The government of Ethiopia is now putting into place a decentralized federal system of courts consisting of regional and district courts consistent with the 1994 constitution. Each region has District (Woreda), higher and supreme courts. There are also local Shari'ah courts which hear religion and family cases involving Muslims. The Federal High Court and Federal Supreme Court have jurisdiction over cases involving federal laws, transregional issues, and issues of national import. The president and vice president of the Federal Supreme Court are recommended by the prime minister and appointed by the House of People's Representatives; for other federal judges, the prime minister submits to the House of People's Representatives for appointment candidates selected by the Federal Judicial Administrative Council.
The constitution provides for an independent judiciary. Trials are public. Defendants have a right to legal counsel and a public defender's office provides counsel to indigent defendants. The law, however, does not allow the defense access to prosecutorial evidence before the trial, and the current judiciary suffers from a lack of trained personnel and financial constraints. In 1995, the government began training new judges and prosecutors. However, it is estimated that the creation of a fully independent and skilled judicial system will take several decades.
In 1992, a special prosecutor's office was established. In 1994 this office began trying defendants charged with crimes against humanity during the Mengistu regime. As of 1997, approximately 1,300 detainees were charged with war crimes. Up to 5,198 persons had been charged with war crimes by the end of 1999.
The Council of People's Representatives in October 1999 passed enabling legislation to meet the constitutional requirement for the creation of a human rights commission and office of the ombudsman. The commission has full powers to receive and investigate all complaints of human rights violations made against any person. By the end of 1999, neither entity was operational.