Accessing Free Legal Aid in Ethiopia

Mulu Birhanu in front of her office

Mulu Birhanu is disabled 24 year young woman with a BA degree in Marketing Management and a job in the Ethiopian Capital Addis Ababa.

Mulu persevered in following her dream of a getting a good education despite pressures from her family to drop out of school following the paralysis of both legs due to a medical case when she turned twelve.


  • •The Ethiopian Human Rights Commission (EHRC) has established 111 Free Legal Centres country-wide to provide legal aid to the most vulnerable groups at no charge
  • The EHRC has invested US$266,513 in the Free Legal Centers
  • •More than 12,000 people, mostly from the vulnerable groups within the society, have so far received free legal aid service from legal aid centers since 2010

Her job as a Trade Registration and License Officer of Gulele  Woreda (District) in the Addis Ababa City Administration helps her earn a monthly salary of 1499 Ethiopian Birr (83.28 USD). But this young woman could have been a street girl, but for the intervention of the Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman (EIO), following the termination from her job.

Mulu’s nighmare started when shortly after her employment the Civil Service Agency issued a letter cancelling the employment contracts of 121 employees including hers, due to what it said was irregularity in the employment process.   “I became hopeless and confused because not only had I lost my job but I was the only person who could not take my case to court as I could not afford paying court charges.”

She soon came to know about the Ethiopian Institution of the Ombudsman (EIO) and the free services it provides for vulnerable persons, particularly with disabilities. Mulu lodged her case with the EIO on the 3rd of February, 2012 and had an investigator assigned to handle her case. The EIO investigation uncovered that her employment had followed the appropriate procedure according to the Ethiopian labor law. When she suddenly lost her job Mulu found herself without any means to pay her house rent for the next month without her salary. As a result of intervention made by EIO  she said, “I was saved from being a person not only suffering from the agony of my disability but also from the agony of being a person living in the streets where there are all kinds of evils such as hunger, harsh weather, rape by gangs and what have you ”.

Within one month of Mulu’s case going to the EIO, negotiation with the Civil Service Agencies led to her employer deciding to return her to her work; this proved to be faster resolution than the time taken by her fellow employees who had the finances to take their case to court themselves.

The Multi-donor Democratic Institution Programme which is administered by UNDP invested more than USD 85,000.00 for the last two and half years in building the capacity of the Women, Children and persons with Disabilities Directorate of the EIO which receives, investigates, negotiates and give recommendations to maladministration case of these sections of the society in Ethiopia. 


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