Human Rights

Decoupling the Concurrency: Should Transitional Justice or the National Dialogue Process Come First in Ethiopia?


After the EPRDF was dismantled and Abiy Ahmed, Ethiopia’s reformist prime minister, held power in 2018, several momentous initiatives were put into place as an epitome of effective efforts to address enduring national problems. A policy option for transitional justice was crafted to address the systemic and egregious human rights breaches, and the National Dialogue Commission was established with the goals of strengthening national consensus and restoring societal values in Ethiopia. The Ethiopian government has planned to undertake both processes simultaneously in this milieu, though the national dialogue process has already commenced its initial phase. This article’s major goal is to suggest that transitional justice should emanate from the outcomes of the national dialogue process.

Ethiopia’s Post-2018 National Dialogue and Transitional Justice Development

National dialogue and transitional justice are both entirely new concepts in Ethiopia’s political scene. Even supposing the late regimes experimented with pseudo-processes, their implementation was politically motivated; regimes that aim to make up for historical wrongs control the design of transitional justice procedures. [1] Albeit evaluating the late process is useful, this writing is confined to the initiatives proposed by the present incumbent, which is headed by Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed, regarding the two notable processes.

Ethiopia established the National Dialogue Commission and prepared policy options for transitional justice in 2021 and 2023, respectively. The National Dialogue Commission was established through Proclamation No. 1265/2021. The proclamation stressed the importance of conducting an inclusive national dialogue to bolster national consensus and restore social values in Ethiopia. [2]  A new policy option for transitional justice has been put forth to consolidate democratic values and redress victims of systematic and gross human rights violations. The policy has pointed out transitional justice components as options and some striking critical options that require decision-making, namely the roles of traditional justice systems, the temporal scope of the process, and the mandates of sub-national administrations in regional states.

In light of this, the National Dialogue Commission is currently selecting participants and setting agendas for dialogue. On the other hand, the policy option for transitional justice is still in the draft stage. Along the same lines, the government has decided to carry out both processes simultaneously and has indicated that it is prepared to do so. Despite the government’s readiness to hold both processes, the writer examines whether it is feasible to carry out both processes simultaneously in Ethiopia as it is right now.

Understanding National Dialogue and Transitional Justice

Transitional justice is a method through which societies address egregious and systemic human rights abuses committed by ex-regime or non-state actors. According to the Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR), transitional justice encompasses the entire spectrum of procedures and strategies used by a society to deal with the effects of protracted, widespread conflict, repression, violations, and abuses in order to uphold justice, promote accountability, and foster reconciliation.[3]  Whereas the national dialogue is a political process that is held to discuss topics of national importance, usually long-standing causes of conflict that have been forced to the forefront by political protest or armed revolt.[4]  Its mandates typically include political reforms, constitution-making, and peacebuilding. As per the experiences of states that have undergone national dialogue, it typically starts when the existing national process is ineffective, nonexistent, lacking in legitimacy, and not inclusive enough.[5] 

Transitional justice is essentially utilized to respond to the requests and problems of victims who require justice. On the other hand, national dialogue is constructed as a method to highlight where the differences are in a nation and offer out remedies following a proper debate among representatives of a society if there is a strong conviction that the victims must be delivered justice.  

National dialogue can endure anywhere from a few days to several years and vary in size and composition from a hundred people to several thousand.[6] In addition, it is put into action through consultations, commissions, high-level problem-solving meetings, and/or referendums.[7]  The results of the national dialogue could be tangible or intangible. Constitutional amendments, a security transition, coming to terms with the past, and transitional justice are among the immediate repercussions. [8]  On the other hand, transitional justice is put into place after selecting components that fit the society’s needs. The widely used modalities of transitional justice are criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, reparations and compensation programmes, systems for vetting abusive officials from office, and amnesty.[9] 

In Ethiopia, which should come first: National Dialogue or Transitional Justice?

