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tv   HAR Dtalk  BBC News  July 15, 2022 12:30am-1:01am BST

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welcome to hardtalk, with me, zeinab badawi. ethiopians have known much conflict throughout their recent history, but the war which broke out between the government of the prime minister abiy ahmed and the tigrayan people's liberation front, the tplf, two and a half years ago has been particularly devastating. tens of thousands have been killed and millions displaced. plus there are also ethnic conflicts in other parts of ethiopia, such as in oromo in the west, and the amhara community are also restless.
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my guest is meaza ashenafi, the first woman to be appointed chiefjustice of the federal supreme court of ethiopia. now there is hope of making progress in the peace talks taking place, but will there be justice for the victims of war? chiefjustice meaza ashenafi in abbas ababa, welcome to hardtalk. look, you've got violence across many parts of ethiopia, you've got an acute food crisis as well, which means that 30 million of the country's
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100 million population are in urgent need of help. this is a tough time for you to be a senior official in ethiopia. you are absolutely correct, zeinab, and this government and the people of this country have embarked on a very promising transition. but unfortunately we're facing the harsh realities that you havejust mentioned, and this has been a combination of conflict, drought, and other gross violations of human rights. and, yeah, it is a reality, but i am hopeful that we will come out of this difficult situation. what gives you cause to be hopeful? i should just remind everybody about what's going on in ethiopia. it's notjust in the northern part of the country, where you've had the violence between, the conflict between
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the government and the tplf. you've also got oromia region in the west where hundreds have been killed in the past few weeks, you've also got the afar and amhara regions where it's estimated that about 1,000 people have been killed in the past year, and the ethiopian human rights commission says, "look, everybody is guilty of human rights violations." i don't want to get into who's done this, who's done that, because, you know, we'd go on forever there. but that's the fact of the matter. so how optimistic can you feel about the current state of affairs? yeah, what gives me hope is that ethiopia is... a country with a long tradition and history and the fabric of society is quite strong, and that is one of the sources of my hope. but i also understand that a transition is a transition
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and there is no easy transition, and it is not an exceptional situation that we are facing, although it is a very, very difficult situation. so i am hoping the government and the people of ethiopia, as well as with the support and the understanding of the international community, will overcome this challenge. and there is a light at the end of the tunnel — as you mentioned, there is a discussion about resolving the conflict through a peaceful mechanism, and just yesterday we have got a commitment from the world bank as well as from the european union to support reconstruction, post—conflict reconstruction. so these are some of, some of the situations that gives me hope. all right.
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you mentioned the international community, but the fact of the matter is, the european union has suspended direct budget support to the ethiopian government and works through nongovernmental organisations. it says before it recommits to really helping the government, it wants to see a proper end to the hostilities, not just the humanitarian truce that was declared at the end of march. it wants to see accountability for what has happened, all those victims, and it wants humanitarian access for people who are in dire need of help. so what do you think is being done to reassure the international community that the country is on the right track? this is not exactly my mandate, as you know, but from the information i have and from the readings of our government statements, i, as i said, i'm observing progress.
