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Bulletin de la Maison des études éthiopiennes | Décembre 1992. N°1

Jacques Bureau

Legal research and literature in Ethiopia

Daniel Haile

Entrées d'index

Keywords :

law, human rights, university

Texte intégral

1. Introduction

1Even though traditional instruction in law of Fetha Negast, Law of the Kings, has been taught in Ethiopian Church Schools as early as the 17th century, one can say that formal legal education in general and legal research in particular commenced after the decision to codify the laws of the country was made in the early 1950’s. The founding of a full-fledged faculty of law in 1963 brought to the forefront the challenges of legal research and gave an impetus to it. From its inception the faculty had a bias in favor of public law; a bias which was reflected in the different curriculea and concretely demonstrated by the fact that more than 90% of its graduates are in the public service. The reasons for such bias and predominance to public law is due to the objective realities and the perception of the role of the lawyer in the society. Unlike most legal systems, the role of the lawyer in the economic and political development, particularly the maintenance of efficient government machinery for essential national development, rather than his role as a litigator is emphasized. Such bias is bound to have its impacts and leave its imprints on the research activities as well.

2. Research Activities and Major Achievements

2Legal research carried by the Faculty has focused on the following six major areas:

  1. Explication of the vast body of new legal material introduced into the system.

  2. Indexing of the growing bulk of legislation to make it more accessible.

  3. Development of legal terminology in Amharic.

  4. Investigation of the application of the codes and other new legal materials to determine if they are being applied, and how, and whether they are promoting intended consequences.

  5. Collection and indexing of judgements, to ascertain the understanding of the codes by the judiciary, and indicate the legal principles being given effect in the uncodified areas of the law.

  6. Research into traditional and customary, legal or quasi legal institutions, to determine their potential contribution to or detrimental effect upon development, and the extent to which they should be encouraged or suppressed.

3The Faculty of Law, which combines the dual function of being the center of legal education and research, attempts to achieve its research objectives through the following on-going faculty projects.

Journal of Ethiopian Law

4In 1964, the Faculty of Law of Haile Sellasie University (renamed Addis Ababa University in 1975), and the Ministry of Law and Justice jointly began the publication of the Journal of Ethiopian Law. Each annual volume consists of two issues of several hundred pages which appear in both Amharic and English. The journal was published twice a year regularly until 1974 when due to staff shortage it failed to appear until 1980. The last issue of the Journal (vol. 13) came out in 1987 and vol. 14 is still in the pipelines.

Consolidated Laws of Ethiopia

5Even though all laws are published in the Negarit Gazetta since there is no index for it, legal research was extremely difficult. One was required to go through the table of contents of each issue of each volume of the Negarit Gazetta to determine whether a law has been enacted governing the situation he is studying.

6The Consolidated Laws which is a complete presentation of the extent to which subsequent proclamations, decrees, orders and legal notices have repealed, modified, supplemented or annulled previous laws in Ethiopia, has rectified this situation and has made an immense contribution to the carrying out legal research. Since the appearance of the first supplement in 1975, the index of laws in force has been and continues to be prepared by the Legal Department of the Office of the Chairman of the Council of Ministers. In addition, a consolidated legislative code of the Addis Ababa City exists. At present supplement No 2 which covers the period from 1973 to 1983 has been finalized and is expected to come out in print soon.

The Codes

7In addition to Proclamations, Decrees, Orders and Legal Notices, six basic codes have been promulgated which constitute the real body of law in Ethiopia. They are as follows and were drafted by commissions under the leadership of the named persons:

  1. Penal Code of 1957, Professor Jean Graven of Switzerland.

  2. Civil Code of 1960, Professor R. David of France.

  3. Maritime Code of 1960, Professor J. Escarra of France.

  4. Commercial Code of 1960, Professor J. Escarra and A. Jauffret of France.

  5. Criminal Procedure Code of 1961, Sir Charles Matthew of England and,

  6. Civil Procedure Code of 1985, Ato Nirayo Essayas, Assistant Minister of the Ethiopian Ministry of Justice.

8All of the above codes were enacted through Proclamations, with the exception of the Civil Procedure Code which was issued in the form of Decree. Each Code appeared in a separate volume as an extraordinary or special issue of the Negarit Gazetta, as distinguished from the regular or ordinary annual volumes previously mentioned.

