Prosecution demands life sentence in Ethiopia War Crimes case before Dutch Court

The Netherlands Public Prosecutor’s Office has demanded a life sentence for a 63 year-old man on Wednesday for a series of War Crimes that include arbitrary detention, torture and killing of opponents of the 1970s revolutionary regime in Ethiopia.

As a member of the Dergue, the now 63 year-old was a member of the nation’s government. As the permanent representative of the military regime in Gojjam, he was the centre of power in that Ethiopian province. He came to The Netherlands in the early 1990s and obtained Dutch nationality in 1998. He has been in provisional custody for more than two years now.

Atrocious Campaign

The Public Prosecutor’s Office concludes that the erstwhile Dergue-representative in Gojjam is responsible for an atrocious campaign against real and perceived members of the opposition. He decided between life and death and between freedom and incarceration of prisoners, who were held under inhuman circumstances. The nature and scale of the violence are hard to grasp.

The two Prosecutors of the Netherlands National Prosecutor’s Office told the Court that large numbers of people were held in cramped spaces, that there was permanent fear and continuous threat of abuse, that prisoners had to witness the abuse of others, that there was little daylight or none at all and that there were inadequate sanitary conditions, insufficient water and food and lack of medical care. In addition, there was nothing that even resembled a decent trial.

The campaign was intended to eradicate all opposition to the Dergue. The ‘red terror’ proclaimed by colonel Mengistu led to thousands of civilian casualties. Unarmed civilians were seen as enemy fighters and were the target of large-scale killing campaigns which did not exclude women and children.

The indictment in the large-scale trial numbers more than 100 pages, which list the names of 75 young people who were killed in one night in August 1978. Many of the victims of the Dergue-campaign were high-school students in the prime of their lives. Furthermore, the man is accused of arbitrary detention and inhuman treatment of hundreds of people. Some of them were also tortured.

Never a safe haven

The case consists of a series of horrors that were purposely inflicted on people. The accused acted as master over life and death. “Those who have these crimes on their conscience, can never be allowed to find a safe haven. Not anywhere in the world, and that includes The Netherlands. Even after forty years”, according to the Prosecutors.

“He seemed to act with ease. When he finds out that five detainees are held in another prison, he makes a quick phone-call to the right person to ensure that these people will be killed the same night.”

Relatives were not informed of the death of their loved ones. Family and friends were sometimes kept in uncertainty about their fate for years. Furthermore, they were not allowed to mourn the death of opponents of the regime. Witnesses have recounted that people were buried alive and that the accused was allegedly informed of this.

Sometimes a life sentence is the only punishment that can do justice to the gravity of the offences that were committed. According to the Prosecution, there can be no doubt that this is the case here. The gravity of the crimes and the interest of the victims and their relatives, call for a life sentence. That would also make clear to the international community how serious the alleged conduct of the suspect is.

The trial will be continued on Monday with the Defence Brief. The verdict of the Court is expected in the second half of December.