11 March 2012 Written by  Glory Nirmala K. and Serkaddis Zegeye

The Development of Criminal Law of Ethiopia

3.1. Historical Background:

The history of Ethiopian Criminal law reveals the following important legislations incorporating the Criminal law of the country before the enactment of the existing Criminal Code of FDRE, 2005.

A. The Fewuse Menfessawi,

B. The Fetha  Negest,

C. The Ethiopian Penal Code, 1930.

D. The Penal Code of the Empire of Ethiopia, 1957.

E.  The 1974 Revolution and Criminal Law

F.  Special Penal Code of 1981

A. The Fewuse Menfessawi (The Canonical Penance):

The first attempt to compile the law was made by the emperor zar’a  Ya’equob (r.1434- 1468).  Desiring to govern his realm by a written law rather than by amorphous customary law and oral tradition, the emperor ordered distinguished Ethiopian Orthodox Church Scholars to compile an authoritative written law. The compilation had 62 articles mainly on criminal matters. Since this was far less than comprehensive, it was not able to resolve many of the legal problems that arose during that period.

B. The Fetha  Negest (The Law of the Kings):

The failure of the Fewuse Menfessawi led to the next codification by the same Emperor Za’ra Ya’eqob . The Fetha Negest is a very interesting legal compilation.

 

As highlighted by Graven (year), Fetha Negest included the following important criminal law principles :

  • those concerning “intention” and “negligence”,
  • relating to the proportion  between the fault and sanction,
  • the individualization of punishment,
  • the forgiveness and redemption of offenders, and
  • the sharing of guilt case of fighting etc.

These solutions in case of fighting etc. are most current, familiar and understandable situations for the people.

The Fetha Negest was formally incorporated into the Ethiopian legal system in 1908 by Emperor Menelik II. It can be said that in most cases, the Fetha Negest has attempted to incorporate the most suitable legal principles, which could be conceived in the epoch of its emergence. However, it suffered from the following drawbacks:

  • It lacked the systematization and other characteristics of modern codes,
  • Neither the ‘specific’ is differentiated from the ‘ general’ nor the ‘exception’ from the ‘rule’,
  • Aggravating and extenuating circumstances were not clearly provided for,
  • In general, the arrangement of the provisions is so haphazard that it is hard to locate  the most relevant provision ,and
  • The Fetha Negest was accessible and understandable only to those who continuously studied it i.e. the clergy.

The criminal provisions of the Fetha Negest were applied in Ethiopia until they were replaced by the Penal Code.

C. The Ethiopian Penal Code of 1930:

The Penal Code of 1930 reflects the norms and values of the old absolutist monarchy of the generation of Emperor Menelik II and Emperor Zewditu (i.e. the era between 1889 and 1930). It was also drawn up in a less systematic and clear manner and did not follow the rules of a modern codification process.

The main attributes of the Code were as follows:

  • The crimes and respective punishments were defined in exact fashion, and
  • The penalties were considerably softened and improved by setting the fines in proportion to the then economic and monetary situations of Ethiopia.
  • The Code under its Special Part protected the three great classic categories of interests. These were:

1. The state and Community,

2. Persons, and

3. Property.

Provisions of “Petty Offences” were incorporated towards the end of …..? .The sources of the Penal Code of 1930 seem to have been the Fetha Negest and the Siamese Penal Code and the Penal Code of the French Indo-China of the time. The drafter of the Code is believed to have been a Frenchman. The Penal Code of 1930 was in force until it was repealed and replaced by the 1957 Penal Code of Ethiopia.

D. The Ethiopian Penal Code, 1957:

Criminal laws do indeed reflect the conditions generally prevailing in the country where they apply. Therefore, they necessarily change. If substantial changes occur in the society, substantial modifications also become necessary in the legal and other rules. The old codified laws used in Ethiopia, approximately between 1450 and 1931, did not follow the rules of modern codification process and thus eventually proved unsatisfactory. When the necessity was felt for transformation of legal system in the second half of the 20 century, the modern codification process was initiated.

