The FDRE Constitution departed from its predecessors in many aspects; the right of self-determination of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples is the major one. The right of self-determination has internal and external aspects in which it is exercised in any of these four ways.
First of all, the rights of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples to speak, write and develop their own languages as well as to express, to develop, promote and preserve their culture and history are guaranteed on a constitutional level. In fact, these rights are considered to be the inherent rights of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples of Ethiopia. Regardless of the administrative hierarchy of the territories inhabited by them, Nations, Nationalities and Peoples have a fundamental right to develop their respective cultures and preserve their history. If a Nation or Nationality believes that its identity is denied or promotion of its culture, language and history is not respected, it may submit its petition formally to the House of Federation for consideration and decision.
The House of Federation has recognized this form of self-determination in many of its decisions. HoF through various referenda determined the rights such as to have a distinct identity recognized and protected accordingly. For instance, a referendum had been conducted in the case of Siltie people living in the SNNPRS so as to determine their distinct identity as opposed to the other adjacent nations and nationalities.
The Siltie can now develop their own culture, language and history distinct from other ethnic groups. The decision of the House took into account the wishes and aspirations of the people to be identified in the way they have desired. Actually, it was a prime experiment in the exercise of the right to self-determination by a group in terms of cultural and linguistic peculiarities.
Another manifestation of the exercise of the right to self-determination is the right to a full measure of self-government which includes the right to establish institutions of government in the territory which a given group inhabits. It has been proclaimed under the Constitution that the government shall promote and support the people’s self-rule which is guided by democratic principles at all levels. Under this category, Nations, Nationalities and Peoples have the right to establish their own local governments such as the Zonal, Woreda and Kebele administrations. Hence, all regional states and their administrative subdivisions currently have their own governmental structures allowing them to administer their day-to-day affairs by themselves. The scope of such a right to self-administration extends to the formation of a regional state that would become a member of the Federation. The question of any Nation, Nationality and People to form its own state is carried out through the approval of a two-thirds majority vote of the members of the council of the Nation, Nationality and People concerned and by a majority vote in case of a referendum. Any party aggrieved by the decision of the council has the right to appeal the decision to the House of Federation.
The third manifestation of the exercise of self-determination is secession. This allows a Nation, Nationality or People to form its own sovereign state under international law. Given the unity in diversity and the brotherhood of the people and the protection of the fundamental individual group rights, the question of secession is not likely to arise. Yet, a Nation, Nationality and People may secede if the people opt for such an action. The Constitution and the House of Federation’s Consolidation Proclamation have set out the procedure for secession to be carried out under the direction of the House of Federation. The principal requirements for a state to secede are two-thirds support by the legislative council of the Nation, Nationality and People concerned and a majority vote in a referendum.
The other aspect of the exercise of self-determination is the representation and participation of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples at all levels of government structure. By virtue of the Constitution, every Nation, Nationality or People has the right to be represented in both the state and federal governments. This representation embraces the right to participate in the legislative organs as well as executive and law enforcement bodies at federal and state levels. Hence, Nations, Nationalities and Peoples are represented in the two houses of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. Members of the House of Peoples’ Representatives, who shall not exceed 550, are directly and freely elected to represent the Ethiopian citizens as a whole, while the seats are allocated on the basis of the number of people belonging to Nations, Nationalities and Peoples.
Those minorities that do not meet the numerical requirement shall have special representation in the House. At least 20 seats are reserved for such Nationalities and Peoples. This is a special representation established by the Constitution from the very outset. Details of the criteria as to who shall fall within this category are to be set out by the decision of the House of Federation. On the other hand the House of Federation is composed of the representatives of all Nations, Nationalities and Peoples in the county. Currently, it has 120 members drawn from 74 Nations, Nationalities and Peoples across the country.
From a practical standpoint, special measures are adopted in all government institutions to ensure the fair representation of all people of the country. The usual measure is to give priority at the time of recruitment or promotion to those candidates coming from a less-represented Nation or Nationality from among the candidates with equal results. The effort of the Federal Police Commission to accommodate the underrepresented Nations, Nationalities and Peoples is perhaps a good showcase in this regard.
Hence the right to express, to develop, promote and preserve their identity which includes one’s language, culture and history, self-administration, and representation and participation of Nations, Nationalities and Peoples at all levels of government structure are part of the internal aspect of the right of self-determination whereas, the right to secession is the external aspect of the right to self-determination.