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News: Another historic day as Ethiopia supreme court gets first female president, and a prominent lawyer as vice president

Addis Standard staffs

Addis Abeba, November 01/2018 – Ethiopia has witnessed another historic milestone following today’s appointment of Meaza Ashenafi, a prominent law professional and women’s rights activist, as the first female President of the Federal Supreme Court.  Solomon Areda Waktolla, another respected law professional, was appointed as vice president of the Supreme Court.

Both names were forwarded as nominees by PM Abiy Ahmed to the House of People’s Representatives (HPR) this morning and both have received a unanimous vote from the House. Some of the the parliamentarians who spoke during the nomination have also praised PM Abiy Ahmed for his picks based on meritocracy.

Born and raised in Assosa city of the Benishangul-Gumuz regional state, Meaza Ashenafi’s career as a law professional spans over nearly three decades and involves serving as a judge at the federal high court in late 1980s. She was also one of the advisory members of Ethiopia’s constitutional drafting commission in early 1990s. In addition to that Meaza was the founder and executive director of the first women’s right advocacy civil society organization, Ethiopian Women Lawyers Association (EWLA), an association which has been through the thick and thin to provide legal protection to hundreds of women victims of domestic violence. In her early involvement with EWLA, Meaza had successfully defended a teenage girl who was put to trial after she shot to death her abductor, a story which has since been made into a documentary by prominent actress Angelina Jolie.

A graduate of law from Ethiopia’s Addis Abeba University (AAU) and University of Kent in the US, Meaza is also one of the 11 women founders of Enat Bank, a private bank “with a special focus on women.” In her last role before being appointed chief justice, Meaza has worked with the UN country team in Ethiopia as a consultant.

Expressing her happiness about the appointment of Meaza, Dr. Eleni Zeude Gabre-Madhin, another prominent figure, took to her Facebook page and described Meaza as a “fiercely independent, fair-minded, firm- negotiating, clear-headed lawyer with a brilliant incisive mind, yet a gentle and kind spirit.”

Vice President Solomon Areda too hails from a rich legal background and is known among many as a man of principle and integrity. Member of the Hague based Permanent Court of Arbitration, Solomon is a graduate of LLB from AAU, Master of Laws Degree (LLM) from Harvard University Law School, as well as Master of Economic Laws (LL.M.) from University of Amsterdam, among others. He had also served as a judge at Ethiopia’s Federal First Instance Court. Solomon was also running his own law office providing “a full range of legal advisory and litigation services” and consults several institutions throughout Africa on legal matters.Presenting Solomon as nominee, PM Abiy said he was the only one of the four candidates who has accepted this nomination.

On June 29, both Meaza and Solomon were appointed as two of the 13 members of Advisory Council for Law & Justice Reform committee, a committee tasked to help the attorney general’s office to revise Ethiopia’s draconian laws such as the civil society, the anti-terrorism and the media laws. The committee has so far reviewed the civil society’s law and has last week submitted the review to the attorney general’s office. According to attorney general Berhanu Tsegaye, his office will soon submit the reviewed document to the council of ministers following which a draft copy will be sent to the HPR for discussions and eventual approval.

Today’s appointment of both by PM Abiy Ahmed follows his recent decision to occupy half of his ministerial cabinet members by women appointees, followed last week by the nomination and subsequent appointment of a seasoned diplomat Sahle-Work Zewde as the first female president of the federal democratic republic of Ethiopia.

It shows not only of the unprecedented ascendance of women to the highest ranks in Ethiopia’s recent past, but also a meritocracy based appointments, a sharp departure from the political appointments of the last 27 years under the governance of the EPRDF as a coalition. It is also earning PM Abiy a global acclaim. AS

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