An article in a draft criminal procedure law would grant Oromia’s courts undue jurisdiction over crimes against the regional government’s property in the federal capital.
Founded in 1896 during the reign of Emperor Menelik II, Addis Abeba has served as the seat of successive regimes. The city is growing both demographically and economically, with the World Bank reporting in 2015 that it accounts for half of the national economic output and that a quarter of Ethiopia’s urban population lives in the city.
However, the current ethnolinguistic federal system is deficient when it comes to accommodating the needs of diverse cities like Addis Abeba, which is encircled by the Oromia region.
The federal constitution tried to govern the relationship between the federal capital and Oromia by saying: “The special interest of the State of Oromia in Addis Abeba, regarding the provision of social services or the utilization of natural resources and other similar matters, as well as joint administrative matters arising from the location of Addis Abeba within the State of Oromia, shall be respected.”
This leads some Oromo politicians to request particular rights in the city, some going as far as claiming ownership of the autonomous metropolis. Yet, many Addis Abeba residents reject claims of exclusive ownership by Oromo factions. Despite attempts, no detailed law has been promulgated to govern the relationship between the Oromia region and the city.
In addition, Addis Abeba does not have any representatives in the upper chamber of parliament, the House of Federation, as this comprises only “nations, nationalities and peoples.” The constitution does not mention the capital as one of the constituent units of the federation either. The constitution, therefore, does not give equal status to Addis Abeba.
However, the constitution grants Addis Abeba the right to full self-government. Furthermore, in the Ethiopian federation, regional governments, self-administered cities, and the federal government have separate legal jurisdictions and cannot interfere in each other’s judicial affairs. Accordingly, the federal government and regional governments cannot go beyond their jurisdiction and interfere in the judicial affairs of Addis Abeba.
However, a draft federal law would empower Oromia’s courts to exercise jurisdiction over some criminal matters in Addis Abeba. This is an instance of a regional government interfering in the judicial affairs of a self-administered city, and, accordingly, unconstitutional.
The Draft Criminal Procedure and Evidence Law (the ‘draft law’ hereafter) has been distributed by the federal Attorney General to solicit feedback. According to Article 25 (3), “offenses committed in cities or places accountable to the Federal Government” are within the jurisdiction of federal courts.
However, it is subject to an exception: “Notwithstanding the provisions of sub-article (1)(g) of this Article, Oromia Courts shall have criminal jurisdiction over offenses committed against Oromia state institutions, properties, documents and interests situated in the Addis Abeba City Administration.”
This suggests an extension of the unsettled “special interest” clause of the constitution. Yet, Oromia does not have any judicial special interest in Addis Abeba as per the constitution. Article 52 of Ethiopia’s constitution says that members of the federation, such as Oromia, are to maintain order only within their jurisdiction.
Authorizing Oromia courts to exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed in Addis Abeba contradicts the non-interference principle between members of the federation. According to Article 50(9), the federal government may delegate powers and functions to the regions granted to it by Article 51 of this Constitution. But, this does not intend to allow the intervention of a regional government in another self-administered entity.
The Federal government’s discretion to delegate power to regions does not include judicial powers. Although an exceptional delegation of federal judicial power is permitted by the constitution—from the federal High and First Instance Courts to regional Supreme and High Courts, respectively—the federal government cannot delegate the powers of its courts in Addis Ababa to Oromia courts.
Moreover, the draft law not only violates Addis Abeba’s right to self-governance without intervention but also violates the equal status given to members of the federation by the constitution. This is because other regional governments that have properties in Addis Abeba are not given the same legal rights as Oromia.
In summary, the federal government’s right to delegate its powers to regions cannot be legally used as a tool to promote the interest of a single region over another self-administered unit. Thus, the draft law is unconstitutional and violates the federal architecture.
Despite being clearly unconstitutional, if the problematic draft law is passed as law, it may be necessary to forward it to the House of Federation for its constitutionality to be interpreted. But, since Addis Abeba is not represented in the upper house, it is hard to consider the chamber a fair and neutral arbiter on the matter.
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Main photo: Addis Ababa City Council building; Ethiopian Press Agency.
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