As a member of the Global Legal Research Center at the Law Library of Congress I cover a number of African countries, and get my share of inquiries on a range of legal issues. So I thought it would be fun, and hopefully useful, to highlight some electronic sources that I often find valuable when researching African jurisdictions. Ethiopia, one of the jurisdictions I handle, receives a lot of inquiries, so it seemed like a good place to start.
Doing legal research on African jurisdictions using electronic resources is not exactly a walk in the park. I can think of a couple of reasons for this. First, laws of many African countries are not widely accessible in print let alone electronically. There are of course various exceptions; South Africa and Kenya, among the most accessible jurisdictions in the continent, come to mind. Second, many legal issues regarding African jurisdictions that are often a subject of inquiry, particularly those having to do with matters of personal status, are entirely or in part controlled by religious and/or customary rites. These sources of law are not easily accessible, in large part because they tend to be highly fragmented and mostly unwritten (p. 62).
However, the accessibility of the laws of African jurisdictions is changing quickly and for the better. Ethiopia is a perfect example in this regard.
Before listing good online resources for locating Ethiopian laws, may I suggest a few go-to sources for those who are looking for background information – those who might want answers for questions such as: what kind of government does Ethiopia have? What are the legislative jurisdictions of federal, state and local authorities? Or, what does the court structure in the country look like? Reading the Ethiopian Constitution may help you answer most of these types of questions. There are also useful secondary sources that provide great summaries of the Ethiopian legal systems. Among these are New York University School of Law‘s GlobaLex, and the Foreign Law Guide (available on subscription).
Various electronic sources provide access to Ethiopian Federal laws and laws issued during the period when Ethiopia was a unitary State. The Ethiopian Federal Courts (EFC) website, although incomplete, is the most authoritative of all. It includes the six core Ethiopian codes issued in the late 1950′s and early 1960′s and laws issued after Ethiopia was transformed into a federation in 1995. The website includes major codes, such as the Revised Federal Family Code and the Federal Criminal Code, as well as numerous proclamations and regulations. However, so far, the proclamations cover only up to the 2003 legislative year and the latest regulations available in the website were issued in 2006.
Although not as authoritative a source as the EFC website, the Ethiopian Legal Brief, a website maintained by a Law Professor in Ethiopia, goes the extra mile. It makes available Codes (including those issued decades ago and recent ones), proclamations (1995-2012), regulations (1996-2011), and consolidated administrative directives. It also includes select decisions of the Federal Supreme Court Cassation, a bench in the Federal Supreme Court with the authority to review certain decisions issued by lower federal courts, the regular division of the Supreme Court, and state supreme courts.
Other websites take a subject matter approach to publishing laws. The Ethiopian Investment Agency makes available Acts and directives germane to issues of investment. The United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees’ (UNHCR) portal, REFWORLD, is a good source for select laws including on immigration and citizenship, criminal law and refugee law. Laws on limited areas of law, organized by subject matter, are also available at the World Law Guide. Another source for selected Ethiopian Federal laws is the International Labor Organization (ILO) portal, NATLEX.
Ethiopian State laws are relatively hard to come by. Eight constitutions of the nine of regional states are available on the Ethiopian Legal Brief site. The Ethiopian Law Network, in addition to its collection of federal laws neatly arranged by subject matter, provides access to limited regional state laws, mainly the land laws of the Amhara, Oromia, and Tigray Regional States.
The Law Library of Congress collects Ethiopian federal laws and select state laws. Whenever you cannot find sources online, please do not hesitate to contact us. You may submit your questions by phone, through an online request form, or written correspondence. You may also post your questions on our Facebook wall or submit them via Twitter to @LawLibCogress.