Constitutional Provisions

The 1995 Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Proclamation No. 1/1995) articulates a number of fundamental rights. Article 14 provides that every person "has the inviolable and inalienable right to life, the security of person and liberty".See also Arts. 15 to 17, Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Proclamation No. 1/1995).By virtue of Article 21(1):

All persons held in custody and persons imprisoned upon conviction and sentencing have the right to treatments respecting their human dignity

Under Article 30:

1. Everyone has the right to assemble and to demonstrate together with others peaceably and unarmed, and to petition. Appropriate regulations may be made in the interest of public convenience relating to the location of open-air meetings and the route of movement of demonstrators or, for the protection of democratic rights, public morality and peace during such a meeting or demonstration.

2. This right does not exempt from liability under laws enacted to protect the well-being of the youth or the honour and reputation of individuals, and laws prohibiting any propaganda for war and any public expression of opinions intended to injure human dignity.

Police forces are established under the Constitution at federal and state level. According to Article 51(6), the Federal Government is required to 

establish and administer national defence and public security forces as well as a federal police force.

In turn, the states of the Federal Republic are obliged to "establish and administer a state police force, and to maintain public order and peace within the State".Art. 52(2)(g), Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Proclamation No. 1/1995).

The Constitution further obliges the House of Peoples’ Representatives to

determine the organization of national defence, public security, and a national police force. If the conduct of these forces infringes upon human rights and the nation’s security, it shall carry out investigations and take necessary measures.Art. 55(7), Constitution of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia (Proclamation No. 1/1995).

Treaty Adherence

Global Treaties

Adherence to Selected Human Rights Treaties

1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

State Party
ICCPR Optional Protocol 1 Not party
1984 Convention against Torture (CAT) State Party
Competence of CAT Committee to receive individual complaints No
CAT Optional Protocol 1 Not party
Adherence to International Criminal Law Treaties
1998 Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court Not party

Regional Treaties

Adherence to Regional Human Rights Treaties

1981 African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights

State Party
1998 Protocol to the African Charter on the African Court Signatory
Article 34(6) declaration regarding individual petitions N/A
Adherence to International Criminal Law Treaties at Regional Level
Malabo Protocol on the African Court of Justice and Human Rights Not party

National Legislation

Police Use of Force

Provisions governing police use of force are spread across many laws and regulations in Ethiopia. In its 2019 periodic report on the ICCPR, Ethiopia acknowledged that: "The existing legal framework for the use of force and firearms in Ethiopia is inadequate and does not meet human rights standards. Accordingly, a new use of force law is being drafted by the Office of the Federal Attorney General along with a new system of police accountability".Second periodic report submitted by Ethiopia under the ICCPR (2019), para. 57.  

According to the 2004 Criminal Code:

An act done in self-defense or the defense of another person against an unlawful attack or an imminent and unlawful attack against a legally protected right, shall not be punishable if the attack or imminent attack could not have been otherwise averted and if the defense was proportionate to the needs of the case.Art. 78 (Legitimate Defense), 2004 Criminal Code.

The Criminal Code further establishes that: "An act done in the exercise of a professional duty is not liable to punishment when it is in accordance with the accepted practice of the profession and the doer does not commit any grave professional fault."Art. 69 (Professional Duty), 2004 Criminal Code.

By virtue of the earlier (1961) Code of Criminal Procedure, when making an arrest, if a criminal suspect:

forcibly resists the endeavors to arrest or attempts to evade the arrest, such officer may use all means proportionate to the circumstances to effect the arrest.Art. 56(4), 1961 Code of Criminal Procedure.

As of early 2021, the Code of Criminal Procedure was said to be undergoing revision. The draft text of the procedure to effect arrest stipulates that if a suspect “forcibly resists or attempts to evade the arrest, the investigating police officer may use proportionate force warranted by the circumstances to effect the arrest”.Art. 114(4), Draft text of a revised Code of Criminal Procedure.

Under the 2011 Proclamation on the Establishment of the Ethiopian Federal Police Commission (EFPC), in exercising police functions, it is prohibited to 

1. Commit any inhuman or degrading treatment or act; or

2. Make discrimination based on race, nationality, color, gender, language, religion, political outlook, social background, wealth, birth or any other stand.Art. 24 (Prohibitions), 2011 Ethiopian Federal Police Commission (EFPC) Establishment (Proclamation No. 720/2011).

