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Developing the Right to Counsel in Ethiopia

NCJ Number
Judicature Volume: 80 Issue: 3 Dated: (November-December 1996) Pages: 112-116
R A Fry; G W O'Reilly
Date Published
5 pages
Ethiopia's new constitution provides for the right to counsel, but poverty and an overburdened court system hamper the development of a public defender system.
Ethiopia emerged from years of civil war in 1991, when opposition groups overthrew the Marxist government and formed the Transitional Government of Ethiopia (TGE). The TGE aims to produce a stable and democratic political system based on the rule of law, as well as a free market economy. The TGE has worked with the United States and other countries to rebuild and improve its justice system. This effort included the establishment of a public defender's office in 1994. Effective defense counsel is an essential guarantor of both human rights and the judicial system's integrity. However, Ethiopia's per capita income is only about $120, and court resources such as technology and court reporters are scarce. In addition, country has only 2,000 attorneys for its 55 million people. This number includes about 800 prosecutors, judges, and government officials. Public defenders face numerous challenges, including lack of experience, lack of support staff, the need to defend numerous officials of the former government, and transportation difficulties in the rural areas in which almost 90 percent of the population lives. The approach used in South Africa to provide counsel for the indigent accused only in special circumstances exemplifies a possible way to address this issue; other tangible improvements to the right to counsel can be made immediately. Map