African Law Digest

9The project, which the Faculty took over from Columbia University, is published quarterly and digests African Legislation issued during that period. Problems with acquisition of the official gazettes had suspended its publication. The problem was temporarily resolved and the publication of the digest was resumed for a very short period of time.

Text Books

10In addition to the above, the Faculty has published several books and teaching materials expounding certain area. Most of these materials are utilized as text books in the program which it offers.

11The list hereunder shows the books and teaching materials which have been prepared by the Faculty:

  1. The Fetha Negast, Law of the Kings

  2. Materials for the Study of Ethiopian Criminal Procedure

  3. Ethiopian Constitutional Development

  4. Ethiopian Civil Procedure

  5. Ethiopian Legal Formbook

  6. The Law Making Process in Ethiopia

  7. Material for the Study of Ethiopian Penal Law

  8. Manual on the Ethiopian Law of Persons

  9. The conflict of Law in Ethiopia

  10. Commentary on Contracts in Ethiopia

  11. L’organisation de l’administration locale en Éthiopie

  12. Consolidated Laws of Ethiopia

  13. Consolidated Legislation of Addis Ababa

  14. The Land Charters of Northern Ethiopia

  15. Land Tenure in Chore (Shoa): A Pilot Field Study

  16. State and Land in Ethiopian History

  17. Land Tenure Among the Amhara of Ethiopia

  18. Background documents of the Ethiopian Commercial code

  19. Compensation for Damages

  20. The Formation and Effect of Contracts

12Moreover teaching materials on Legal Drafting, Legal History, Natural Resources, and several other subjects have and are being prepared.

13In addition to the above Faculty research projects, individual research is undertaken by academic staff in the fields of their interest.

14Furthermore we should like to add that as a requirement for graduation senior students of the Faculty are required to present a senior thesis on a topic dealing with an area of Ethiopian Law or of international law with particular relevance to Ethiopia. These papers in most instances deal with topic not hitherto dealt with and their contribution to the development of Ethiopian law is quite significant.

15It would not only be presumptions but absolutely unfair to present an image that all the research that has or continues to be undertaken is the monopoly of the Faculty of Law. Institutions engaged in the rendering of Justice, Ministry of Justice, the Prosecutors Office and the Courts, have recently commenced to be actively engaged in research and publishing their own journals. Chilot, the journal of the High Court, Supreme Court Law Reporter, the journal of the Supreme Court, Hegawinet (Legality), the journal of the Prosecutors Office, Heghnna Ferd (Law and Justice), the publication of the Ministry of Law and Justice, are notable examples of this effort. However despite this proliferation of journals, in order to avoid duplication and squandering of limited resources, there is an understanding between all concerned that scholarly articles will continue to be published in the Ethiopian Law Journal and the others will focus on what is broadly referred as popularization of the law.

3. Trends

16In the last section we have attempted to give an overview of the research conducted so far. Even though some of the area will continue to generate interest amongst legal scholars and researchers, new grounds and novel fields will definitely attract their due share. The Faculty has been adjusting and overhauling its curriculum to meet new needs and challenges. As a result new areas of research and teaching are being explored and incorporated into the mainstream of its activities. One area that is bound to gain prominence in future teaching and research activities of the faculty is the area of Human Rights Law. The faculty has as a first step initiated a course in Humanitarian Law but is currently in the process of establishing a Human Rights and Peace Center to deal with these issues in a comprehensive manner. As the center will be the principal institution for the teaching, training and research on this highly current and pertinent area of study, a brief description of the aims and objectives of the Center and its organizational structure is in order.

Objectives of the Human Rights and Peace Center

17The Center shall have the following objectives:

A. Dissemination of the Knowledge of Human Rights

1. Teaching of Human Rights

18The Center will offer courses of Human Rights Law and International Humanitarian Law to students of the Faculty of Law. It will also give a service course in Human Rights for students of other faculties and departments of the Addis Ababa University.

