It is nearly half a century since the 1957 penal code entered into operation. During this period, radical political, economic and social changes have taken place in Ethiopia. Among the major changes are the recognition by the Constitution and international agreements ratified by Ethiopia of the equality between religions nations, nationalities and peoples, the democratic rights and freedoms of citizens and residents, human rights, and most of all, the rights of social groups like women and children. After all these phenomena have taken place, it would be inappropriate to allow the continuance of the enforcement of the 1949 Penal Code.
Another discernible gap in the Penal Code is its failure to properly address crimes born of advances in technology and the complexities of modern life. The Penal Code does not incorporate crimes such as the hijacking of aircraft, computer crimes and money laundering. Besides, as regards crimes related to corruption and drugs although they are nowadays, attracting attention both in legislation and follow-up not only within national frontiers but also on the regional and international levels, due to the grave crises they are causing, the Penal code does not adequately deal with such crimes with the degree of seriousness they deserve.
Another point that should not be overlooked is the Penal Code’s failure to acknowledge the grave injuries and sufferings caused to women and children by reason of harmful traditional practices. Surely, the Constitution guarantees respect for the cultures of peoples, but it does not buttress up those practices scientifically proven to be harmful. It is also futile to issue a law that does not have the trust and support of the people for is usually remains impracticable. But it is well recognized in the philosophy of criminal legislation that the legislature should, by adopting progressive laws at times, educated and guide the public to dissociate itself from harmful traditional practices.
Furthermore, it is desirable to adopt a comprehensive code by assembling the various criminal provisions published in the Negarit Gazeta in a disintegrated manner. Similarly, since the parallel application, of the regular Penal Code and the Revised Special Penal Code in respect of similar matters disregards equality among citizens, the existence of a comprehensive Criminal Code will put an end to such practice.
In order to eliminate the above-mentioned shortcomings and adopt a comprehensive Criminal code, substantial activities have been undertaken throughout the entire 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 gave 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. It is mainly on the basis of public opinion that punishments have increased in respect of crimes like rape and aggravated theft. Moreover, the opinions of legal scholars and the laws and experiences of foreign countries have been consulted to enrich the content of the Criminal Code.
Finally, one point that must not be left unmentioned is the matter concerning the determination of sentence. Since it is essential to facilitate the method by which 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 enable the Courts to pass the appropriate penalty for each case by carefully examining from the lightest to the most severe punishment. A sentencing manual will also be issued to ensure and control the correctness and uniformity of sentencing.
Another point which must be raised in connection with the determination of sentence is that the purpose of Criminal law is to preserve the peace and security of society. It protects society 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 of certain crimes the main objective is temporarily or permanently to prevent wrongdoers 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 crimes convicts can be released on probation without the pronouncement of sentence or without the 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 mad 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.
It must be noted that, by laying down in the Code express provisions concerning these cases, it is intended that Courts should, on passing sentence, take into account the purpose of the law and the different aims of punishment.
It is hoped that this Criminal Code, which has been revised through all these persistent efforts, will ensure respect for the order, peace and security of the State and its peoples as well as respect for the rights and freedoms of its citizens and inhabitants.
Being convinced that this Code will enable to accelerate the economic progress of the State, that is will strengthen a steady order of free market and that it will, above all, contribute towards the promotion of a fair judicial system, in our country, pursuant to Article 55 (1) of the Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia it is hereby proclaimed as follows:
1. Short Title:
This Proclamation may be cited as “The Criminal Code of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia 2004.”
The following proclamations:
a) the Penal Code of the Empire of Ethiopia 1957, and
b) the Revised Special Penal Code of the provisional Military. Administration Council 1982, Proclamation No. 214/1982, are hereby repealed as from the 9th of May, 2005.
3. Special Case:
As provided in Article 3 of this Code, nothing shall affect the application of special laws and regulations.
4. Effective Date:
This Criminal Code as published in separated volume of the Federal Negarit Gazeta under proclamation No. 414/2004, shall come into force as of the 9th of May 2005.
Done at Addis Ababa, this 9th day of May 2005
Girma Wolde Giorgis
President of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia