Ethiopia, Federal Democratic Republic of


*Please note this is just a draft and all contents are still under revision.*


 

Legal Table
Legal Text

Legal System/History

Briefly occupied by Italy from 1936 to 1941, although Eritrea under Italian rule from 1886 to 1941. During WWII, British defeated Italians and established protectorate over Eritrea. 1950 UN Resolution to unify Eritrea and Ethiopia implemented in 1952. Civil Code passed in 1960 governs civil, religious and customary law marriages. Armed movement for Eritrean independence began in 1961. 1974 military coup ended Emperor Haile Selassie’s rule and newly installed rulers oriented towards Marxism. All religions, including Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, officially placed on equal footing under new regime. Eritrean People’s Liberation declared Provisional Government of Eritrea in May 1991 and same year military rule in Ethiopia brought to an end with coalition government. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia established in August 1995.

School(s) of Fiqh

Majority of Muslims are Shafi’i. Other major religion is Ethiopian Orthodox (or Monophysite) Christianity. Small Jewish and Animist minority communities.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law)

Current Constitution adopted in 1994. Article 11 adopts no official state religions and affirms separation of religion and state. Article 34 (on Marital, Personal and Family Rights), section 5 states: "This Constitution shall not preclude the adjudication of disputes relating to personal and family laws in accordance with religious or customary laws, with the consent of the parties to the dispute." Article 78(5) also provides for establishment or recognition of religious or customary courts.

Court System

Regular courts at four levels: Supreme Court in Addis Ababa; High Court sits in all provincial capitals; awraja courts at next administrative subdivision; and woreda courts at district level.

Under 1944 legislation, shari’a courts organised into three levels: Naiba Councils serve as courts of first instance, Kadis’ Councils as intermediate courts and Court of Shari’at as highest court.

Shari’a courts have jurisdiction in two kinds of cases. First are: marriage, divorce, maintenance, guardianship of minors, and family relationships; provided that marriage to which case pertains was concluded under Islamic law or parties are all Muslims. Second are: cases concerning waqfs, gifts, succession, or wills, provided that donor is a Muslim or deceased was a Muslim at time of death. 

Relevant Legislation

Muhammedan Courts Act 1944

Civil Code 1960

Family Law 2000 (not yet available)

Notable Features

Marriage Age: Civil Code sets minimum marriage age at 18 for males and 15 for females, regardless of whether marriage is civil, religious or customary; Family Law may have changed the age to 18 for both males and females

Marriage Guardianship: both Article 34 of Constitution and Civil Code state that consent to marriage obtained by violence renders marriage invalid, but Civil Code provides that consent granted due to "reverential fear" of an ascendant or other person is not equivalent to consent obtained by violence

Polygamy: abolished, backed by sanctions provided in Penal Code

Obedience/Maintenance: Civil Code states that spouses owe each other "respect, support and assistance" and provides that husband is head of family, determines place of marital home, wife must obey him in all lawful things that he orders and he owes his wife protection; marriage contract may be written settling financial effect of marriage, as well as other reciprocal rights and duties, but cannot change any mandatory legal provisions and has no effect unless approved by family arbitrators or by courts

Talaq: abolished; under Civil Code, all divorce law is uniform regardless of whether marriage was civil, religious or customary

Judicial Divorce: judicial divorce may be sought by either spouse for "serious causes" or "other causes"; serious causes are: adultery; desertion of marital home without knowledge of that party’s whereabouts for two years; a spouse’s confinement to lunatic asylum for minimum of two years; and judicial declaration of absence of a spouse; couples seeking divorce for either ‘serious’ or ‘other’ cause must first appoint family arbitrators who will attempt to effect reconciliation and if efforts fail, arbitrators can grant a divorce, preferably on mutually agreed terms; if ‘serious cause’ for divorce can be established for which one spouse bears burden of fault, family arbitrators may divide common property unevenly; if no ‘serious cause’ is established, property is divided unevenly to disadvantage of spouse who petitioned for divorce; arbitrators decisions can be appealed to courts; Family Law may have placed jurisdiction for divorce with the courts from the beginning of the proceedings

Post-Divorce Maintenance/Financial Arrangements: Civil Code does not refer to support payments to former spouse; Penal Code does make it an offence to refuse maintenance for existing or former spouse; support payments often granted to wife during course of divorce litigation and deducted from her share of communal property once it is divided

Child Custody and Guardianship: Civil Code provides that child custody and maintenance arrangements are to be made only with consideration for interests of ward; provision states that in absence of any "serious reason", wards are to remain with mother until age of five.

Notable Cases

 

Law/Case Reporting System

Laws reporting through Federal Negarit Gazeta.

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations)

ICCPR & ICESCR – accession 1993, without reservations

 CEDAW – signature 1980, ratification 1981, with reservation to Art. 29(1)

 CRC – accession 1991, without reservations

Legal History:

Ethiopia was occupied by Italy from 1936 to 1941, although Eritrea came under Italian rule from 1886 to 1941. During WWII, the British defeated the Italians and established a protectorate over Eritrea. The 1950 UN Resolution to unify Eritrea and Ethiopia was implemented in 1952. The movement for Eritrean independence developed into an armed struggle in 1961. A Civil Code passed in 1960 governs civil, religious and customary law marriages. Emperor Haile Selassie I (r. 1930–1974) attempted to modernise the state, but the nation was struck by famine and a long-standing conflict with Eritrea; both factors are considered to have contributed to the 1974 military coup ending Selassie’s rule.