The task of drafting a new comprehensive penal code was entrusted to Jean Graven , a Swiss jurist who at that time had been the Dean of Faculty of Law and President of the Court of Cassation in Geneva , Switzerland.

The Sources and the Merits of the Penal Code Of 1957:

Obviously, the Criminal Code that appears in present-day society should be able to provide solutions to the complexities of modern life. In view of this fact, the drafter looked into the most modern penal codes that embodied the latest thinking in the sphere of criminal law. The primary source of the Code was the Swiss Penal Code of 1937 and the pre- 1957 Swiss Jurisprudence. The secondary sources were the French Penal Code of 1810 with respect to general format, the Yugoslav Penal Code of 1951 in relation to military offences, and more generally the code of Norway, Denmark, Poland the Federal Republic of Germany, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain, Italy, Brazil and Greece. Some provisions of ‘the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ and ‘the Red Cross Geneva Convention’ were also incorporated in the 1957 Penal Code of Ethiopia. The incorporation of   the latest principles of law in present day jurisprudence made the penal code of Ethiopia one of the modern and sophisticated criminal codes of the time.

In addition to this, the drafter also included a wide range of provisions that covered legal institutions that might arise in the future. New concepts, not   only juridical, also sociological and criminological were developed into a homogenous penal code, which aimed at the prevention of crimes and rehabilitation of criminals. The object of criminal law should not be retributive from the outset, despite the fact that punishment will serve as deterrent of prospective offenders.

It was the rationale of the penal code and the concepts embodied in some of its provisions that aroused bitter controversy among the members of the codification commission. The Fetha Negest, as well as the Penal Code of 1930, started from the presumption that criminals have to pay, i.e. have to be penalized for the injury they would cause to the individuals and to society at large. The objective of punishment was, according to these laws, in essence retributive. Now the draft penal code came up with new proposition with principal objective of  that the prevention of crime and rehabilitation of criminals. It was this deviation from the traditional approach that took some members of the commission by surprise.

After an arduous exchange of arguments, the draft was accepted mainly because it aimed at not only satisfying the then state of affairs, but guiding society as an instrument of change. The new code was intended to affect national unity and to provide for the progressive development of Ethiopia. On some points, however, compromises had to be made. Some were the following:

  • Collective Punishment: According to customary law, where offences had been committed by one or several persons, it was found impossible to ascertain which of the persons involved was the criminal, the court could, where equity so required, order ‘the damage’ to be made good jointly by the group of persons who could have caused it and among whom the persons who caused the damage were certain to be found.

As this traditional practice seemed not be in line with rule of law and human rights, the compromise formula that was reached after a long debate between the foreign experts and the Ethiopian members of the codification commission was that, ‘where an offence is committed by a group of persons, the persons who proved to have taken no part in the commission of the offence shall not be punished.’

  • Mutilation of Human Body As Punishment-Abolished: According to the old practice, habitual offenders were punished by mutilating the human body so as to give it the maximum deterrent effect. There was a general consensus not to incorporate this form of punishment. However, flogging was to be inflicted on such offenders provided that it was medically ascertained that the life of the offender would not be endangered.

  • ‘Presumption of Innocence’- Introduced: In the past, the accused was required to prove his innocence. In modern penal legislation, however, the generally accepted principle is that the accused enjoys the presumption of innocence, according to which the burden of introducing evidence to prove the guilt of the accused is on the Prosecution. This is opposed to the previous principle of “presumption of guilt”. In addition to this, accused has the right to produce defense witnesses.

  • Rules Applicable to Young Offenders: In the past, all offenders who were thought to have the capacity to discriminate between what is good and what is bad were brought before the regular courts. In the modern penal law, on the otherhand infants are completely exonerated from criminal provisions. Infancy is according to art 52 of the Penal Code, ‘the period extending from birth up to nine years.’ Infants are not deemed to be responsible for their acts under the law. The measures to be taken against such offenders should have curative, educational or corrective measures as may be necessary for their own good. Penalties and measures to be imposed on offenders between the ages of 9 and 15 years were those provided by Arts. 161-173 of the Penal Code. Thus, young persons were not subjected to the ordinary penalties applicable to adults nor should they be kept in custody with adult offenders. For purposes of the criminal law, the age of majority for young persons is 16 years.

  • Probation and Suspension of Sentences: In the past all forms of sentences were executed. Present-day penal legislation provides that certain offenders may, under defined circumstances, be granted release on probation or the sentence may be suspended for a fixed time. Even after the execution of a sentence of imprisonment, one may be granted a reduction of the term which one is required to serve. In accordance with the rationale of modern principles of criminal law, the Ethiopian Penal Code aims at not punishing the offender, but at rehabilitating and educating him. As a result, it provides ample opportunities for probation and suspension of sentences.

  • The Personal Nature of Criminal Punishments And Measures: If a convicted person died before the execution of a sentence, there was, according to customary laws, the possibility of proceeding against his property or the property of his next of kin. This was not retained in the Penal Code of 1957. The principle is that, ‘crime is personal to the one who is found to have committed it’, it is thus an innovation made in the present criminal law.

  • The Punishment For Burning Of Crops (Arson): since Ethiopian society is predominantly an agricultural society, severe penalties are prescribed for offences relating to or committed on agricultural products. Recognizing this deep-seated value, burning of crops (arson) entailed more severe penalties than other comparable crimes provided in the new penal code. In addition to the above matters, drafter of the Code, Jean Graven, also pinpointed the following areas where new and old ideas have been reconciled:

  • Capital punishment and corporal punishment (flogging) were maintained but with all the necessary precautions as to the instance of application and the conditions of administration.
  • Pecuniary punishments particularly confiscation of property were made to be applicable in limited instances of serious crimes against the sovereign and the state
  • The principle of collective responsibility for certain crimes involving tribes or anonymous criminals were made to rest on customary practices which had their own justification.
  • The severe provisions on abduction and enslavement and the flexibility one sees with regard to adultery, concubine and illicit damage to property by stray animals of others are reflections of the changing modes of life of Ethiopia. In the words of the drafter while enacting the Penal Code :

“…the Ethiopian legislator has made every effort to construct a complete edifice, one maison mouvelle…   where one can find order and peace security and progress, united in a single whole.”

Thus, the historical objective behind the enactment of the Penal Code of 1957 was to let it serve as a unifying force and as a machinery to enhance future development of the country the Penal Code of Ethiopia was promulgated on July 23, 1957 and came into force on May 5, 1958, and was in force until May 8th 2005.

E. The 1974 Revolution and Criminal Law:

Following the 1974 revolution, a "revolutionary" system of neighborhood justice emerged. It was difficult to distinguish between criminal acts and political offenses according to the definitions adopted in post-1974 revisions of the Penal Code. In November 1974, a proclamation which introduced Martial Law, was introduced. The martial law set up a system of military tribunals empowered to impose the death penalty or long prison terms for several political offenses. The Proclamation applied the law retroactively to the old regime's officials. The revolutionary government these officials responsibility for famine deaths, corruption, and mal-administration. Special three-member military tribunals sat in Addis Ababa and in each of the country's fourteen administrative regions.

In July 1976, the government amended the Penal Code of 1957 to institute the death penalty for "anti-revolutionary activities" and “economic crimes”. Investigation of political crimes came under the overall direction of the Revolutionary Operations Coordinating Committee in each awraja. In political cases, the courts waived search warrants required by the Criminal Procedure Code. The government transferred jurisdiction from the military tribunals to kebele and peasant association tribunals. Political trials constituted the main business of these tribunals until 1978.

