National Workshop on Strengthening Constitutional Interpretation in Ethiopia

Front Row (Right to Left)- H.E. Demitu Hamibissa, Speaker of Oromia Regional Council and Member of the Council of Constitutional Inquiry (CCI); H.E. Mohammed Abbagissa, State Minster of Ministry of Justice
Back Row (Left to Right) Hon. Hirit Mihreteab, Vice President of the Supreme Court of Tigrayi state, Hon. Tadele Negisho, President of the Supreme Court of Oromia State, Hon. Tarekegn Abera, President of the Supreme Court of Southern State, Hon. Dessalegn Berhe, President of the Federal First Instance Court and H.E. Asmelash Woldesilassie, Chairperson of the Legal, Justice and Administrative Affairs Standing Committee at the House of People’s Representative.

National Workshop on Strengthening Constitutional Interpretation in Ethiopia.

The Forum of Federations and Ethiopia’s House of Federation (HoF) jointly organized a three-day workshop on "Strengthening Constitutional Interpretation in Ethiopia”.

The workshop held from May 2-4, 2011, is the first of its kind since Ethiopia adopted its federal constitution in 1995. The objective of the workshop was to enhance the constitutional development of the country by strengthening its constitutional interpretation system. Accordingly, the workshop explored international practices as well as reflected on Ethiopia’s experience of the past fifteen years. The constitution established a unique mechanism for constitutional adjudication where the House of Federation, which is the upper house of a bicameral parliament, is mandated to interpret the constitution. The House is supported by a constitutionally established body of mainly legal professionals called the Council of Constitutional Inquiry (CCI). The latter investigates constitutional disputes and provides recommendations to the House for final decision. In his opening speech at the event, H.E. Kassa Tekleberhan, the Speaker of the House of Federation, described the unique design of the mechanism for constitutional adjudication in Ethiopia as ‘necessary to meet its unique challenges.’

Workshop Event

A total of forty six key policy makers and judges from both federal and regional governments attended this very important event. They included members the HoF, members of the CCI, members of the House of People Representative (HOPR), Presidents of Federal Courts, Presidents of State Supreme Courts and other key officials. Representing the Forum was Mr Shawn Houlihan, Senior Director for Africa and Mr. Dassa Bulcha, Program Director of the Ethiopia Office.

From Left to Right H.E. Dr Fasil Nahum, Minster and Legal Advisor to the Prime Minister and Member of the CCI, H.E. Kassa Tekleberhan, the Speaker of the House of Federation, Dr Hashim Tewfik, Former State Minister of Justice and Member of the CCI

The event involved several presentations by international and national scholars/practitioners, plenary discussions and group work to assess priorities. Professor Thomas Fleiner of Switzerland offered his insights as a topical expert, he presented constitutional interpretation from historical and comparative perspectives. He also discussed conceptual and theoretical frameworks related to the subject. Other speakers included two prominent Ethiopian jurists, Drs Fasil Nahum and Hashim Tewfik. Dr Fasil is a Minister and Legal Advisor to the Prime Minister as well as a member of the CCI. He spoke on the contextual and historical factors that led to the adoption of the current system for constitutional interpretation. He underlined the need to continuously evaluate and improve the system with the country’s economy and political development. Dr Hashim, a former State Minister of Justice and a member of CCI, gave a presentation assessing the experience of the CCI and described some of the limitations and challenges.

The workshop identified several policy/legal issues, structural problems, capacity gaps and procedural matters and proposed specific short, medium and long term measures. One of the key issues identified by participants was the extent, jurisdiction and the roles of regular courts, as well as that of the CCI and HoF in enforcing and interpreting the constitution. It was suggested that further discussions and studies need to be conducted on this matter.
In his closing remarks, the Speaker, Mr Kassa Tekleberhan, emphasized the need to actively engage relevant stakeholders in the months and years to come. He also underscored the significance of strengthening constitutional interpretation for the implementation of the ongoing Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) which aims to bring substantial socio-economic transformation. Furthermore, he praised the collaboration his government has with the Forum and thanked it for its efforts to enhance democratic federal governance in Ethiopia.

The workshop was conducted as part of Forum’s Ethiopia program which is funded by the German Foreign Office.

Back to Events