Historical records bear out the fact that customary laws in Eritrean society had been practiced since the 14th century. These customary laws emanated essentially from the long-established cultural believes and norms of the Eritrean society and were founded upon the fundamental code of conduct of treating every person equally before the law. Those customary laws served as guiding principles for Eritrean communities in maintaining peace and crime prevention.
Despite the length of the era of colonization, details of the codified customary laws had played significant role in preserving the very essence of cultural identity of the Eritrean people and bequeathing traditional values to new generations. The modern civil law introduced in 1957, however, didn’t reflect the socio-cultural and traditional makeup of the society.
After independence, the provisional Eritrean Government amended the five codes previously in effect under the proclamation of No. 1/1991 of the Eritrean Transitional Codes–including Civil Code, penal code, commercial code, civil procedure and criminal procedure.
The Ministry of Justice has thus been engaged in expanding justice system, administrating legal issues of the government, introducing modern work procedures, ratifying transparent regulations, advancing people’s participation in the administration of justice, as well as ensure the rule of law. In keeping with this issue and other major undertakings of the Ministry over the past 20 years, a three-day symposium was held in Keren Town from May 2-3.
Speaking at the opening of the symposium, Minister of Justice, Ms. Fozia Hashim, underscored that Eritrean society has long been abided by the customary laws arising from the basic principles of traditional believes and value. The vision of the Ministry is to revise and amend these deep-rooted traditional laws, she added. Ms. Fozia further stated that the Government has accomplished commendable task in securing peace and tranquility, expanding social services, preserve cultural values of the Eritrean society and speedy economic recovery.
On the occasion, study paper presented by Mr. Habteab Yemane, presiding judge at the High Appellate Court, explained the importance of criminal laws in preventing and enforcing justified punishment to lawbreakers. He also gave details with reference to the relentless efforts being exerted to amend the existing criminal law in a bid to adeptly institute just system. Mr. Habteab further explained that studies have been conducted to revise and make necessary amendments.
On the second day of the symposium, Mr. Sium Tekle, Judge in Supreme Court, presented a paper on the role of law in securing family union. He indicated that the Family Law is adopted vis-à-vis the socio-economic fabric and tradition of a society. This law is commonly practiced on daily life of any society from other types of laws. Mr. Sium explained the importance of nurturing disciplined and law-abiding family in order to build up strong and hard working society. He stressed the need to step up the role of schools, organizations, religious institutions, justice administrations and promote public awareness to this end.
Also, Mr. Monkorios Beraki, Acting President of Eritrean Courts, presented a study paper on the experience of Eritrean courts in relation to effective task procedures. He stated that vigorous efforts have been made towards taking justice institutions forward counting upon the Eritrean transitional codes. The structure of courts have undergone through a transitional stage with a view to effecting its current shape. Around 541,000 civil and criminal suits have thus far been filed in all courts across the nation.The expansion of courts, which was previously confined to cities and major towns, is now stretched out even to remote areas of the country. The number of judges has risen almost three-fold from 38 to 110. As a result, the clients are now able to save needless waste of time and energy to present cases to courts.
Mr. Monkorios says, “Upgrading human resources both in terms of quality and quantity, expanding community-based courts, improving the capacity of courts, and creating conducive work environment constitute future action programs of the judicature.”Also, Mr. Mogos Ogbamichael, coordinator of Community-based Courts, highlighted the historical background of Eritrean customary laws and their role in settling disputes in the society. The significance of community-based courts is but to encourage and maintain people-oriented law and order in the country, he emphasized.
Attorney General, Mr. Alemseged Habtesilasie, on his part gave briefings with regard to the mission of Attorney General, and its role in preventing crime, as well as securing peace in order to create safe environment for nationals. He also called on the general public to redouble endeavors to prevent crime in light of its negative consequence in the all-round development drive.With respect to human resources development, Mr. Abraham Melak, Director General to the Office of the Minister, stated that the Ministry is exerting utmost efforts to nurture competent law professionals, who have broad understanding of the historical background and culture of the Eritrean society.
In the course of the symposium, a 45-minute documentary film highlighting the endeavors undertaken to expand justice system was on display.