Generally, the 1976 revision of the Penal Code empowered association tribunals to deal with criminal offenses. The revision limited the jurisdiction of association tribunals to their urban neighborhood or rural area. Elected magistrates, without formal legal training, conducted criminal trials. Procedures, precedents, and punishments varied widely from tribunal to tribunal, depending on the imperatives of the association involved. Peasant association tribunals accepted appeals at the Wereda (district) level. Appellate decisions were final. But decisions disputed between associations could be brought before peasant association courts at the Awraja level. In cities, Kebele tribunals were similarly organized in a three-tier system. Change of venue was arranged if a defendant committed an offense in another jurisdiction.

The judicial system was designed to be flexible. Magistrates could decide not to hear a case if the defendant pleaded guilty to minor charges and made a public apology. Nonetheless, torture was sometimes used to compel suspects and witnesses to testify. Penalties imposed at the local association level included fines of up to 300 birr. The tribunals could determine the amount of compensation to be paid to victims. The tribunals could impose imprisonment for up to three months and hard labor for up to fifteen days.

Association tribunals at the Awraja or Wereda level handled serious criminal cases. These tribunals were qualified to hand down higher sentences. Tribunal decisions were implemented through an association's public safety committee and were enforced by the local People's Protection Brigade. Without effective review of their actions, tribunals were known to order indefinite jailing.

The 1976 Special Penal Code, which was further elaborated in 1981, created new categories of so-called economic crimes. The list included hoarding, overcharging, and interfering with the distribution of consumer commodities. More serious offenses involved: engaging in sabotage at the work place or of agricultural production, conspiring to confuse work force members, and destroying vehicles and public property. Security sections of the Revolutionary Operations Coordinating Committee investigated economic crimes at the Awraja level and enforced land reform provisions through the peasant associations. These committees were empowered to charge suspects and held them for trial before local tribunals. Penalties could entail confiscation of property, a long prison term, or a death sentence.


F. Special Penal Code of 1981:


In 1981, the Revised Special Penal Code replaced the Special Penal Code. This amended Code included offenses against the government and the head of state, such as crimes against the state's independence and territorial integrity, armed uprising, and commission of "counterrevolutionary" acts. The 1981 amendment also included breach of trust by public officials and economic offenses, grain hoarding, illegal currency transactions, and corruption; and abuse of authority, including "improper or brutal" treatment of a prisoner, unlawful detention of a prisoner, and creating or failing to control famine. The Amended Special Penal Code also abolished the Special Military Courts. The Code created new Special Courts to try offenses under the Amended Special Penal Code. Special Courts consisted of three civilian judges and applied the existing Criminal and Civil Procedure Codes. Defendants had the right to legal representation and to appeal to a Special Appeal Court.

3. 2.The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia, 2005 Proclamation No. 414/ 2004

The 1957 Penal Code of Ethiopia, was on 9th May of 2005, and a new Criminal Code was  brought into enforcement. The factors that necessitated the revision of the Penal Law of Ethiopia are as follows:

1. To Incorporate the Modern Legal Concepts: During, nearly half a century? Since the 1957 Penal Code came into enforcement, several radical political, economic and social changes have taken place in Ethiopia. Among the factors that brought the changes, recognition of modern legal concepts by the Constitution and the international agreements ratified by Ethiopia were the major. The important phenomena that have been recognized in the Country in the recent past are:

  • The equality between religions, nations, nationalities and peoples,
  • The democratic rights and freedoms of citizens and residents,
  • The Human rights,
  • The rights of social groups like women and Children.

 

2. To Fill in the Lacunae: The 1957 Penal Code fails to properly address some of the criminal behavior arising out of advances in technology, the complexities of modern life as well as sufferings caused by reason of harmful traditional practices. Some such areas are:

  • The High Jacking of aircraft,
  • Money laundering,
  • Crimes related to corruption and drugs,
  • Grave injuries and sufferings caused to women and children by reason of harmful traditional practices.

