Remarks by Peter Vrooman at the Joined Up Justice Forum

Remarks by
Peter Vrooman
Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy
at the Joined Up Justice Forum

May 20, 2017

Tenestaleygn, endemn aderachu,  attam (or akkam) bultanni.

Your Excellency President of the Federal Supreme Court Dagne Melaku,

Your Excellency Attorney General Getachew Ambaye,

Pastor Daniel,

Distinguished officials and members of the Joined Up Justice Forum

Ladies and Gentlemen

I am honored to join you today at this important intergovernmental venue to further strengthen the goals and objectives of the Joined up Justice Forum. The United States is proud of its key role in supporting this forum. Since December 2010, we have remained a supporter to numerous national and several regional gatherings of the Joined Up Justice Forum, supported by Justice For All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia.

Through USAID and the U.S. Department of Justice, the U.S. Government partners with governments and civil society around the world to strengthen justice systems, support security sector reforms, enable legal empowerment of the poor, and strengthen good governance based on the rule of law. Rule of law is a key driver of inclusive, equitable and sustainable development, and we recognize that development outcomes are not sustainable unless they generate trust across all parts of society. I applaud the efforts of the Joined up Justice Forum to increase public confidence in the rule of law by improving the effectiveness, integrity, accountability and transparency of justice and security systems in Ethiopia.

Ethiopia has a rich legal tradition and respect for the law is deeply rooted among the Ethiopian people. This reverence for justice and fairness, combined with the deep religious belief systems of the people, contributes greatly to the tolerant and respectful culture of this country.

I see gathered here today the decision makers of the Ethiopian Justice System alongside key actors mandated with oversight of justice and security institutions. These bi-annual gatherings enable authentic dialogue on strengths, gaps and potential areas of improvement across the justice system. Whether it is to define a framework for laws that are needed or to improve existing statutes, this forum is becoming a vehicle for lasting improvements in the Ethiopian Justice system.

U.S. assistance to Ethiopia in the areas of food assistance, other forms of emergency relief, health, economic growth and basic education, is perhaps better known in the country. However, through USAID’s office of Democracy and Governance, there has been deep collaboration in the justice sector as well. I am extremely pleased to mention our support to legal aid and alternative dispute resolution work in and around East and West Hararghe and Harari regional state, provided by Haromaya University. This effort supports vulnerable populations and the poorest of the poor seeking remedies for their claims and means to peacefully settle their disputes. To date, these efforts have reached nearly 480,000 beneficiaries. Of this total, approximately 220,000 were women.

I understand that tomorrow this forum will be deliberating on a draft legal aid strategy. I’m pleased to learn that colleagues from Haromaya University as well as other university law schools will attend and lend their expertise to the further development of this important strategy document.

U.S. financial support to Justice for All – Prison Fellowship Ethiopia (JFA-PFE) has been successful in providing in-depth training for judges, police and prosecutors in international human rights statutes, and Ethiopia’s constitutional provisions in human and democratic rights. Such training has to date reached 2,463 key justice sector officials at the federal and regional levels throughout the country.

Our support also includes a specialized focus in supporting Ethiopia’s ambitious plan to eliminate child marriage and female genital mutilation by 2025. So far, this support has assisted in deferring or cancelling 3,250 pre-arranged early marriages while also reducing the number of FGM cases through education, improved investigation and enforcement of the law.

As part of U.S. support to the capacity building efforts of the Justice Sector, we have sponsored both overseas and in-country exchange visits for judicial system professionals—judges, prosecutors, police, prison administrators and justice bureau heads. These visits offer opportunities to learn about how justice systems operate in other countries, including U.S., as well as across spectrum number of states and autonomous city administrations in Ethiopia. I know many of you here this morning have participated in and returned home with fresh insights from these exchange visits. We look forward to the imminent arrival of our Resident Legal Attaché Sasha Foster who will carry on the work of Roger Keller.

This forum was established with the aim of identifying and remedying gaps in the Ethiopian justice system. In the United States, we too continue to wrestle with making necessary improvements to our own justice system. There are cases brought to light where our own institutions are biased or discriminatory in applying the law. In both of our countries, justice and security systems may sometimes be perceived as ineffective, slow, or untrustworthy. People often lack knowledge about their rights. We do not want a system that is static and unable to evolve. We seek a system that remains aware of the possibility of inconsistencies in treatment and application of the law and provides adequate and effective safeguards to avoid those disparities, and the continued participation in this program shows that Ethiopia also seeks such a system. In both of our nations, it is imperative that our justice systems and the men and women who have accepted the responsibility to serve must be able to instill trust and confidence from the people they serve through accountability.

A key to progress in this area is improving communications and relations between justice officials and communities and publicizing decisions. I believe that effective community-oriented justice services (i.e. community policing) will prove successful in supporting and maintaining peaceful and law abiding communities. In America, as in Ethiopia, we must find creative and viable means to strengthen trust and confidence between portions of our own justice systems and citizens. This bridge cannot be built from one side alone…it will require men and women of courage, patience and perseverance from both sides of the present divide.

I wish to again express my appreciation to all of you who have convened here this weekend, especially to those of you who have traveled far, to engage in this important dialogue. I know that you have a full menu of issues to discuss and decide at this forum.

I wish you the most productive deliberations. I look forward to the outcomes from this weekend’s work and our continued collaboration.

Betam amesegenalehu. (Thank you very much).