The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) organised a workshop on Strategic Litigation Before National Courts and Regional Human Rights Mechanisms, from 5–6 June 2023, in Adama, Ethiopia. The Workshop brought together participants from Civil Society Organisations (CSOs), legal practitioners, academia, and national and continental experts in strategic litigation.
The overall objective of the workshop was to enhance participants’ understanding of strategic litigation at the national and continental levels, and to encourage them to engage in strategic litigation before national courts and African regional human rights treaty bodies, specifically the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (African Commission) and the African Committee of Experts on the Rights and Welfare of the Child (African Committee).
In his opening remarks, Dr. Abdi Jibril, Commissioner of Civil and Political and Socio-Economic Rights at EHRC, stated that “strategic litigation plays a significant role to in pressing the government to comply with its human rights obligations, to draw attention to key human rights issues, to enhance victims’ capacity to invoke their rights, to ensure accountability, to prevent the recurrence of human rights violations, and to seek reparation for victims of human rights violations.” He stressed that, “CSOs and legal practitioners working on human rights in Ethiopia should effectively use strategic litigation as one tool to ensure the protection of human rights in Ethiopia.”
Representatives of Lawyers for Human Rights (LHR Ethiopia), who have seven (7) ongoing public interest litigation cases before national courts, shared their experience on the selection and filing of cases. While appreciating the Federal Courts Proclamation No. 1234/2021, which provides that any person with vested interest or sufficient reason can institute a suit before the Federal High Court to protect their own rights or that of others, LHR Ethiopia indicated that there are still many challenges that CSOs face in litigating public interest cases before national courts. Challenges related to locus standi (standing), hesitance of courts to apply ratified regional or international human rights treaties, limited judicial activism, prolonged court adjournments, an inadequate legal framework on reparations, the unwillingness of victims to testify before courts, and a lack of resources to litigate were raised.
Experts from the Network of African National Human Rights Institutions and Equality Now, as well as an independent expert, shared in detail the process of litigating before the African Commission, the African Committee, the African Court on Human and Peoples’ Rights, and sub-regional courts. The experts shared cases that were previously filed against Ethiopia and other notable jurisprudence. The workshop included simulation exercises on human rights cases that can be filed before relevant national and continental forums.
The workshop observed that Ethiopia is at an early stage of utilising strategic litigation due to limited awareness and experience among human rights organisations, academicians, legal practitioners, and human rights defenders. EHRC encouraged participants to consider utilising strategic litigation as one means of advancing human rights in Ethiopia because it is impact-oriented and aims to effect large-scale social change. In addition to national courts, the importance of filing cases before the African Commission and the African Committee was underscored.