It is true that the Constitution guarantees respect for the cultures of peoples, surely it does not intend to support those practices which are scientifically proved to be harmful. It is the responsibility of the legislature, by adopting progressive legislations, to educate and guide the public to discontinue such harmful traditional practices.

3. To Adopt a Comprehensive Criminal Code: It is desirable to adopt a comprehensive Criminal Code by putting together various Criminal provisions in the Negarit Gazeta in a disintegrated manner.  Similarly, since the parallel application of the regular Penal Code, 1957 and the Revised Special Penal Code of the Provisional Military Administration Council 1982 (Proclamation No. 214/1982), in respect of similar matters disregards equality among citizens. The Comprehensive Criminal Code, 2005 is intended to put an end to such practice.

4. Punishments for Certain Offences Increased: On the basis of public opinion taken during discussions on the draft Criminal Code, punishments in respect of crimes like rape and aggravated theft have been increased.

5. Matters Concerning the Determination of Sentence Revised: Since it is essential to facilitate the method by which the courts can pass similar punishments on similar cases, some major changes have been made in the provisions of the Code. Provisions of the Penal Code that used to make sentencing complicated and difficult have been amended. Provisions have been inserted which enables the courts to pass the appropriate penalty for each case by carefully examining from the lightest to the severe most punishment. A provision (Art. 88/4) has been introduced requiring the Federal Supreme Court to issue sentencing manual to ensure and control the correctness and uniformity of sentencing.

6. Purpose of Criminal Law and Objectives of Punishment Redefined: Another important point in respect of the determination of sentence is that, the purpose of Criminal Law is to preserve the peace and security by preventing the commission of crimes and a major means of preventing the commission of crime is punishment. Punishment can deter wrongdoers from committing other crimes; it can also serve as a warning to prospective wrongdoers. Although imprisonment and death are enforced in respect to certain crimes the main objective is to prevent wrongdoers temporarily or permanently from committing further crimes against society. And in such cases with the exception of the death sentence even criminals sentenced to life imprisonment can be released on parole before serving the whole term. In certain instances, convicts can be released on probation without enforcement of the sentence pronounced. This helps wrongdoers to lead a peaceful life and it indicates the major place which the Criminal Law has allocated for their rehabilitation. The fact that wrongdoers, instead of being made to suffer while in prison, take vocational training and participate in academic education, which would benefit them upon their release, reaffirms the great concern  envisaged by the Criminal Code about the reform of criminals. These express provisions in the new Code are included with intention that the Courts should, on passing sentence, take into account the purpose of the Criminal Law and the different aims of punishment.

In order to introduce all the above mentioned revisions and to adopt a comprehensive Criminal Code, substantive activities have been undertaken throughout the country. Discussions have been held on the draft Criminal Code prepared by the Ministry of Justice and the Justice and Legal System Research Institute. Legal and medical professionals, psychiatrists, different institutions of higher education and professional associations have made significant contributions through the opinions they have to the enactment of the law.  Representatives of the people selected from different sectors and associations have forwarded important views in discussion forums on the draft laws conducted in Addis Ababa and the regions. Moreover, the opinions of legal scholars and the laws and exigencies of foreign countries have been consulted to enrich the content of the Criminal Code.

It is hoped that the new Code will ensure respect for order, peace and security of the state and its peoples as well as respect for the rights and freedoms of its citizens and inhabitants. The Code is also expected to accelerate the economic progress of the State, strengthen   a steady order of free market and above all contribute towards the promotion of a fair judicial system in the country.

3.3. Scheme of the Criminal Code of FDRE, 2005:

The Criminal Code of 2005 has incorporated the Ethiopian Criminal law systematically, coherently and comprehensively. The Code is organized into three main parts.

