The Question of Justice cannot Wait, not for Illegal and Unconstitutional Reasons
by Tsegaye Ararsa
As I said yesterday, the Prime Minister is wrong (legally, politically, and morally) in saying that the demands of groups such as the Sidama (to self-rule, identity, etc) are not going to be addressed until his (unconstitutional) commission completes its 'inquiries'. The reason he gave for denying their rights, through what is essentially a set of tactical delays, is:
a) his ignorance of the issues and the demands thereof;
b) the lack of democratic legitimacy on the part of the existing institutions such as the house of federation.
His reasons are unacceptable and wrong legally because:
1. You cannot make a new law (to set up a new commission of handpicked members) to adjudicate a case that has been in the legal (and political) process for over 20 years before your coming to power. The principle of non-retroactivity of laws (a version of which is also recognized in the constitutions of the country as well as that of the states, eg art 22) disallows that. Accordingly, you cannot apply today's laws to yesterday's cases. It is unconstitutional, illegitimate, and, because it is unfair, immoral.
2. If the existing institutions such as the Parliament and the House of Federation are unacceptable because they are composed exclusively of EPRDF, then the (unconstitutional) law through which this same Parliament established the so-called border commission, too, is unacceptable. You cannot say the commission's decision is the only acceptable way to deal with the matter while saying the Parliament that made this law is itself unacceptable. This, too, is simply erroneous, unfair, and therefore morally wrong.
3. If the existing constitutional institutions such as the house of federation (or the CCI and the Parliament) are said to be lacking in democratic legitimacy (owing to being exclusively of EPRDF), how is it that the (unconstitutional) commission whose members are secretly handpicked exclusively by one person (i.e., the PM) and whose expertise and track records are dubious (to say the least) more legitimate to deal with the matter? To use a commission of secretly handpicked loyalists to decide on the rights of fundamental rights such as self-determination (identity and self-definition, autonomy and local self-rule, etc) is even worse as this commission and its members are far less acceptable than the HOF or the Parliament. In fact, if the Parliament is unacceptable, so are you as a PM selected by the same unacceptable Parliament.
The Prime Minister's reasons are unacceptable politically because political demands need political solution, not technical solution. Constitutional demands need constitutional solution, not expert decisions. If you say the problem with the existing institutions is lack of democratic credentials and the resultant legitimacy, then the logical step is to enhance the democratic credentials of these institutions by democratizing the politics through democratic engagement with the public through elections and referenda. To try to obstruct popular referendum demanded strictly within the terms of the constitution by setting up a dubious 'expert' commission (of friends) is the most politically decadent move yet to proceed from the highest office of the country.
The Prime Minister's argument from ignorance, i.e., that he doesn't have enough knowledge and the understanding about the matter, is also wrong and thus morally unacceptable because a right cannot be trampled upon, nor denied or delayed, just because YOU do not know enough about it. As the head of Government of the system you are presiding over, you were supposed to know about these basic constitutional rights. Argument from ignorance is a non-starter because the Prime Ministry is an institution, not an individual person. You have staff, experts, a ministry specializing on the matter--the Ministry of Federal and Pastoralists' Affairs--a Ministry of Justice, and the office of the Attorney General both of which, to a varying degree, advise the PM on legal issues, and the Constitutional Inquiry (CCI), the HoF (and its Standing Committee on Legal and Constitutional matters), etc, etc. All of these institutions, to a varying degree, are constantly seized with these matters for decades. They can offer support and enlightenment at the very instance that you request one. To fail to request one, be it out of ignorance or out of arrogance, is a failure in duty as a PM.
More importantly, it is simply improper and heartless to say to the people (who suffered for ages, and are suffering still, because their rights are denied, suppressed, and their members are violently repressed) that you want to deny their rights (by strategic delays under a new commission) just because you don't know the issues. Why should people sacrifice their rights (at times, lives, liberties, and livelihoods) until you and your commission get a crash course on the rights and the plights of peoples?
The question of justice cannot wait. Your ignorance can.That is why the PM's argument from ignorance is also morally indefensible.