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there is progress, but the progress is not very rapid. it's... it's a bit slow. but i hope all stakeholders, you know, national mechanisms as well as international partners, will try their best to accelerate the process towards peacefully settling the conflict in the country. and yes, it is not as rapid as we want it to be, but i feel there are positive developments, and i believe that we need to push this a little bit, the government need to push this a little bit so that we will not, there will not be a setback. you are chiefjustice of the federal supreme court of ethiopia, meaza ashenafi, and a joint investigation by the ethiopian human rights
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commission and the un human rights office in november last year said when it comes to tackling this issue of bringing the perpetrators of these crimes against humanity to justice, they're concerned that national institutions may not be sufficiently addressing issues of command responsibility for the violations being investigated. they say, "it's important to hold the direct perpetrators, "often foot soldiers, responsible. "but to deal with impunity meaningfully, it's equally "important to address the role of persons "exercising command responsibility. " so, a long quote, i know, but are you going to make sure that whoever is responsible, even if they're right at the top, they're going to be held to account? we have laws and institutions in this country, and we have a criminaljustice system that is well functioning. depending on the case
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and the specific facts, we have civil courts and we have a military court, as well. so i can't be very specific about the points that you have mentioned, because these cases will come to the courts in the future and i am the president of the court, but then at the same time i'm a judge, and i can't be formulating a specific opinion on possible future cases. but what i'd like to say is i have abilities pertinent, and this should not be impunity, because the other hand, given the widespread violation of human rights in this country over the past four years, i would assume that in addition to formal, regular court procedures, you would need some kind of transitionaljustice mechanism. and whether it is the currently established dialogue commission or anotherforum, we need to look into additional
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measures of reconciliation in the healing in this country. 0k, just looking at the question of the crimes that have been committed, agnes callamard, who's secretary general of amnesty international, said in 2021, "it is clear that rape "and sexual violence have been used as weapons of war." now, a tigray website called 0mna injune last year accused you, chiefjustice of the federal supreme court of ethiopia, a very prominent women's campaigner in your past career as a lawyer, they've accused you of remaining silent as thousands of tigrayan women are being gang—raped, and they point to you to act and to speak up much more. so to what extent has your
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current role silenced you as standing up for women's rights? erm... yes, er, gender—based violence and abuse of women's rights and children's rights has occurred in this country, as you mentioned earlier, in every corner of the country. and it was the national human rights commission as well as international organisations have issued a series of reports on this. so in terms of my mandate, unless cases are investigated and submitted to the court, there isn't much that i'd be able to do. and there is a lot of misunderstanding in this area, particularly because, as you said, i was a women's
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rights activist and i was a very vocal community leader in my past career. but now i'm leading a very conservative institution which is supposed to be independent, not only be independent but also perceived to be independent. so it will be very unethical for me to now and then express my views on situations that are happening. but, chiefjustice... ..the whole situation, and when cases are presented to the court, and now we are establishing a very independent and impartial court, and we'll deal with this objectively and effectively. but how does that make you feel on a personal level, chief justice? you know, as a young girl, you said, "i'm going to go to school." you studied law in ethiopia
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and then in the united states. you set up the ethiopian women's lawyers association to provide legal help for ethiopian women who couldn't afford it. in 1996, there was a celebrated case where you defended a 14—year—old girl who had been kidnapped by a man who wanted to marry her forcibly. she shot him dead with a rifle. she was imprisoned for murder, she was found guilty of that. you managed to get her released, you were instrumental in getting the law to stop men kidnapping women to marry them changed. so now here you are saying to me, "i have to remain "impartial when i hear about cases of gang rape and so on." i mean, can you sleep at night with a clear conscience? well, my professionaljourney has been quite interesting, as you say, because i don't think it's very common to get this opportunity to work as an activist and now to come to the other side of the fence and be responsible to deliver justice to 100 million people. and i accept this is a very
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challenging position, especially given the very complex situation in which my country is at this point. but as far as my current role is concerned, as a citizen, as a woman, as a mother, i am very concerned and even disturbed about what i hear about the reports that we get and the reality on the ground. but it comes to my role and responsibility. there are procedures, there are rules and there are a lot of technicalities and the court functions in a very specific way, and that's one of the challenges when you head the judiciary. people don't understand that, and we have to follow the rules and we have to follow the procedure, otherwise,
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if i started judicial activism, then the whole principle of the rule of law will be violated. all right. 0k. other concerns raised by the joint investigation by the ethiopian human rights commission and the un is that they have serious doubts as to whether the ministry ofjustice in ethiopia, a part of the executive, you're not, but that is headed by gedion timotheos, who's from the ruling prosperity party, and they say that this means that it could exercise power with political considerations and that therefore its investigations are selective in nature and that they won't look, necessarily, properly at violations by state forces. so this is a criticism which you hear also from within ethiopia itself.