I. General Part:

Part I of the Criminal Code is entitled “General Principles of Criminal Liability”, Part II Special Part and Part III is Petty Code. The General Part has two Books, namely:

Book. I. Arts. 1-86 “Crimes and the Criminal”. It lays down the general principles relating to “Criminal law and its Scope”(Art. 1-22), “The Crime and its Commission” (Art. 23-47), and the “Conditions of Liability to Punishment” (Art. 48-86).The General Part of the Criminal Code is the most technical part of the Code and the basic tool in the interpretation of any provision that embodies a specific crime. Issues such as the principle of legality, negligence, criminal responsibility, participation, lawful acts, justifiable and excusable acts, extenuating and aggravating circumstances etc, are covered in Book I.

Book. II (Arts. 87-237) is titled “The Criminal punishment and its Application”. This book deals with calculation of sentences, kinds of punishment, ordinary punishments applicable to adults, special measures applicable to adults, penalties applicable to young persons and also rules regarding determination , suspension, discontinuance and extinction of penalty.


II. The Special Part:

The “SPECIAL PART” of the code embodies ‘Specific Crimes’ which are organized under different titles systematically. This part of the Code includes four books. Each Book is sub – divided into Titles, chapters, sections, paragraphs and finally Articles. The Books of part II of the Code are follows.

Book III (Arts.238-374) incorporates ‘Crimes against the State or National or International Interests’. Book IV (Arts.375-537) deals with ‘Crimes against Public Interest or the Community’, Book V (Arts. 538-661) embodies ‘Crimes against Individuals and the Family’, and ‘Crimes against Property’ are found in Book VI (Arts. 662-733) of the Code.

Part III of the Criminal Code incorporates “The Code of Petty Offences”. This part of the Code also has two subdivisions, a General Part and a Special Part. The General Part embodies the rules governing liability to punishments and the Special Part deals with “Petty Offences” under specific heads.

The Criminal Code of FDRE, 2005, on the whole, consists of three parts, eight books, twenty eight Titles which include 865 Articles arranged in seventy two Chapters.

  • Relation between General and Special Parts of the Code:

The ‘General Part’ of the Criminal Code sets out the general principles of liability which are common to all serious crimes. This part explains what is meant by a criminal intention, negligence, imprisonment, probation and the like. The ‘Special Part’ describes the various acts which are deemed to be ‘criminal’ and lays down the penalties applicable to them. It defines the essential elements of each crime such as murder, theft, robbery etc, and prescribes appropriate punishments for each of such crimes. However, the said penalties cannot be ordered unless the conditions prescribed by the General Part with respect to liability to punishment are fulfilled. In other words, the Special Part does not operate by itself but has to be considered together with the General Part. This means, a person who behaves in a manner contrary to provisions of the Special Part is not automatically punishable. He shall be punishable only where his conduct is found guilty in accordance with the general principles of criminal liability laid down in the General Part of the Code.

Furthermore, even after the liability to punishment is established, mechanical imposition of sentence is not what is expected of a Judge, simply by referring to the punishment mentioned in the pertinent article of the Special Part. Those who administer justice are in fact dealing with ‘criminals’ rather than ‘crimes’ with ‘human beings’ rather than with ‘cases’. They are expected to individualize their decisions. To this end, they must bear in mind the provisions of the General Part; since these provisions, more than those of Special Part, will enable them to arrive at a decision truly reflecting the circumstances of each individual case. For example, Art.665 of the Special Part prescribes 5 years imprisonment for an crime of Theft. It does not mean that whoever commits theft should be sentenced for 5 years imprisonment.  Therefore, in order to decide whether, in a particular case, imprisonment should be ordered for 5 years or for six months, or less than that, the Court must of necessity, has to make reference to the General Part. Moreover, as any action taken under the law must serve the purposes of law, those who administer justice will have to satisfy themselves that their decisions are really capable of achieving these purposes as defined in the General Part. In other words “punishments have to be tailor-made” for each and every criminal having regard to his personal circumstances and other relevant matters in order to bring him back to the society as a law abiding citizen.

