Putting an End to Impunity: The Case for Enforcing Federal Laws in Tigray

9 Nov 2020

Statement by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed

[check against delivery]

When a wave of popular protests swept Ethiopia and ushered a new political dispensation in April 2018, one of the key pillars of the reformist agenda of my new administration was upholding the rule of law.

However, a key challenge we faced in this regard, from the early days was the organized and highly networked obstruction of justice that was being orchestrated by those who played a leading role in the systemic abuse of human rights and massive corruption.

Intent on perpetuating a culture of impunity and restoring the undue privileges they enjoyed in the past, the old guards of TPLF have continuously mounted both covert and overt attempts to undermine the people of Ethiopia and our new administration.

Behind conflicts that have resulted in the suffering and death of many Ethiopians in the past two years, close observers of Ethiopian politics could clearly see the influence of the TPLF clique. They sponsored, trained and equipped any force that that was willing to engage in violent and illegal acts to derail the transition. Their objective was clearly to make the country ungovernable by instigating clashes along ethnic and religious lines; to sow division and discord so that the democratic transition will lose its momentum.

In efforts to bring to justice these conflict entrepreneurs, arrest warrants by Federal Courts were ignored in an open contempt for the rule of law. Fugitives from the law assumed official party and state government position within the Tigray regional state and serial obstruction of justice became the hallmark of the TPLF.

For more than two years, the federal government opted for maximum restraint, even though it was being criticized by citizens, including by the federal parliament, for not taking more measures to apprehend fugitives from law that were at large in the Tigray region.

Unfortunately, the responsible and restrained approach of the federal government was perceived as weakness by the fugitives and their clique.

When the general election that was scheduled for this year was postponed to 2021 due to COVID-19 through a constitutional interpretation and decision of the House of Federation, the TPLF doubled down on their unconstitutional assertion.

And in a blunt violation of the Constitution, TPLF adopted its own illegal electoral law, an illegal electoral commission and conducted an illegal election in which it won all the seats in the Regional Council. TPLF’s illegal acts did not end there. It also undertook a massive military buildup with the objective of intimidating the Ethiopian people and government. Siphoning off funds aimed at aid and development, TPLF has been preparing for this eventuality since 2018. They organized and drafted irregular militias, not even sparing underage recruits.

The Regional administration increasingly showed its contempt to federal laws, including the Constitution and continued pushing a half cooked “de facto” statehood thesis.

The fugitives within the TPLF have been determined to trigger an armed conflict by attacking the northern command of the federal armed forces stationed in the Tigray region earlier this week, intending to take control of its mechanized weaponry and capability. Few days prior to this attack, the regional administration of Tigray publicly declared that they can dictate terms regarding personnel changes and movements of the northern command, compromising the National Defense Forces.

No federation and constitutional order can tolerate such illegality. That is why the Federal Government is compelled to undertake a law enforcement operation to defend and protect the constitutional order and uphold the rule of law.

A democratic and pluralistic Ethiopia cannot exist without the rule of law. Rule of law, especially in a federal arrangement requires that both regional states and federal governments respect the constitutional division of power. It is in accordance with this constitutional provision and its duty to enforce federal laws across the whole country that the Federal Government is undertaking a strategic operation to end impunity and criminality.

The Federal government counts on all who advocate for justice and rule of law to support this effort.

I personally call upon the international community to understand the context and the consistent transgressions by the TPLF clique that have led the Federal government to undertake this law enforcement operation that aims to once and for all put an end to impunity and forces aimed at destabilizing the country as well as the region.

The Ethiopian people have paid a huge price thus far for the criminality of belligerent cliques. Now we all deserve peace and stability. And this operation aims to end the impunity that has prevailed for years. There should not be any mistake made in treating the Federal government as equals with criminal groups. The constitution mandates the federal government to uphold the rule of law and to that task we remain committed. Through the instrumentality of a state of emergency, with the utmost care for the overall wellbeing, safety and security of our citizens in the regional state, the federal government will see through the law enforcement operation it has commenced.

—ENDS—

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