Yonas Mebrahtu /Germany
Thomas Jefferson once remarked that ‘The dignity and stability of government in all its branches, the morals of the people and every blessing of society depend so much upon an upright and skillful administration of justice, that the judicial power ought to be distinct from both the legislative and executive and independent upon both…’.That implies that the functional and administrational independence guarantees public confidence and governmental legitimacy. On this premises, despite remarkable rhetoric commitments in different regimes, bestowing de facto and genuine judicial independence in Ethiopia had been as horrifying as opening the Pandora box.
Nonchalant to its precursors, one of the first measures of the ERPDF thugs in 1991 – when they took power – was to dismiss well experienced and qualified judges throughout the country for the mere fact that they were part of the previous regime-Derg. Soon after EPRDF took power, reports from the then Ethiopian Human Rights Council revealed, more than 100 judges were automatically dismissed across the country. In 1996, nearly one hundred (100) judges – whom regretfully more than half of them were LLB holders- from Addis Ababa and Dire Dawa were purged under the guise of structural adjustment despite the clear constitutional provision of Security of Tenure. Similarly, high number of judges in Amhara and 275 from Oromya were victims of the summary dismissal during this time. Alas, almost all of them, save as some Addis Ababa University graduates joined the judiciary, were replaced by three to six months trainee janissaries and former EPRDF army members certified from the Cadre school –Civil Service College. This was how the justice house began to completely fall under the absolute control of TPLF and its henchmen and finally maimed functionally. This was the beginning of politicization of the judiciary.
Even after that, the Government used various strategies to ensure the strong executive presence in the judiciary more importantly in politically motivated cases. To say few, from automatic dismissal of judges to direct appointment of selected judges in important political cases, surveillances on judges, direct and indirect forms of pressures are some of the government interference mechanisms. Accordingly, a sizeable number of judges –with high caliber and who objects the unleashed interference of the government, were laid off. Judge Nuru Seid, for instance, an experienced and a man of uncompromised ethics who served as judge in the red terror trial, has been dismissed against the clear constitutional provision for the mere fact that he released the alleged terrorist suspects from Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) on bail, in fact not to mention the dismissal of the gallantry judge Birtukan Medekisa.
As modern interference approach, the Ethiopian Government specifically appoints similar faces (judges) for political-oriented cases. As of 1992 G.c, one can hardly miss the arrogant Judge Leul Gebremariam in almost all political and terrorism cases including a bundle of Oromo cases(i.e OLF (Oromo Liberation Front)) and of the famous and controversial Tewdros Kassahun (Tedy Afro) case. Looking at his track record of ruthless conviction rate of politicians and journalists, I daresay, he is equally as criminal as his TPLF masters. True enough, this approach completely destroys one of the hub principles of criminal litigation- unpredictability of judgments.
Having this interference history of the TPLF, I was not in fact surprised when I heard the approval of the Ethiopian parliament on the recommendation submitted to it by the judicial administrative council for the dismissal of Judge Gizachew Mitiku on 8 February 2016. Rather what intrigues me, as it did to everyone, is the justification for dismissal –lack of loyalty to the constitution or sometime referred it ‘don’t believe in Constitution’ as if this political document is God-written religious book. As person, I know Gizachew since his time as a student in Haromaya University in 1997, and I have learned later on that his solid and uncompromised principle and his revered character challenges the EPRDF smooth manipulation process of the judiciary branch, which eventually appears to be the main reason for dismissal. Though the dismissal was expected from the very moment of his suspension perhaps a year ago, I wonder how this numb parliament approve the allegations of constitutional loyalty even without slightly modifying the reason, in which from the very outset it shouldn’t have been an accusation at all. Surprisingly enough, Judge Gizachew Mitiku was a chairman of Judges Committee – established for the interests of judges- which aptly indicate that he was an honored and dauntless judge even before his colleagues.
Regarding the other reason for the dismissal of the Judge- Ethiopia’s failure to sign Rome statute for the establishment of International criminal Court (ICC) –, it is public fact that Ethiopia fails to sign Rome statute not only, as he stated, to avoid prosecution before the Hague, but also Ethiopia has already opted to sign US bilateral immunity agreement –which imposes an obligation on Ethiopia not to submit any American citizen or national of other country who works for America before the Jurisdiction of ICC. In return, the Ethiopian Government would avoid sanction and enjoy economic and military support so that its power base would be protected.
Paradoxically, on that same day, the rubber stamp parliament has approved the nomination of Judge Berihu Tewoldebirhan as vice president of the Federal High Court –which by any parameter, from what I know about him; he is not qualified for that post. In impersonal observation, from his early student time in Haromaya University and throughout his professional carrier as public prosecutor and judge, he is well known for his talebearer personality and his tendency to manipulate his Tigrean ethnic belongingness. Not surprisingly that this nomination is a reward granted by his TPLF masters for his immense contribution of convicting prominent journalists and opposition members as a public prosecutor. I am of the opinion that the resignation of Tegene Getaneh from his presidency of the Supreme Court might have something to do with this process if not the only.
But still the daunting question is how the state can ensure developed Constitutional jurisprudences and constitutionality, if judges are absolutely nixed from critics of the Constitution-which is the natural function of judges. How can judicial independence be guaranteed without Security of Tenure?
Generally, this is simply an epitome of covert and overt manipulation process of the Judiciary by TPLF government for the last 25 years. Painfully to see, how these morally bankrupt judges would able to convicts brave journalists and opposition political members such as Eskinder Nega,Andualem Arage, Reyout Alemu Wubishet Taye,Bekele Gerba, and others.