare decisis had been absent from the Ethiopian legal system until it was introduced very recently by virtue Proclamation 454/2005. Pursuant to Article 2(1) of this Proclamation, a judicial decision by the Cassation Division of the Federal Supreme Court on interpretation of a law is binding on Federal and State Courts at all levels.

5.2. State Laws

State Constitutions: Article 52 (2) (b) of the FDRE Constitution provides that States can promulgate their own constitution. In practice, all States of the federation have promulgated State Constitutions. The State Constitutions declare their supremacy within each State.

State Proclamations: The above provision of the FDRE Constitution also allows States to issue proclamations on matters falling under their jurisdiction. For instance, the States of Tigray, Amhara, Oromia and the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People have enacted their own Family Codes.

State Decrees, Regulations, and Directives: State Executive Councils are empowered to decree a Statewide state of emergency should a natural disaster or an epidemic occur.[80] State regulations and directives are issued by State Executive Councils and State Bureaus by virtue of the power delegated to them by State Councils, the State legislature.

5.3. Hierarchy

The FDRE Constitution is the supreme law of the land. It has primacy over all Federal as well as State laws. Article 9(1) of the FDRE Constitution proclaims that any law, customary practice or a decision of an organ of state or public official, which contravenes the Constitution, shall be no effect. At the federal level, international agreements and proclamations have the same status as they are issued by the Federal legislature. These are followed by Decrees, Regulations and Directives respectively. When Decrees are adopted by the House of Representatives, it becomes a proclamation. The same order applies to State laws.

5.4. Publications

The Federal and State laws described above are issued through the official publications indicated below. The first row indicates the source of the laws while the second row indicates the name of the official publication.

Source of Law

Name of Publication

Federal Laws

Federal Negarit Gazeta

Addis Ababa City

Addis Negarit Gazeta

Dire Dawa City

Dire Negarit Gazeta

The State of Oromia

Megeleta Oromia

The State of Tigray

Negarit Gazeta Beherawe Mengiste Tigray

The State of Amhara

Zikre Hig

The State of Benshangul/Gumuz

Lisane Hig

The State of Harari People

Harari Negarit Gazeta’

The State of Afar


The State of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and People

Debub Negarit Gazeta

6. National Human Rights Institutions

6.1. The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission

Article 55 of the FDRE Constitution requires the Federal government to establish a Human Rights Commission and an Office of the Ombudsman. Proclamation 210/2000 was enacted to provide for the establishment of the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission. Article 5 of Proclamation 210/2000 provides that the objective of the Commission is “to educate the public be aware of human rights, see to it that human rights are protected, respected and fully enforced as well as to have the necessary measure taken where they are found to have been violated.” According to Article 6 of Proclamation No.210/200, the Ethiopian Human Rights Commission has the following powers and duties:

6.2. The Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman

The establishment of the Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman is set out in Article 55(15) of the FDRE Constitution. In line with this provision of the Constitution, the House of Peoples’ Representatives enacted Proclamation 211/2000 that established the Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman (EIO). The EIO is designed to prevent and remedy arbitrary or unjust administrative actions of the executive vis-à-vis its citizens, and to provide an easily accessible means to the public to assure that basic rights are not violated by the executive without an avenue for complaint investigation and redress. According to Article 5 of Proclamation 211/2000, the objective of the EIO is “to see to bringing about good governance that is of high quality, efficient and transparent, and are based on the rule of law, by way of ensuring that citizens' rights and benefits provided for by law are respected by organs of the executive.”

Article 6 of Proclamation 211/2000 stipulates that the EIO shall have the powers and duties to:

7. Legal Education

Currently the following state universities offer legal education.

8. Legal Periodicals

Currently the following legal periodicals are published by universities and other institutions:

NOTE: All journals of the School of Law at Addis Ababa University are sold at the Book Center, Sidist Kilo Campus, Addis Ababa University. Journals published by the other universities are also available at their premises.

9. Useful Links

[1]This is a 2018 estimate by the United Nations.

[2] World Bank Data: Ethiopia (2019 estimates).

[3] A 2010-2018 estimate by the UN.

[4] See the 2007 Population and Housing Census Results of Ethiopia published by the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia Population Census Commission in November 2008, Addis Ababa for the list of ethnic groups of the country.

[5] See Bahru Zewde, A History of Modern Ethiopia, 1855-1991 (2001, Ohio University Press) for the modern history of the country.

[6] A word for ‘committee’ in Amharic.

[7] Eritrea became an independent State in 1993.

[8] Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia [FDRE] Constitution Art. 8(1).

[9] FDRE Constitution Art. 9(1).

[10] FDRE Constitution Art. 13(2).

[11] See FDRE Constitution Articles 14-28 addressing Human Rights and Articles 29-44 addressing Democratic Rights.

[12] FDRE Constitution Art. 47(1).

[13] FDRE Constitution Art. 51 and 52.

[14] FDRE Constitution, Article 52 enumerates the powers and functions of the member states of the federation. All powers not expressly given to the federal government alone, or concurrently to the federal and state governments, are reserved to the States.

