Help for American Victims of Crime in Ethiopia
June 10, 2009
Being the victim of a crime in a foreign country can be a devastating and traumatic experience. While no one can undo the emotional trauma, physical injury, or financial loss you may have experienced, the U.S. Embassy in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia is ready to help. We are very concerned about violent crimes committed against U.S. citizens in Ethiopia. We will assist you in managing the practical consequences of being a crime victim and provide you with information about accessing the local criminal justice system, as well as other resources for crime victims abroad and the United States. This office can assist you to find appropriate medical care, contact family or friends on your behalf and explain how funds can be transferred. We can also help you to better understand the criminal justice system in Ethiopia, which is very different from the system in the United States.
The information included in this guide relating to the legal requirements in Ethiopia is provided for general information purposes only. The information may not be accurate or relevant to a particular case. Questions involving interpretation of Ethiopian laws should be addressed to legal counsel licensed to practice law in Ethiopia. The investigation and prosecution of the crime is solely the responsibility of local authorities. The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) may assist local authorities in certain cases of kidnapping, hostage-taking and terrorism.
REPORTING CRIMES: Victims of crime should file police reports or register complaints with the police in the jurisdiction where the crime occurred. There is no time limit within which a victim must file a police report. A police report can be filed by someone other than the victim. Victims can obtain police reports upon request. The police will provide an interpreter, when needed. Alternately, the police will permit the victim to provide his/her own interpreter, if desired. When a victim files a police report, a police officer will interview the victim and write the report. Upon completion of the report, the police are obliged to read the report to the victim before the victim signs it.
If the victim has left Ethiopia before filing a police report, he/she may file a police report using a legal representation. Such representation could be an attorney, a relative, or the Embassy. Police reports cannot be filed through the Ethiopian Embassy in the United States.
If you have difficulties filing your police report with an official, please contact the U.S. Embassy immediately. You may need a police report in order to file for crime victim compensation or insurance reimbursement. If you do decide to file a report please send a copy to the Consular Section, U.S. Embassy, along with your address and phone number in the event the Embassy needs to communicate with you. While Embassy staff is not authorized to act as your legal representative, prosecutor or investigator, the Consular Section can help you track the progress of your case and advise you of any developments.
INVESTIGATIONS: Many crime investigations never result in the arrest of a suspect. The police are responsible for investigating crimes. Victims can expect forensic evidence to be collected (fingerprints, photographs, medical evidence) depending on the type of crime. Victims may get information from police upon request about the progress of the investigation and follow-up of their case. Victims should immediately report to police any threats, harassment or intimidation by the accused or his/her family or friends. Crime cases remain open until there is a court order to close the cases.
ARRESTS: The Criminal Procedure Code of Ethiopia requires all arrests to be made with a warrant (Art. 49). However, in some cases, a police officer can make an arrest without a warrant if the crime is committed in his presence and is punishable by not less than three month of imprisonment. When the police detain someone, they are required to bring the detainee before a judge within 48 hours.
Regarding bail, Article 63 holds that: “Whosoever has been arrested may be released on bail where the offence with which he is charged does not carry the death penalty or rigorous imprisonment for fifteen years or more and where there is no possibility of the person in respect of whom the offence was committed dying.”
In nearly all cases the detainee has the right to bail unless the court believes there is a likelihood that releasing the detainee would result in the destruction of evidence or would pose a threat to the victim. The victim is notified of the arrest and is asked to identify the perpetrator in person or in a police lineup, depending on the case.
PRETRIAL PERIOD: Ethiopian courts make a clear distinction between misdemeanors and felonies. The outcome differs in terms of severity. Federal courts have jurisdiction over offences relating to foreign nationals. The police decide whether or not charges are to be filed. A public prosecutor takes charge of the trial and represents the victim.
TRIAL: Trials often last as long as a year. The exceptions are cases of flagrant offenses (when the perpetrator is caught red handed). Such cases are generally concluded within 48 hours. Victims are not required to return to the Ethiopia to testify. They can submit an authenticated written statement or provide testimony at the Ethiopian Embassy in Washington. Among the people allowed to be present in the court room are the media, consular officers, the Embassy’s local employees, victim’s family members and other interested parties. Courts provide translation services for witnesses who do not speak the local language. Since Ethiopia has a civil law legal system, there is no jury. The following protocol should be followed whenever present in the court room: all should stand when the judge enters the court room; one should not cross one’s legs when sitting; no cell phones are permitted in the court room; and all must respect court orders. There is no special dress code required for the court room.
SENTENCING: If a person is found guilty, sentencing generally follows immediately. The victim will be notified when the perpetrator is transferred or released.
APPEALS: The accused has the right to appeal. Appeals should be submitted no more than 15 days after a court decision is rendered. The appeal process may take several months to conclude depending on the case. Victims might be required to testify during appeals. The accused can only appeal once.
ATTORNEYS: You may want to consider hiring a local attorney to secure appropriate legal guidance. Local legal procedures differ from those in the United States. Although the public prosecutor is responsible for prosecuting your case, an attorney you hire can promote your interests with the police and the court. While our office cannot recommend specific attorneys, we can provide you with a list of attorneys who have expressed interest in representing U.S. citizens. This list is available on the Internet at: http://ethiopia.usembassy.gov/attorney_information.html
VICTIM COMPENSATION IN ETHIOPIA: There is no national crime victim assistance office in Ethiopia. There are local Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) like the Ethiopian Women Lawyer’s Association that provide limited services. The Government of Ethiopia is in the process of establishing a victim compensation program through the Ministry of Justice.
A victim may file a civil suit for damages to obtain compensation. The court can order the perpetrator to pay restitution.
