The Ministry of Justice recently published new Penal and Civil Codes as well as their associated Procedures. These laws were put into effect after a long and arduous task of drafting and documentation. The Commercial Code is also in the process of finalization. Following is a brief summary of the interview the Minister of Justice Ms. Fawzia Hashim gave to local media outlets:
Q: Madam Minister, what is the rationale for the publication of these laws?
Before directly answering this question, it’s important to consider the fact that the Eritrean people have always had civilized documented and customary laws that were not only equitable and comprehensive but also incorporated the rights and protection of animals, vegetations as well as the environment.
However, successive colonial regimes impeded these laws from evolving and the people from using them. Since one of the aspirations of our liberation struggle is to live abiding by the rule of law, these new laws, which have been designed to consonate with the people’s norms and traditions, represent a tangible achievement of that struggle.
These new laws will therefore meet the people’s longstanding eagerness to have new codes that they can call their own, that they can defend, that they can use and modernize, and that they can freely praise, amend or criticize.
Q: How were the Eritrean norms and values represented in these new codes?
At first, it was important to consider how the Eritrean society views crime or its level of seriousness. Similarly, the punishment system within the society was also studied and incorporated in the new codes.
In the civilian matters, the profound researches disclosed that the Eritrean society was more inclined towards family values and the overall collective interests, but that also viewed the individual interests within that framework. The civil code in general, and particularly the codes pertaining to family law and inheritance, ensured the incorporation of the aforementioned values.
Family affairs, property settlement, compensation, etc. were among the issues thoroughly examined. To assess the people’s understanding of these and other issues, profound and extensive researches that covered the social, historical and economic aspects and that included the documented and undocumented customary laws were carried out. Some of these researches date as far as back to the Italian colonization; others include documents containing 80,000 pages which started during the liberation struggle.
After all these were examined, the common concepts found in these customary laws were identified and incorporated into the new civil and penal codes. Furthermore, the principles assumed during the liberation struggle and that were enacted in conjunction with our basic transitional codes after liberation have also been represented in these new codes.
Q: But why did the drafting and documentation of the codes take a long time?
The foreign professional legal experts in charge of the first draft of these codes were tasked with ensuring that our codes also integrated universally recognized legal principles. This took five years.
But if such new codes are to be accepted and adopted for enactment by the society, then they should not only have universality, but also reflect the concepts, values and norms of the society as well.
For this to happen, consultations were made with all segments of the Eritrean society, including elders with deep knowledge of the culture and traditional laws. This took up most part of the preparation of the second draft.
Following the finalization of both drafts, deliberations were held between representatives of all line ministries and relevant government bodies on how the codes should be adjusted to accommodate generally accepted concepts and principles.
Undoubtedly, all these procedures took a long time. But that was necessary because such a long drafting process would warrant that these new codes further enhanced the supremacy of law and guaranteed a stable justice system.
Since the supremacy of law is based not only on the contents of the codes but their presentation as well, the task of preparing them in a way that ensured the people’s awareness of their rights and duties as well as the consequences of these laws’ violations, also took considerable time.
Q: How are the new codes different from the proclamations and legal notices periodically promulgated by the government?
Many of the proclamations or legal notices are published by the government or the different ministries and government bodies and their application is limited to certain or a large segment of the society. For instance, proclamations on customs, business license, taxation, insurance, banking, etc. are applicable only to the respective professionals or segments of the society directly affected by these sectors.
The new Civil and Penal Codes are however applicable, without discrimination, to all Eritreans, people residing in Eritrea and expatriates visiting Eritrea.
Q: Madam Minister, what message, if any, would you like to convey in conclusion?
Noting that the Eritrean people had to endure numerous hardships to uphold the supremacy of law, the publication and enforcement of the new Codes that guarantee peace and social harmony for generations to come and that are predicated on human dignity, development and the rule of law is both timely and indispensable.
It is the wish of the Eritrean government that future generations use these codes, periodically enhancing the principles, towards attaining a peaceful existence.