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An Interview with Hanibal Goitom, Foreign Law Specialist

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This week’s interview is with Hanibal Goitom, a Foreign Law Specialist in our Global Legal Research Center.  Hanibal has previously written two guest posts for In Custodia Legis.  His “Power Lunch” was also discussed in the post There’s No Place Like Home.

Describe your background.

A black and white headshot of Hanibal Goitom as a young child.I am a Foreign Law Specialist at the Law Library of Congress.  What that means is that I answer questions on the laws of nineteen African jurisdictions (Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, Malawi, Seychelles, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, South Africa, Lesotho, Swaziland, Namibia, Nigeria, Ghana, Gambia, Liberia, and Sierra Leone) for the three branches of the United States government as well as private patrons.  I have been working at the Law Library for about three and half years.  I am from a tiny, twenty-year-old East African nation called Eritrea and I speak Tigrigna (a language spoken in parts of both Eritrea and Ethiopia) and Amharic (a language spoken mainly in Ethiopia but one that many Eritreans speak because of the long colonization of Eritrea by Ethiopia).

What is your academic/professional history?

I have an LLB from the University of Asmara, Eritrea (a Civil Law country) and completed an LLM here in the U.S.  Before coming to the U.S., I worked at the Office of the Legal Advisor to the President of the State of Eritrea, an office mainly responsible for representing the State of Eritrea before international tribunals set up to adjudicate border disputes (with Yemen and Ethiopia) and claims of violations of international humanitarian laws and human rights laws resulting from the war with Ethiopia.  I have also worked as a general counsel to my alma mater (University of Asmara).

How would you describe your job to other people?

I tell people that I study the legal systems of selected African countries and answer questions on various areas of law.  Sometimes I just tell people that I work at the largest library in the world!

Why did you want to work at the Law Library?

A black and white headshot of Hanibal Goitom as a young child.


There are many reasons.  I wanted to work here because the Law Library of Congress has a diverse workforce.  I do not believe that anyone would pass up an opportunity to work at a place that brings together lawyers from around the world (Iran, Russia, New Zealand, China, France, United Kingdom, Austria, Canada, India, Israel, Jordan, Mexico, Argentina, Brazil, Pakistan), not to mention the rest of the Law Library staff who have rich backgrounds and experience.  It really is as Kelly described like a mini United Nations.”

Another reason I took this job is simply because it is very interesting – I would be able to work at a place where a wide range of issues are covered and get to work on projects that are always interesting as much as they are challenging.

I also wanted to work at the Law Library because it provides a unique and crucial public service – I am especially proud of the fact that we (the Global Legal Research Center) provide reference assistance to anyone who wants to know about the laws of any jurisdiction in the world, be it a student researching constitutional issues in Nigeria or a person who wants to adopt an Ethiopian child.

What is the most interesting fact you’ve learned about the Law Library?

One of the most fascinating facts about the Law Library is its collection.  This institution has millions of print materials that it has been collecting from around the world for a long time.  Every time I go down to the stacks I’m fascinated at the foresight of the people that ran the Law Library a long time ago who understood that it was important to collect laws from jurisdictions around the world.

What is something most of your co-workers do not know about you?

My colleagues probably do not know that I was actually born an Ethiopian citizen.  My country, Eritrea, was colonized by Ethiopia from 1962 until 1991.  During that period, Eritrea was an Ethiopian province and Eritreans were legally Ethiopian citizens – no matter how much we insisted that we weren’t.

Comments (6)

  1. what do you think about the recent action of the Sudanese government with regard to the denationalization of the Sudanese from s Sudan

    Those people might not have contributed or might not even have wanted to the formation of the south Sudan but the government just decided to take the action because a new state has been formed

    I would love to hear your view on this subject

    • Sudan amended its Nationality law in July 2011. It appears that this amendment denationalized individuals of South Sudanese descent who participated in the referendum that led to the creation of South Sudan on July 9, 2011.

      Unfortunately, it has not been possible to locate the actual text of the amendment Act. We have, however, located a summary of the amendment in Arabic from a major newspaper in Sudan, A short summary of the legislative process is also available on the Global Legal Monitor,

      I will be following this issue with interest and hope to obtain more information on it soon.

  2. Your statement about Ethiopia colonizing Eritrea is a stretch. The “colonial” issue was a strategic ploy to present Eritrea as an entity left-over from the era of de-colonization. The UN took the bait; a promise to Eritreans who sacrificed so much in the hope of gaining a breakaway status was finally fulfilled. It is sad that your generation with access to information [you at the Library of Congress] has failed to check historical facts and went along with the old political line. What is interesting is that many are regretting the decision our leaders took and the unnecessary pain and suffering our people have to endure. I hope a person of your caliber will think outside the box to not perpetuate such inherited lies. You are a trained lawyer and hopefully care much about ethics as well.

  3. Dear Halefom
    Please accept my sincere apology for the delayed response to your comment on the issue of Colonization.
    Actually it was Hannibal who should have replied to your comment but the fact that I share the same opinion with him I believe I can give you a satisfactory answer.
    First of all every individual, lawyer or engineer, in this world has the right to form an opinion on any political issue or take side with any political philosophy. Unfortunately we did not have the opportunity to promote such a civilised culture in the country of our origin including yours.
    Secondly, the issue that you raised is highly subjective and it is a matter of interpretation.
    To me personally, when anyone tries to rule your country against your will I can not find any description more than colonisation.
    The Eritrean people have expressed their stance by paying a heavy sacrifice for thirty years because they were not willing to be with Ethiopia.
    You are entitled to think that Ethiopia did not colonise Eritrea but the people of Eritrea beg to differ.
    But I really want to tell you something, anyone who does not agree with your opinion does not mean he/she is wrong. You need to accept that people have different views on issues. After all the fundamental equation of civilisation is tolerance to difference.
    Many thanks

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