The Federal Police Officers Administration Council of Ministers Regulation No. 268/2012 requires that every police officer adhere

to the following ethical principles in accordance with the powers and responsibilities given to him:

a. Respect the rights of nations, nationalities and peoples without discrimination on the account of race, gender, religion, language, color, political outlook, wealth, birth or any other ground;

b. Respect and protect the Constitution and international human right conventions ratified by Ethiopia and other laws.Art. 44 (Ethical Principles), Federal Police Officers Administration Council of Ministers Regulation No. 268/2012. 

With respect to use of force:

1. A police officer may use proportionate force when faced with clear resistance in discharging his duties and where other options are not available.

2. A police officer may use firearms pursuant to sub-article (1) of this Article only where other measures short of firearms are insufficient to:

a. Protect his own life or the life of others from death or from grave bodily injury;

b. Apprehend a dangerous criminal suspect or to restrain a suspect or convicted prisoner from escaping.Art. 45 (Use of Force), Federal Police Officers Administration Council of Ministers Regulation No. 268/2012. 

In January 2019, it was reported that the commander of the National Defence Forces Intelligence Centre, General Hassen Ibrahim, has set up a committee to define a new legal framework restricting the type of arms used by regional security forces. At present, the country has no laws on the required level of military training or the number of arms in the possession of these forces. 

Amhara state

Specific provisions also apply to police use of force at state level. In Amhara, for example: 

1. A police officer may use reasonable force as may be necessary in order to apprehend a person who commits crimes or to prevent danger or to defend himself.

2. Any use of force by a police officer shall be proportionate, supported by law and on the basis of legal authorization.Art. 38 (use of force), Amhara Regional State Police Administration Council of Regional Government Regulation No.6/2003.

Use of Force in Custodial Settings

General provisions governing use of force in federal prisons are set out in the 2003 Federal Prisons Commission Establishment Proclamation, according to which every prison warden shall:

perform his duties by fully respecting the human rights and democratic rights enshrined in the Constitution and the international instruments adopted by Ethiopia, and in accordance with other relevant laws.Art. 18(1) (Duties of a prison warden), Federal Prisons Commission Establishment Proclamation No. 365/2003. 

With respect to the treatment of prisoners:

Prisoners shall have the right to be treated conditions of respect for human dignity.Art. 22(1): Principle, Federal Prisons Commission Establishment Proclamation No. 365/2003.

Any treatment or act, that is inhuman or that violates human dignity is forbidden.Art. 37 (Forbidden acts), Federal Prisons Commission Establishment Proclamation No. 365/2003.

Oromia state

Specific regulations also exist at state level. A 2014 Regulation governs use of force in prisons in Oromia state.

1. Every member may use proportional force with a weapon:

a) To avert dangers against prisoner;
b) To prevent danger against himself or other persons;
c) To avert prisoners attempt to escape or to be escaped individually or in group in or outside of the premises of the prison;
d) To avert targeted imminent danger inside or outside of the premises of prison;
e) To control prisoners that create a mob while they are brought to court or to control attempt of prisoners to escape from the premises of the prison by breaking fence or prisoners attempt to escape by breaking dormitory and where such situation could not be prevented by other means or it is beyond his capacity.

2. Notwithstanding to the provision of sub-article 1 of this article, a member who use weapons unnecessarily or proportionally shall be liable in accordance with a law.Art. 92 (Conditions as to the Use of force and Weapon), Regulation No 168/2014 to Revise Oromia National Regional State Prison Administration Commission.

Police Oversight

In Ethiopia, most oversight mechanisms are in the form of internal disciplinary rules or regulations within the police and prison services, rather than an independent external body established for the purpose. According to a 2012 Regulation, for example:

Any police officer shall be liable for the damages caused as a result of his decision or action in violation of the law.Art. 51 (Liability), Federal Police Officers Administration Council of Ministers Regulation No. 268/2012.

In its Concluding Observations in 2015, however, the African Commission commended the creation of Ethics/Discipline Committees in all Police Commissions to investigate cases of violations of human rights and take necessary administrative measures against perpetrators. 



