Ethiopia (iːθiˈoʊpiə) – Counter-Terrorism Mutual Legal Assistance


When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion

Although al-Shabaab remains the main terrorist threat in Ethiopia, the impact of global terrorism was experienced, when a video was released by ISIS in April 2015, showing the beheading of 28 Ethiopians in Libya.

The Ethiopian Anti-Terrorism Proclamation (ATP), promulgated in 2009 to criminalise acts of terror, has been criticised for its broad and vague definition of terrorism. The wide ranging evidential provisions of the ATP, allow hearsay and indirect evidence to be admissible at trial. This means that mutual legal assistance (MLA) is not widely used as police to police enquiries gather information adduced at trial in intelligence reports. Further, in a State where there are only 500 Federal prosecutors, in the 12th largest population in the world of almost 105 million, time is a precious commodity.

With this background, we prepared for the last EU funded MLA training for counter-terrorism prosecutors, police and judges in Ethiopia.

Our focus was to examine how reliable and credible evidence could be secured through MLA. Additionally, we wanted to broaden knowledge on the availability of different sources of evidence in other jurisdictions, such as telephone and communication service provider data, to secure safe convictions.

In order to demonstrate the importance of the project, we met with the Deputy Attorney General and the President of the High Court. This high-level support is essential to encourage greater use of MLA and to establish a working network of single points of contact (SPOCs) in the Greater Horn of Africa (GHOA).

The week’s training culminated with the delegates completing a MLA Manual based on Ethiopian law and procedure. The Manual, prepared with the Head of the International Co-operation on Legal Affairs Directorate (Ethiopian Central Authority), is available on the secure online platform for the GHOA MLA network alongside those of Kenya, Uganda and Sudan. Importantly, this provides these States with a greater knowledge of other GHOA criminal justice systems, and how to secure evidence through MLA.

When I first started as a prosecutor, and needed to secure evidence overseas, I was pointed in the direction of a folder where MLA treaties were kept. When the treaties didn’t provide an answer to what form and process I had to follow, I had to ask busy colleagues. I was very fortunate and had a great mentor who was extremely patient! Save to say, not all prosecutors may have this support. Without a proper understanding, prosecutors will prepare poorly drafted MLA requests, which creates delay. In a world where terrorism and organised crime transcends borders, we need to continue to improve prosecutorial knowledge and skills to gather evidence efficiently. I hope this practical training has played a small part, but now is the time to apply the tools in the Manual and make best use of the regional contacts.

As the Ethiopian saying goes, “When spider webs unite, they can tie up a lion” – so as the SPOCs become embedded, their direct communication will ensure evidence and information is shared to enhance counter-terrorism investigations and prosecutions in the GHOA. As the spiders work as a team, so the lion is caught and snared!

It was with great sadness whilst in Ethiopia, that I leant of the passing of the former Director of Public Prosecutions of Dominica, Gene Pestaina. A larger than life character, who I will always remember for our lively discussions on the latest news from the courts in Dominica. I recall one conversation where he maintained that a representative of another Embassy was a spy – and he asked for my opinion – when I could add nothing to his views he said that I must be a spy too! The one and only time I could ever get close to being 007! He was also great company outside of work, and even experienced a dreadful karaoke session in Roseau one memorable night. Without Gene Pestaina there would be no National Prosecution Service of Dominica. He was integral to its formation and rightly shared the stage at the launch when (the then Crown Prosecution Service DPP) Sir Keir Starmer travelled to Dominica to learn of the criminal justice reforms. Mr Pestaina you will be greatly missed – it was a privilege to know and work with you!

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