EMBASSY LOCATION: Americans living or traveling in Ethiopia are encouraged to register with the U.S. Embassy through the State Department's travel registration website so they can obtain updated information on travel and security within Ethiopia. Americans without Internet access may register directly with the nearest U.S. Embassy or Consulate. By registering, American citizens make it easier for the Embassy or Consulate to contact them in case of emergency.
The U.S. Embassy is located at Entoto Road, P.O. Box 1014, in Addis Ababa. U.S. citizens with questions or concerns may telephone the Consular Section at 251-11-130-6000. Our email address is firstname.lastname@example.org and our website is http://addisababa.usembassy.gov/.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF SEXUAL ASSAULT AND RAPE: Physical evidence is very important in sexual assault cases, and can deteriorate as time passes. Therefore, victims should not change clothes, avoid bathing if possible, and have a physical exam at the first opportunity. You should take these steps even if you are unsure about whether to report the crime to police. If you decide to pursue a prosecution at a later time, these steps preserve evidence that will assist the prosecutor. A consular officer or after-hours duty officer from the U.S. Embassy may be able to accompany victims of sexual assault for the medical exam.
According to Ethiopian law, rape is an act of crime committed by compelling a woman to submit to sexual intercourse outside wedlock (marriage) by the use of violence or grave intimidation having made the victim unconscious or incapable of resistance. Punishment for this crime may vary depending on the case, taking into account the age of the victim, any disability the victim might have, and the circumstances of the crime. Sexual assault is an act of compelling a person by using violence or grave intimidation, or the victim’s incapacity, or by taking advantage of one’s position or by any other means to render the victim incapable of offering resistance or compels a person of the opposite sex to perform or to submit to an act corresponding to sexual intercourse. These definitions of terms are uniformly applied all over Ethiopia. All regions use the same criminal code.
The Federal First Instance court authorizes forensic sexual assault exams in Ethiopia. Medical exams are performed for all cases involving rape. Medical exam results are accepted by the court only if they are obtained from one of the government owned hospitals. They are Black Lion Hospital, Menilik II Hospital, Yekatit 12 Hospital, Paulos Hospital, Ras Desta Hospital , Zewditu Hospital and Ghandi Hospital. All these hospitals are located in Addis Ababa. Medical exam results provided by the local NGO Family Guidance of Ethiopia are also accepted by the court. Medical exams are usually performed free of charge. An exam involves a pelvic exam, vaginal/penile/anal swabs, head and pubic hair samples, fingernail scrapings, blood samples, saliva samples, and evaluation of emotional trauma and other injuries or physical damage. The victim will be allowed to bring a support person. Victims normally have to pay costs incurred in traveling to hospitals and other related costs, but courts will often require that the victim be compensated by the perpetrator.
According to Ethiopian law, a medical exam is the basis for a rape or sexual assault investigation. Charges can be filed without a medical exam but the court will usually order a medical exam.
You should get medical attention to determine if you have been injured in any way and to discuss treatment and prevention options for pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. The U.S. Embassy can provide you with a list of local doctors.
Emergency contraception (the morning–after pill) is available in Ethiopia. The international NGO Marie Stopes, in collaboration with a local NGO, Family Guidance of Ethiopia, administer the contraceptive. All government health centers found in all sub-cities have the contraceptive available for use. HIV prophylaxis is available and is administered by all the government hospitals mentioned above and some private hospitals, such as Hayat Hospital in Addis Ababa. For information about HIV prophylaxis, contact: http://ethiopia.usembassy.gov/medical_information.html
The police will interview the victim. The victim may be interviewed by multiple people depending on the case. Acquaintance rape and spousal rape are not considered crimes under Ethiopian law. Male rape is a crime in Ethiopia.
There are laws that protect the identity of sexual assault survivors. Upon a victim’s request, the court proceeding might be in a closed court hearing. The victim can expect media attention. There is no rape crisis hotline in Ethiopia.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF DOMESTIC VIOLENCE: Domestic violence is a crime in Ethiopia. Victims can get restraining and protection orders from the court. These orders are enforced through the assistance of the local police. There are no domestic violence shelters in Ethiopia. One NGO has set up a shelter with 20 beds for Ethiopian women who cannot support themselves. There is no domestic violence hotline. Domestic violence cases should be reported to the police just like any other crime. Stalking is also a crime in Ethiopia.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF CHILD ABUSE: The Ethiopian government institutions responsible for the protection of children are the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, the Human Rights Commission, the Ombudsman of the Federal Instance Court and the police. The Human Right Commission and the Ombudsman have the authority to investigate occurrences of child right violations including case of child abuse. Anyone can report such occurrences to the nearest police station where the child abuse occurred. Family members, guardians, neighbors or anyone who suspects or witnesses the abuse is obliged to report the case to the police. In such cases the government authority would contact the Embassy for possible repatriation and interim accommodation. There are trained police officers who handle child abuse cases in every police station. The gender of the police officer who would be assigned to the case would correspond to the gender of the child abused. In addition to the police, child psychologists are generally assigned to such cases. There are few psychologists and child psychiatrists who can provide help in cases of child abuse. The government hospitals and the local NGO Family Guidance of Ethiopia are the only services that provide medical exam results for court use. Additional medical assistance can be obtained from any private hospital or health care facility.
The child can expect to testify if the abuser is charged with a crime. The child and his/her family or guardian will be informed of what to expect at the trial. There are special accommodations for children to minimize the trauma caused by testifying. There is a special room for children to testify with expert police officers trained in this area. The court sessions are usually closed hearing to avoid trauma during testifying.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF KIDNAPPING: The police and public prosecutor will investigate cases of kidnapping. Kidnapping is very rare in Ethiopia.
SPECIAL INFORMATION FOR CASES OF HOMICIDE: An autopsy is required in homicide cases. Menelik II Hospital in Addis Ababa is the only hospital authorized to perform autopsy in such cases.