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so as somebody who's working in the field ofjustice in ethiopia, do you share those concerns? i am not sure why the person you have referred to has made that opinion. the ministry ofjustice would be in the best position to respond to that, zeinab badawi. i'm sorry i can't... all right. ok, you raise the fact that there's a national dialogue going on. you were appointed chiefjustice in 2018 by the prime minister, abiy ahmed, when he assumed power. and in february this year, you swore in members of a national dialogue commission, and you said that this should facilitate "an inclusive "dialogue and reconciliation "process that would heal wounds". do you want to see a kind of truth and reconciliation commission of the kind that we saw after apartheid in south africa? i don't think the south african commission and the dialogue
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commission interpret exactly parallel, because the dialogue commission here is mandated to facilitate citizen dialogue as well as elite dialogue, unfortunately or fortunately, in any political setting. we can't avoid elite dialogue, as well. the south african reconciliation commission is more focused on issues of healing and rehabilitation in the transitionaljustice. so, the commission is setting up its office and designing its strategy, and they have not launched it. they have a programme of works so far, from the information that i have, but going forward, it will be focusing on national dialogue.
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the commission will identify key issues of conversation and will gather and synthesise public opinion on those national agendas. well, before it's even got properly started, i give you one criticism, which is reflected in quite a few areas in the country. rahel bafe, chairwoman of ethiopia's political partiesjoint council, which is a coalition of more than 50 opposition groups, says, "the ruling prosperity party is approaching "the dialogue as though it were the arbiter of the process "rather than another equal stakeholder against whom "accusation will be levelled." and she says that the selection process of the commissioners for the national dialogue was not clear and that they were mostly sympathetic to the abiy government. what's your response?
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i know some of the commission members, and from what i know, they're very independent professionals, and some of them have been staff at the united nations, senior staff of the united nations and came back after retirement. so the process, the selection process, has been very transparent. it was based on public participation. but i'm sure rahel must have a reason to say what she has said. all right. well, the national dialogue, it is still working out what it's going to do, and it's rather vague in its sayings, but it is supposed to, we understand, to tackle fundamental questions such as ethiopia's future as a federal or unitary state, as it's a very complicated
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argument and it's a very polarised debate. some support the existing federal system, which divides the country into 11 federal states based on language and ethnicity, and others are opposed to this. but whatever the outcome, are you confident that this dialogue is going to ensure that democratic and civic rights of citizens are protected, whoever they are, wherever they are? well, i can't for sure talk about the success of the dialogue commission. it all depends on how they set their agenda, how they plan to engage the population as well as the political elite, and also it depends on the kind of support they get from the government as well as the people in general. so for now there's
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a lot of hope to... ..there�*s a lot of hope to make the dialogue commission a success. but i don't think there's anyone who can talk about the outcome of the commission beforehand. it depends on a number of factors. all right. as chiefjustice of the federal supreme court of ethiopia, obviously the role of the judiciary is very critical in upholding citizens�* rights. you're one of the three branches of government. you've got the executive, the legislature and you, thejudiciary. and you have said you want to restore public confidence in the judiciary and maintain its independence from political interference, right? for example, you've submitted
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a budget to parliament, not to the ministry of finance, and you've assumed the administration of 4,000 federal court employees from the civil service. but to what extent can you act as a balance to executive power? er... that is exactly the role of the judiciary more and more, and departing from a previous tradition of the judiciary, as you mentioned. the independence of the judiciary as an institution as well as independence ofjudges have been asserted over the last three years. and i'm very proud of this achievement. independence of the judiciary is at this point quite transparent, particularly through judgments that have been given byjudges. sometimes quite sensitive cases have been decided,