2. Training in Human Rights

19By devising appropriate national and regional programmes, the Center will give training in Human Rights for such groups of persons as judges, lawyers, professors, diplomats, doctors, members of military and police forces, policy makers and persons influencing public opinion. Journalists, politicians and leaders of mass organizations and associations.

20In order to discharge this duty of disseminating the knowledge of human rights, the center will organize lectures, seminars, symposia and conferences.

B. Researching out Human Rights issues

21The Center will undertake studies and researches on Ethiopian problems in the field of Human Rights and bring its finding to the attention of the government and the general public.

C. Consultancy services

22The Center will make itself available to interested parties and offer consultancy services. Moreover it shall assist those victims of violations of Human Rights who are not provided their own lawyers to have the assistance of free legal services.

D. Promoting the accession or ratification of international instruments

23The Center will Endeavour to study the various International Human Rights instruments not acceded to or ratified by Ethiopia and persuade the government to accede to or ratify them.

E. Adoption of national laws protecting Human Rights

24Upon carrying out the appropriate studies and research, the Center will persuade the government of Ethiopia to adopt and implement laws and regulations to urge the Government to repeal those laws and regulations which appear to be incompatible with principles embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the other United Nations Human Rights instruments.

F. Establishment of documentation unit

25The Ethiopian Human Rights Center will open a library and a documentation unit which could be accessible to researchers and persons interested in the knowledge of Human Rights Law, international Humanitarian Law, and the Law of the Red Cross.

G. Promotion of understanding, tolerance, friendship and cooperation among peoples of Ethiopia

26Ethiopia being a land in which several nations, nationalities and peoples live, the Center will also Endeavour to promote an attitude of understanding and sympathy towards one another, tolerance, friendship and cooperation among them.

Composition of the Center

27Although the number of units to be formed in the Center could depend on the number, kind and nature of activities to be performed, the Ethiopian Human Rights and Peace Center will have the following units.

  1. Dissemination and publication unit

  2. Monitoring unit

  3. Legal research and assistance unit

  4. Documentation unit

  5. External relations unit

28Another area that will develop and consequently gain the interests of researchers is Environmental Law. Even though certain aspects of environmental pollution have been covered as part and parcel of Property Law, Maritime Law and Natural Resources Development Law in light of recent global developments and curriculum change, the teaching and researching on Environmental issues is bound to gain prominence.

4. Conclusion

29In this short paper an attempt at presenting an overview of the research activities, achievements and future trends has been made. Even though the achievements so far are by no means negligible one must admit that much remains to be done. One can say that as far as legal research is concerned a good deal of it is still unknown. The possibilities for doing research by legal scholars remain vast and open.

30But despite this vast opportunity a project which was initiated in 1969-71 by the present Director of the Maison des Études Éthiopiennes, Pr. Jacques Bureau, the Amharic lexicon project has made little progress, since he left the Faculty of Law. In light of the urgent needs, more attention should and hopefully will be put on his project. The importance and the immediacy for the project is vivid in light of the following reality.

31In the past several decades Ethiopia has moved towards legal “modernization”. But the country’s official tongue has lagged behind. In many areas of development the demands of newly recognized problems whether in social science, the physical science or other disciplines often can only be discussed satisfactorily in a foreign language.

32In some areas, perhaps the country can wait until the natural processes of linguistic evolution supply future generations with technical vocabulary adequate for their new environment.

33In fact the need for such an action is desperate. The Amharic lexicon project, initiated on several occasions, was an attempt to respond to this need, by compiling dictionary of Amharic legal terminology with French and English equivalents. If brought to a successful completion such project, in addition to the simplification of the work of courts, practitioners and the Faculty, can serve as a basis for a true dictionary and as an infrastructure for the preparation of Amharic manuals. For all the reasons stated hereinabove it is our considered opinion that this should become a priority area for research in the immediate future.

34In discussing the issue of legal research and literature one should not only consider the institutions and individuals engaged in research and the result of these activities but must also deal with the extent to which such results are made available to those concerned. The limited outlets for the sale of most legal publications has, and continues to be, a major impediment and attention must be devoted to this aspect as well as to the diversification of the publications.


Dean, Faculty of Law, University of Addis Ababa

© Centre français des études éthiopiennes, 1992

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