Ethiopia is the home of a “war of visions” as to its future. [10]  For some, Ethiopia has a glorious history. For others, it’s a colonial state that was a prison for nations and nationalities.[11] Ethiopia’s historical and political problems are caused by the thesis and antithesis of these two opposing viewpoints. An ambivalent pedagogy of history and contradictory memories are deeply embedded at the core of Ethiopians’ deep division and serve as a weapon used to provoke violence. Many people were summarily executed, war crimes and crimes against humanity were perpetrated, and many were displaced in these variations.

Uprooting and reconciling the existing narratives ought to happen through a national dialogue process that has support structures, deadlock-breaking mechanisms, and safety nets that help break through impasses and stalemates and maintain the fundamental discourse and negotiation process in order to emerge from the state of human rights abuses and create a forward-looking nation. Therefore, settling historical narratives through national dialogue must be the first step in every action taken to implement the transitional justice process.

The transitional justice procedure must be put on hold in the current Ethiopian situation, marked by active fighting with rebel groups, militias, and insalubrious political competition. First and foremost, there needs to be an open dialogue and political settlement with all rebel groups, including but not limited to the OLA, the Fanno militia, political parties in Addis Ababa and any outstanding border conflicts with the TPLF. Unless otherwise specified, the government’s transitional justice initiative would grow into a titanic project.

For instance, the Pretoria accord ended the two years of war that resulted in more than a hundred thousand deaths and displaced.[12] The conflicted areas between Tigray and the Amhara regional state of Western Tigray are a Pandora’s box, or Luhansk and Donetsk for another episode of war, even though the pact muzzles guns. Holding transitional justice in the face of such political rivalry would be pointless.  To this end, redressing victims through the instrumentality of judicial and non-judicial methods will originate when the two sides’ differences have been settled in a national dialogue process. Accordingly, the outputs of the national dialogue must be the source of any endeavour to help those who were the victims of human rights violations committed by former and incumbent governments during conflicts.

Ever since then, a principled national discourse has been shown to help establish national consensus on social, political, or economic matters through an open and tolerant exchange of opinions. Any choice about transitional justice must be the outcome of a participatory and open dialogue.

In sum, the recommendation of transitional justice, if any, must be the result of the national dialogue process, along with details on who would lead the process and its overall timeline. The national dialogue’s implementation phase is crucial since it primarily focuses on carrying out the promises made during the process.

[1] Yohannes Gedamu, ‘Transitional Justice and Memory Politics in Contemporary Ethiopia’ 4.

[2] ‘Ethiopian National Dialogue Commission Establishment Proclamation No. 1265-2021’ para 2.

[3] ‘OHCHR: Transitional Justice and Human Rights’ (OHCHR) <> accessed 13 August 2023.

[4] Katia Papagianni, ‘National Dialogue Processes in Political Transitions’ 1.

[5] ibid.

[6] Thania Paffenholz, Anne Zachariassen and Cindy Helfer, ‘What Makes or Breaks National Dialogues?’ 11.

[7] ibid 14.

[8] ibid 11.

[9] United States Institute of Peace, ‘Transitional Justice: Information Handbook’ 2.

[10] Addis Standard, ‘Analysis: Ethiopia’s National Dialogue: Views of Hopes, Aspirations and Concerns from Amhara Region’ (Addis Standard, 25 July 2022) <> accessed 6 January 2023.

[11] Tegbaru Yared, ‘Ethiopia’s National Dialogue: Reconciling Competing Approaches’ 10.

[12] ‘Ethiopia’s Tigray War and the “Big Lie” behind the 600,’ <> accessed 11 May 2023.


  • Jara Samuel Tura

    Jara Samuel Tura is lecturer in Law at Arsi University, School of Law, mainly engaged on researching international peace and security law.

By Jara Samuel Tura

Jara Samuel Tura is lecturer in Law at Arsi University, School of Law, mainly engaged on researching international peace and security law.

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