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judgments that did not make the government exactly happy. so this is a very good indicator of independence of thejudiciary. and there is also a new development in some sort of legislative reform. now there is an administrative procedure that gives mandate to the judiciary to review any decision of the executive branch. and this is again another very revolutionary approach in terms of establishing the accountability of the executive branch. all right. you rebut the criticisms from people like dr simeneh kiros from addis ababa university, who doubts the judiciary�*s ability to hold other branches of government accountable in the case of wrongdoing, clearly, in that answer. finally, chiefjustice, briefly, how will youjudge
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whether you have been successful as chiefjustice of the federal supreme court of ethiopia? er, well, i can tell you, recently there was an independent survey which is commissioned by usaid independent of the court, and 70% of the court users, according to that survey, are stating that the court service has improved in many ways and that the court is at this point providing a service independently and impartially. if ijust give you one important data, this year, the court has disposed 80% of the cases within one year. and this shows that the efficiency of the court has improved, and we are working on the effectiveness
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of the judiciary, not only on the effectiveness but also on the efficiency of the judiciary. and we have concrete data in terms of the progress that has been registered. meaza ashenafi, chiefjustice of the federal supreme court of ethiopia in addis ababa, thank you very much indeed for coming on hardtalk. thank you very much. hello. we've seen a bit of a lull in the heatwave conditions over
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the past 2a hours or so. it was a little bit fresher on thursday and into friday, too. but intense heat is on the way, particularly by sunday into tuesday. the met office have issued an amber warning for extreme heat across much of england and wales. we're likely to see widespread impacts from this spell of severe heat. health impacts notjust for the vulnerable. we could see transport disruption, potentially disruption to energy supplies as well. so, certainly some severe weather on the way with those exceptionally high temperatures sunday to tuesday. back to the here and now, for friday morning, we're going to be seeing a few splashes of rain across scotland, northern england, too. any showers quickly clearing from northern ireland. stays dry all day for southern england and wales. plenty of spells of sunshine coming through, and again it is going to feel warm. so, highs in the south 25—26 degrees. we're looking at the high teens or low 20s across scotland and northern ireland. moving through into friday evening, any of those showers
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in the north fading away fairly quickly, so it is dry, it's clear. we'll see a little bit of a warmer night as we head into the early hours of saturday. still reasonably fresh across parts of scotland and northern ireland. we could see single figures here, but down towards the south, we're are looking at mid—teens, i think, to start off your weekend. now, through saturday, a bit more cloud and a few spots of rain for the far north west of scotland. dry elsewhere with strong sunshine, very high levels of uv this time of year. so, those temperatures starting to pick up. the mid to high 20s across england and wales, the low 20s for scotland and for northern ireland. those temperatures continue to build then day on day. this is how sunday's looking. perhaps the odd rogue shower for scotland, dry, hot and sunny elsewhere. the hottest spots in the low 30s, i think, across much of central and southern england. even further north and west, we're looking at the mid to the high 20s. by the time we get to monday, that heat becomes more extensive across the map, so more of us will see temperatures in the mid, possibly high 30s, potentially record—breaking temperatures by the time we get to tuesday. one or two spots potentially 38—39 degrees as well,
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so temperatures like that, we don't see them very often here in the uk. they are going to cause some significant disruption. do make plans for monday into tuesday. we could see those temperatures near a0 degrees in a few spots. thundery breakdown at last on the way by wednesday. bye— bye.
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welcome to newsday, reporting live from singapore. i'm karishma vaswani. the headlines — celebrations on the streets of colombo, as sri lanka's president gotabaya rajapaksa resigns, following days of mass protests. russian forces extend their reach into western ukraine, as cruise missiles hit business and residential buildings far from the front lines. this attack happened right in the middle of a beautiful morning here in vinnytsia, where people would have been out and about and would have felt safe. but nowhere is safe for ukraine any more. presidentjoe biden pledges that america will use all its power to prevent iran from ever getting nuclear
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