12 July 2018

Ethiopia: Legality, Political Significance of Parties' Removal From Terrorists List

As part of the overall earthshaking reform that is taking place in Ethiopia, Parliament has unanimously approved a resolution that would rescind the designation of political parties that have opted to engage in armed struggle as terrorist organizations. While some scholars argue that the move would further give strength to the ongoing reform aimed at widening up the political, others also question the legality of the action.

It is to be recalled that since the start of the deep reform and the coming to power of Abiy Ahmed (PhD) as the new Prime Minister of Ethiopia, the government has released several imprisoned politicians and activities from jail.

As a culmination to the actions taken so far, Parliament has also unanimously approved a Council of Ministers resolution to rescind "terrorist" tags on Oromo Liberation Front (OLF), Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF), and Patriot Ginbot 7. The decision, as to the government, is aimed at encouraging groups to use peaceful political discourse to achieve political ends.

Sultan Kasim, law lecture at Haromaya University says the removal of the political groups from terrorists' list is part of the ongoing reform in the country.

Sultan states that the problem is the parties that are labeled terrorists have different political outlooks and they were labeled so following the adoption of the anti-terrorism law.

"After passing all the difficult circumstances, the government has decided to pursue national consensuses and widen up the political space. Indeed, the decision should be supported by the law. And that is why Cabinet refers the resolution to parliament."

"Some said that the executive body is violating rules. For me that is not the case as it is the parliament that unanimously approved the resolution."

Sultan further says that the release of political prisoners and the removal of opposition parties from terrorism list have their own political implication. "It is a bold move as the parties were founded by people who have grievances on the political statuesque in the country. They were not engaged in conventional crime," he underlines. "The decision has its own impact on the destiny of the country and in widening the political space."

No doubt, it is a must that such actions are taken based on legal procedures. "But, I believe that these individuals were not imprisoned legally in the first place. They were put in jail because they held different political ideologies."

Former senior diplomat, Teketel Forsido (PhD) agrees that parliament has constitutional right to amend any sort of proclamation. "It has a right to label any organization terrorist or devise a new proclamation in place of another. It can also free political prisoners if there is convincing reasons to do so."

But as to him, what should be taken care of is the fact that the release of prisoners or the removal of groups from terrorist without sufficient reason would complicate future law enforcement and interpretation.

However, if there was a sensible cause, the Council of Ministers and the Parliament have passed a wise political decision. In principle, pardoning political prisoners helps to create national consensus. But, it should not be in a manner that would open the room for others to involve in such activities in the future. It has to be taken in a manner that gives lessons and make such groups learn from their mistakes, Teketle opines.

"Some said that the release of prisoners and the removal of terrorist tags are aimed at widening the political space. But I think the landscape would be widening if and only if a strong political system is put in place."

The national consensus would have been realized, had the incumbent done things accurately. Plus, it would be unthinkable to realize national consensus while some groups do not accept the constitution, he states.

While some believe that such decisions would bring about national consensus, Kahesay Gebereyesus' view is to the contrary.

Kahesay, a political analyst, believes that anti terrorism laws are common everywhere. In Ethiopia, the legislative body proclaimed the law with the belief that the law is relevant to the situation of the country. Parliament had its own reasons for labeling the groups as terrorists in the first place.

He further argues that following the call of the incumbent to all opposition parties to come to the country and struggle peacefully, Ginbot 7 announced a temporarily ceasefire. It means it is not committed to peaceful political struggle permanently. "So how come the government be ready to make peace deals with this group that has been engaged in armed struggle."

"Within a given country, people can be freed from jail, but it should follow the legal procedures. This is because; today's [action] is the foundation for tomorrow. If such actions are taken without following the legal procedure, they would pose a danger in the future." But Sultan has a different view. "If you saw the joy of the people about the release of the politicians, it is clear that they are also supporting the decision of the government. It is a promising move for the prospect of Ethiopian politics," Sultan Kasim emphasizes.

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