3. 4. Classification of Crimes under the Criminal Code

Generally, offences may be classified based on two criteria:

1. Classification based on the “Seriousness of the Crimes”.

2. Classification based on the “Subject matter” of the Crime.

  • Classification based on the ‘seriousness of the Crime’:

Crimes are generally classified into different categories according to varying degrees of seriousness. For example, English Law classifies offences into treason, felony and misdemeanors.

Treasons are the most heinous, although the rarest species of felony. Anything done in the nature of an attempt to displace the governing body is classed as Treason. It is a breach of duty of allegiance to the sate. This crime finds its place in the penal codes of every country ‘as a crime against the state’. ‘Felony’ is a serious criminal offence punishable by at least one year imprisonment. ‘Misdemeanor’ is a criminal offence which is less serious than a felony, and is usually punishable by no more than a year in a country jail, and /or a fine, restitution or some other minor penalty. These include all offences which are not felonies and treasons.

The Criminal Code of FDRE has not adopted such a ‘tripartite’ distinction but simply classifies crimes into various titles on the basis of content rather than on the scale of punishment. Although an explicit distinction is not made between crimes, the range of punishment implies the gravity of crimes. “Crimes of very grave nature” are punishable with ‘rigorous imprisonment’ in Central Prisons for a period of one to twenty five years (Art.108) “A crime of not very serious nature” may subject to special provisions that may face ‘simple imprisonment’ for a term of ten days to three years (Art. 106), subject to Special provisions that may extend the period beyond three years. “Petty offences” on the other hand, are punishable with fine or arrest for a relatively shorter period of one day to three months (Art .747), subject to certain aggravating exceptions (Art.767-769).

The three variations in the deprivation of liberty , namely, ‘rigorous imprisonment’, ‘simple imprisonment’ and ‘arrest’ apparently  denote a de facto classification into ‘very serious crimes’, ‘not very serious crimes, and ‘petty offences’.

  • Classification Based On the “Subject Matter” Of The Crime:

A more clear cut and explicit kind of classification of crimes that is found in the Criminal Code is based on the content or subject matter of the crime. The object of the criminal law is to protect the “interests” of the state, the community and the interests of the individual in order to ensure peace and security .Therefore, crimes against such interests are kept under various Titles. The classification mainly makes distinction between “crimes” in Part II   (special part) of the Code and ‘Petty offences’ embodied in Part III of the Code entitled ‘The Code of Petty Offences. Further, the Special Part of the Code organizes the various interests to be protected in the following order:

  • Interests of the ‘State’: Crimes against state or against National or international interests, Arts. 237-374.
  • Interests of the ‘Community’: Crimes against the Public Interests or the Community Arts.378 – 537.
  • Interests of the ‘Individual’: Crimes against the individuals and the Family Arts.538-733.

The individual interests of a person   protected under the Code include his life, his person (body), his liberty, his honor, his morals, his family, his property etc.


  • The Petty Offences:

A ‘petty offence’ is an infringement of a mandatory or prohibitory provision of a law or regulation issued by a competent authority or a minor offence which is not punishable under the Criminal Law. Such acts or omissions are made punishable under the Petty Code.

The policy underlying the classification of crimes under the Criminal Code of FDRE, 2005, can be better understood from the following observation made by the drafter of the 1957 Penal Code Prof. Jean Graven in this regard…

“… abandoning the famous ‘tripartite division’ of the offences according to their supposedly different natures into felonies, misdemeanors and petty offences, the new Ethiopian law has deliberately enthroned the identity of the nature of the offences retained in the Penal Code, all of them simply called “offences”, and the unity of all general principles, which are applicable to them. On the other hand, it has detached from them the minor, formal and petty offences, which form the subject matter of the Code of Petty Offences. Here the natural distinction between evidently different fields is instantly perceptible…”

Last modified on Wednesday, 02 May 2012 13:05