By Hanibal Goitom | for Library of Congress,
Last week, the Law Library of Congress added four newly-issued Eritrean codes to its collection: the Civil Code, Civil Procedure Code, Penal Code and Criminal Procedure Code. We are grateful to the staff of the Library of Congress Field Office in Nairobi, Kenya, who made an effort to acquire the material.
The issuance of these laws is a watershed moment in the country’s legal history; it marks the removal of some of the last vestiges of Ethiopian colonial rule. Eritreans lived under Ethiopian rule from 1962 through 1991. During this time, as one of fourteen Ethiopian provinces, the Eritrean territory and its people were governed by Ethiopian laws. This included the application of the six comprehensive Ethiopian codes issued in late 1950s through the mid 1960s: Penal Code (1957), Civil Code (1960), Commercial Code (1960), Maritime Code (1960), Criminal Procedure Code (1961), and Civil Procedure Code (1965).
The colonial period began during the reign of Emperor Haile Selasie I, who dissolved the Eritrea-Ethiopia federation in 1962 and annexed Eritrea. He ruled in Ethiopia (including Eritrea) until he was deposed in 1974. The old codes carry a reminder of this era, when the country was governed by a man who claimed to have been chosen for the position by a higher power. They included a preamble that listed the official titles of the Emperor: “Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah Haile Selasie I Elect of God, Emperor of Ethiopia…”
Following its independence in 1991, Eritrea did many of the things that new countries do, including issuing its own currency in 1997; however, it did not fully repeal and replace the Ethiopian laws that were in force at the time. Instead, Eritrea opted to enter into a transitional period in which it would continue using these codes, with some amendments, until it was ready to replace them. Twenty-four years later, the publication of the new codes marks a partial end to the transitional period. The issuance of a new commercial code (which is apparently forthcoming) and maritime code would complete the process.
It appears that the new codes, which were published in May 2015, have yet to take effect. The Eritrean government’s position on this phase of the process is unclear. While the issuance of the codes was not accompanied with an announcement regarding the exact date of implementation, in an interview with a state run media, the Minister of Justice, Ms. Fawzia Hashim, suggested that the codes had taken effect.
However, there is evidence that the transitional laws that had been in place since independence continue to be applied. For instance, the Legal Tender Nakfa Currency Notes Regulations (No. 124/2015), which were enacted in November 2015, months after the publication of the codes, make reference to the transitional laws and not the new codes (art. 6). There are practical challenges to their immediate implementation; for instance, the fact that the government has issued only an English version of the codes means that their use in the country’s courts will require that they be translated into local languages. It is possible that the implementation process could take a few years to complete.
The acquisition of these codes is a boost to our collection on Eritrea and will enable us to continue providing accurate, authentic, and authoritative responses to research inquiries from all our patrons. Anyone interested in researching Eritrean laws is welcome to come to the Law Library to use these or any other materials in our collection, or to contact us for help.