Views and Concluding Observations of United Nations Treaty Bodies

In its 2011 Concluding Observations on Ethiopia's initial report on its implementation of the 1966 International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Human Rights Committee noted with concern

the numerous reports received about serious human rights violations committed in the Somali Regional State of Ethiopia by members of the police and the army, including murder, rape, enforced disappearance, arbitrary detention, torture, destruction of property, forced displacement and attacks on the civilian population, as well as the recent reports of apprehension of foreign journalists in the region.

The Committee was also concerned at the lack of cases in which perpetrators of serious crimes had been prosecuted and punished and by Ethiopia's refusal to have an independent inquiry on the situation. The Committee further noted with concern

numerous reports suggesting that torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatments are widespread in the State party and used against detainees by the police, prison officers and military, especially with regard to alleged members of armed insurgent groups active in certain regions of Ethiopia (the Somali Regional State and the Oromia Regional State of Ethiopia). Moreover, perpetrators reportedly very often go unpunished.

The Committee was also concerned over

allegations of the resort to excessive and sometimes lethal force by the security forces, notably during the post-elections violence in 2005, and by the manner in which the Commission of Inquiry established to investigate these events, may be presumed to have applied an inappropriate test of proportionality and necessity, its actual content of which the State party failed to clarify.Human Rights Committee, Concluding Observations on Ethiopia's initial report, UN doc. CCPR/C/ETH/CO/1, 19 August 2011, §§16-18.

Also in 2011, the Committee against Torture expressed its deep concern about 

numerous, ongoing and consistent allegations concerning the routine use of torture by the police, prison officers and other members of the security forces, as well as the military, in particular against political dissidents and opposition party members, students, alleged terrorist suspects and alleged supporters of insurgent groups such as the Ogaden National Liberation Front (ONLF) and the Oromo Liberation Front (OLF).

The Committee was concerned about

credible reports that such acts frequently occur with the participation, at the instigation or with the consent of commanding officers in police stations, detention centers, federal prisons, military bases and in unofficial or secret places of detention. The Committee also takes note of consistent reports that torture is commonly used during interrogation to extract confessions when the suspect is deprived of fundamental legal safeguards, in particular access to legal counsel.Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations on Ethiopia's initial report, UN doc. CAT/C/ETH/CO/1, 20 January 2011, §10.

The Committee was also deeply concerned at

numerous consistent reports about the State party’s persistent failure to investigate allegations of torture and prosecute perpetrators, including members of ENDF [the Ethiopia National Defence Force] and military or police commanders. In this regard, it notes the absence of information on cases where soldiers and police or prison officers were prosecuted, sentenced or subjected to disciplinary sanctions for having committed acts or torture or ill-treatment. The Committee is also concerned about the reported exercise of police functions by ENDF in the Somali Regional State and by private militia groups.Committee against Torture, Concluding Observations on Ethiopia's initial report, UN doc. CAT/C/ETH/CO/1, 20 January 2011, §11.


Ethiopia is not a state party to the African Court of Human and Peoples' Rights.

In its 2015 Concluding Observations and Recommendations, the African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights called on Ethiopia to "ensure that investigations of allegations of torture and ill-treatment on detainees are conducted and perpetrators brought to justice".African Commission on Human and Peoples' Rights, Concluding Observations and Recommendations on Ethiopia's fifth and sixth periodic reports (2015), §57.

A case brought by the Anuak Justice Council against Ethiopia in 2005 claiming, inter alia, that the ENDF had committeed serious human rights violations against ethnic Anuaks, including by massacring more than 424 civilians during 13 to 15 December 2003, failed for non-exhaustion of domestic remedies.


The judicial system in Ethiopia has proved largely unwilling to prosecute police and prison officers for excessive, discriminatory, or abusive use of force. This issue has been highlighted by the UN Human Rights Committee and the Committee against Torture.


1995 Constitution of Ethiopia

2004 Criminal Code

1961 Code of Criminal Procedure

2011 Proclamation on the Establishment of the Ethiopian Federal Police Commission

Federal Police Officers Administration Council of Ministers Regulation No. 268/2012

2003 Federal Prisons Commission Establishment Proclamation

2014 Oromia State Prison Regulation

Human Rights Committee Concluding Observations (2011)

Committee against Torture Concluding Observations (2011)

African Commission on Human and Peoples Rights Concluding Observations (2015)