Lieutenant Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam became the head of state and the government was oriented towards Marxism. All religions, including Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, were officially placed on equal footing under new regime. The Eritrean People’s Liberation Front won several strategic successes against Ethiopian in late the late 1980s and early 1990s, declaring the Provisional Government of Eritrea in May 1991. At the same time, 17 years of military rule under a junta (‘Derg’) ended in 1991 amidst growing pressure from democratic opposition forces. From 1991 to 1995 a Transitional Government, a coalition of 27 political parties, ruled Ethiopia. A 1993 referendum in Eritrea resulted in a massive vote for independence.

A new Ethiopian Constitution was adopted in 1994 and elections were held in 1995 leading to election of Meles Zenawi as Prime Minister and Negasso Gidada as President. Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia established in August 1995.

Schools of Fiqh: The majority of Muslims are Shafi’i. The other major religion is Ethiopian Orthodox (or Monophysite) Christianity. There are also small Jewish and Animist minority communities.

Constitutional Status of Islam(ic Law): The current Constitution was adopted in 1995. Article 34 (on Marital, Personal and Family Rights), section 5 states: "This Constitution shall not preclude the adjudication of disputes relating to personal and family laws in accordance with religious or customary laws, with the consent of the parties to the dispute." Article 78(5) also provides for the establishment or recognition of religious or customary courts, pursuant to Article 34(5).

Court System: Regular courts are organised at four levels. The Supreme Court has appellate jurisdiction and sits in Addis Ababa. The High Courts sits in the 14 provincial capitals have original and appellate jurisdiction. The awraja courts are convened in each of the 102 administrative subdivisions. Woreda courts are established in each of the 556 districts.

Under the 1944 legislation, shari’a courts are organised into three levels: Naiba Councils serve as courts of first instance, Kadis’ Councils as intermediate courts and the Court of Shari’a as highest court.

Shari’a courts have jurisdiction in two kinds of cases. The first are: marriage, divorce, maintenance, guardianship of minors, and family relationships; provided that the marriage to which the case pertains was concluded under Islamic law or the parties are all Muslims. The second are: cases concerning awqaf, gifts, succession, or wills, provided that donor is a Muslim or deceased was a Muslim at the time of his/her death.

Shari’a courts have unclear legal status as the Muhammadan Courts Act 1944 establishing them was never actually repealed and yet the 1960 Civil Code makes no exceptions for Muslims or Muslim personal law. The Court of Shari’a continues to sit as a division of the Supreme Court.

Notable Features: The Civil Code sets the minimum marriage age at 18 years for males and 15 for females, regardless of whether the marriage is contracted under civil, religious or customary law, though the new Family Law may have changed the minimum age to 18 for both males and females. Both the Constitution and the Civil Code state that consent to marriage obtained by violence renders marriage invalid, but the Civil Code provides that consent granted due to "reverential fear" of an ascendant or other person is not equivalent to consent obtained by violence.

Polygamy is abolished, backed by sanctions provided in the Penal Code. The Civil Code states that spouses owe each other "respect, support and assistance" and provides that the husband is the head of the family and determines the place of the marital home, the wife must obey him in all lawful things that he orders and he owes his wife protection. A marriage contract may be written settling the financial effects of marriage, as well as other reciprocal rights and duties, but cannot change any mandatory legal provisions and has no effect unless approved by family arbitrators or by courts.

Talaq is abolished. Under the Civil Code, all divorce law is uniform regardless of whether the marriage was contracted under civil, religious or customary law. Judicial divorce may be sought by either spouse for "serious causes" or "other causes". Serious causes are: adultery; desertion of the marital home without knowledge of that party’s whereabouts for two years; a spouse’s confinement to a lunatic asylum for minimum of two years; and judicial declaration of absence of a spouse. Couples seeking divorce for either ‘serious’ or ‘other’ cause must first appoint family arbitrators who will attempt to effect a reconciliation and if efforts fail, arbitrators can grant a divorce, preferably on mutually agreed terms. If ‘serious cause’ for divorce can be established for which one spouse bears the burden of fault, family arbitrators may divide common property unevenly. If no ‘serious cause’ is established, property is divided unevenly to the disadvantage of the spouse who petitioned for divorce. Arbitrators’ decisions can be appealed to the court.

The Civil Code does not refer to support payments to former spouses. The Penal Code does make it an offence to refuse maintenance for either an existing or former spouse. Support payments are often granted to the wife during the course of divorce litigation and deducted from her share of communal property once it is divided.

The Civil Code provides that child custody and maintenance arrangements are to be made only with consideration for the interests of the ward. In the absence of any "serious reason", wards are to remain with the mother until the age of five.  

Notable Cases:  

Law/Case Reporting System: Law reporting is through the Federal Negarit Gazeta.

International Conventions (with Relevant Reservations): Ethiopia acceded to the ICCPR and ICESCR in 1993, without reservations.

Ethiopia signed the CEDAW in 1980 and ratified it in 1981, with a reservation to Article 29(1).

Ethiopia acceded to the CRC in 1991, without reservations.

Background and Sources: CEDAW, Concluding Observations on Ethiopia’s Combined Initial, Second and Third Periodic Report, January 1996; Redden, “Ethiopia” in Modern Legal Systems Cyclopedia, vol. 6, Buffalo, NY, 1990; “Ethiopia” in Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives – Anglophone Africa, Center for Reproductive Law and Policy & International Federation of Women Lawyers (Kenya Chapter), New York, 1997; Ethiopia, Combined Initial, Second and Third Periodic Report to CEDAW, 21 May 1993.