[15] FDRE Constitution, Article 50 (5).

[16] Proclamation No.1/ 1995, Proclamation of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (FDRE Constitution), Article 53.

[17] FDRE Constitution, Article 54(1).

[18] FDRE Constitution, Article 54(3).

[19] FDRE Constitution, Articles 45 and 56.

[20] FDRE Constitution, Article 70.

[21] FDRE Constitution, Article 55. See Article 51 of the FDRE Constitution for the federal jurisdiction.

[22] FDRE Constitution, Article 61(1).

[23] FDRE Constitution, Article 61(2).

[24] FDRE Constitution, Article 61(3).

[25] FDRE Constitution, Article 62(1).

[26] FDRE Constitution Art. 62(1).

[27] See FDRE Constitution, Article 62 for the powers and functions of the HOF.

[28] FDRE Constitution, Article 50 (3).

[29] FDRE Constitution, Article 50 (5).

[30] FDRE Constitution, Article 50 (5).

[31] The State of the Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples and the State of Harari People have established Nationalities Council.

[32] FDRE Constitution, Articles 72-73.

[33] FDRE Constitution, Article 74.

[34] FDRE Constitution, Article 77.

[35] National Bank of Ethiopia.

[36] See FDRE Constitution, Article 55 for the powers and functions of the HPR.

[37] FDRE Constitution Art.71.

[38] FDRE Constitution, Article 50(6).

[39] In addition to these courts, the FDRE Constitution allows the establishment of Religious and Customary courts.

[40] FDRE Constitution, Article 78(2).

[41] See Federal High Court Establishment Proclamation No.322/2003. Federal High Courts have been placed in the following states: Afar, Benshngul/Gumuz, Gambela, Somali, and SNNPR.

[42] Federal Courts Proclamation 25/1996,as amended by Federal Courts (Amendment) Proclamation 138/1998, Federal Courts (Amendment) Proclamation 254/2001, Federal Courts (Amendment) Proclamation 321/2003, and Federal Courts Proclamation (Reamendment) Proclamation 454/2005 (Federal Courts Proclamation), Article 24(3).

[43] Federal Courts Proclamation Re-Amendment Proclamation 454/2005, Article 2(1).

[44] Federal Courts Proclamation 25/1996, Article 3.

[45] Federal Courts Proclamation 25/1996, Article 4.

[46] FDRE Constitution, Article 81.

[47] FDRE Constitution, Article 79(4).

[48]Amended Federal Judicial Administration Establishment Proclamation 684/2010 (Proclamation 684/2010), Article 5.

[49] Proclamation 684/2010, Article 5.

[50] Proclamation 684/2010, Article 6/1.

[51] FDRE Constitution, Article 78(3).

[52] FDRE Constitution Article 78(2).

[53] FDRE Constitution Article 80 (5) and (6).

[54] Addis Ababa City Government Revised Charter Proclamation 361/2003 (Proclamation 361/2003), Article 43/1.

[55] Addis Ababa City Government Revised Charter Proclamation No. 361/2003, Art. 40, Federal Negarit Gazeta No. 86, 9th year, 24 July 2003 (full text of the Addis Ababa City Government Revised Charter Proclamation No. 361/2003 in PDF and English available for download).

[56] Addis Ababa City Government Revised Charter Proclamation 361/2003, Article 42.

[57] See Article 41 of Proclamation 361/2003 cum. Addis Ababa City Government Revised Charter (Amendment) Proclamation No. 408/2004, Art. 2 for the full list of matters under the jurisdiction of Addis Ababa City Courts.

[58] Proclamation 361/2003 Article 2(6) defines Kebele as the third administrative stratum of the city and a unit of a sub-city.

[59] Proclamation 361/2003 Article 50(1).

[60] Proclamation 361/2003 Article 50(3).

[61] Proclamation 361/2003Article 50(4).

[62] The Federal States that have established Social Courts are Tigray, Amhara, Oromia, Southern Nations, Nationalities and Peoples and Harari.

[63] Federal Courts of Sharia Consolidation Proclamation No 188/1999.

[64] Proclamation No. 188/1999, Article 5(4).

[65] The FDRE Constitution, Article 55 (1) and (3) provides that the mandate of enacting a labour code be given to the Federal Government.

[66] Ministry refers to the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

[67] This procedure has been obtained from the Labour Conciliation Office at the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs.

[68] Ethiopian Federal Police Commission Establishment Proclamation No. 720/2011 Article 3.

[69] See FDRE Constitution, Article 52.

[70] See Federal Prisons Commission Establishment Proclamation No.365/2003, Article 34.

[71] 15 June 1998.

[72] 11 June 1993.

[73] 11 June 1993.

[74] 9 September 1981.

[75] 14 May 1991.

[76] 23 June 1976.

[77] 14 March 1994.

[78] 1 July 1949.

[79] FDRE Constitution, Article 93 1(a).

[80] FDRE Constitution Article 93(1) (b).