Start criminal case on appeal against a man sentenced to life in prison for large-scale war crimes in Ethiopia

As of April 5, the court of appeal in The Hague will hear a major criminal case involving alleged war crimes committed in Ethiopia in 1978. The Dutch judges will discuss a series of very serious cases of illegal detention, torture and murder of opponents of the revolutionary regime in Ethiopia in the 1970s. In 2017, 67-year old Eshetu A. from Amstelveen (NL), was sentenced by the court to life imprisonment for these crimes, as requested by the Public Prosecution Service. Both the defense and the Public Prosecution Service have appealed against the court's decision.

The man is suspected of having represented the then Derg regime of Colonel Mengistu in the province of Gojjam in the late 1970s, as a member of the Ethiopian government. The man was previously sentenced to death in absentia in Ethiopia for the murder of (alleged) opponents of the regime.

The man has been living in the Netherlands for a long time and had meanwhile also acquired Dutch nationality. Because the Ethiopian judgment could not be enforced here, a new criminal case was launched in the Netherlands. The criminal investigation was conducted by the International Crimes Team of the police, under the responsibility of the National Public Prosecutor's Office.

War crimes

In this case, war crimes were charged on the basis of the Criminal War Law Act of 1952. The Public Prosecution Service accuses the suspect of detaining 240 civilians for years without trial, under appalling conditions. Civilians who saw the Derg as political opponents.
He is also accused of co-perpetrating heavy torture, causing death. According to witnesses, the torture consisted of kicking and hitting. Prisoners were tied up and hoisted up. They  reportedly were beaten with sticks in the face and against their bare feet.

The Public Prosecution Service also suspects that he ordered the killing of 75 young prisoners in August 1978. They reportedly were killed in a church, after which their bodies were dumped in a mass grave.


New documents have been submitted at this stage of the process, with the cooperation of the Ethiopian authorities. Furthermore, various witnesses were heard and additional research was carried out by several handwriting experts. This concerns research into the signatures on so-called death lists and other incriminating documents. Victims will travel to the Netherlands to attend the hearing. A number of them will exercise their right to speak, in person or via a video connection via a video connection.

Red terror

In 1974, Emperor Haile Selassie was overthrown by a group of Derg soldiers. Colonel Mengistu seized power after an internal power struggle. Under the Mengistu regime, Ethiopia went through a bloody period of repression and struggle that cost the lives of many thousands of people. The 'red terror' practiced by the regime has been accompanied by large-scale arrests, torture and killings by the government.

The Public Prosecution Service expects to pronounce the sentencing demand on April 14, 2022. The court is expected to deliver the verdict in May 2022.