Imprisonment, as in any national criminal justice systems, is the principal mechanism used to achieve the objectives of punishment in Ethiopia.  A thief or a robber or even a heartless killer for that matter, is – more often than not – to be sentenced for imprisonment under the criminal laws of the country. But, imprisonment is not all. Capital punishment is envisaged as one of the methods of punishment to be imposed on criminals. For starters, the Ethiopian Constitution saves a room for application of death penalty. “No person,” the Constitution states, “may be deprived of his life except as a punishment for a serious criminal offence determined by law.”(Emphasis added) Following this constitutional provision, the Criminal Code envisages death penalty as a punishment for serious offences. For example crimes against international law such as genocide and war crimes or crimes against an individual such as aggravated homicide might entail death penalty under the Code.

Despite this legal framework and unlike the sometimes false assumption that legal norms indicate reality, the actual execution of death penalty in Ethiopia is conspicuously absent. It seems the norms regarding capital punishment have been shelved. What explains the absence of execution of this penalty despite its existence in the criminal justice system of the country? Different hypotheses might be forwarded. The Ethiopian society’s discomfort with the penalty – being expressed by those holding power, for example, by the reluctance of courts to impose the penalty – and the infrequent occurrence of “capital” crimes might be invoked. Whatever reason/s we might have in mind, capital punishment is not usually found in judicial files. Even if it is, it will most likely remain on those files owing to the rigorous procedure of its execution, the principal of them being approval by the Head of State and the option of pardon provided under the law.

Here comes the ease of our lawyers’ assignment regarding death penalty. In their practice (for example, in defending their clients before courts of law), Ethiopian lawyers need not concern much of themselves with the penalty being imposed on their clients. Fortunately, as stated previously, either the penalty is not imposed or is not implemented. This definitely gives our trial lawyer a reason to celebrate. Moreover, the country’s human rights lawyers – there are not many of them who identify themselves as such – might express their pleasure in the rarity of the execution of the penalty. After all the human rights movement, which our human rights lawyers might desire to associate with, is very much believed to embrace the movement for abolition of death penalty. Indeed this is not to mean that a human rights activist (or a human rights lawyer) necessarily is against the penalty. Likewise it is not to suggest here that the traditional law enforcement organs such as the police and prosecutors are necessarily in favour of retaining the penalty.

There are a number of “international” concerns associated with death penalty. Adapting those issues to Ethiopia, we could raise several questions revolving around the penalty. Should capital punishment be abolished from Ethiopia? Given the rigorous procedure of execution and the practical absence of the penalty, should death penalty a headache for the Ethiopian lawyer? Should attempts be made to erase the possibility of death penalty from the FDRE Constitution? Or should it require a moratorium (like suspending the application of the death sentence under the Criminal Code)? In Ethiopian context, what convincing reasons do we have to campaign against or in favour of capital punishment? Is taking one’s life as a punishment incompatible with the state of “civilization” of the world or Africa or Ethiopia? Well these are just few (just few!) of the issues raised and argued about from both abolitionist (those seeking the eradication of the penalty from justice systems) and retentionist (those who wish to keep death penalty alive) brands relating to the issue of capital punishment. What do you feel about these and other related issues? You could share us your thoughts.

Interested to comment, share ideas, ask for clarification…?

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Any pertinent information on the subject can be available from an Ethiopian Criminal Lawyer, Ethiopian Lawyer and Ethiopian Family Lawyer.