Large-scale Ethiopian War Crimes before Dutch Court
Hearings in the extensive trial about a grim series of events involving the incarceration, torture and murder of opponents of the 1970s revolutionary regime in Ethiopia will begin on 30 October before the Hague Court of First Instance in The Netherlands.
A now 63-year old resident of the Dutch town of Amstelveen has been charged with these crimes by a Dutch Prosecutor. He is alleged to have been the representative of the erstwhile Dergue-régime of Colonel Mengistu in the Ethiopian Province of Gojjam in the late 70s. The Dutch resident has been sentenced to death in absentia in Ethiopia for the murder of suspected opponents of the régime. He was subsequently sentenced to life imprisonment as well. In the Netherlands, he has been in provisional custody for the last two years.
Ethiopian by birth, the accused is a long-time resident of the Netherlands and has acquired Dutch citizenship. Since it is not possible to execute the Ethiopian judgement, a trial in The Netherlands is the best option to call the man to account before a Court of Law. The criminal investigation has been conducted by the International Crimes Team of the Netherlands National Police. The prosecution is in the hands of the Netherlands National Prosecutor’s Office.
The accused has been charged with War Crimes, including arbitrary detention and cruel and inhuman treatment of civilians and fighters who had laid down their arms or were otherwise hors de combat. The indictment contains the names of 321 individual victims.
In addition, he has been charged with torture, resulting in severe physical injury and death of his victims. Witnesses have testified that the acts of torture included beatings and kicking and involved victims being tied up and suspended in mid-air while they were beaten with sticks in their faces and against their bare feet.
In August 1978, the suspect allegedly ordered the killing of 75 young prisoners. They were reportedly murdered in a church. Witnesses recounted that their corpses were dumped in a mass grave.
The fourth and last count on the indictment involves the incarceration and inhumane treatment of 240 people. This count involves the humiliation of the victims, the outrages on their personal dignity and their sentencing to prison sentences without trial. Several witnesses have testified that they were locked up in small rooms with too many people where there was hardly any daylight. There were no or insufficient sanitary facilities, unclean food and drinking water and lack of medical care.
Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed in 1974 by the military coup of a group called the ‘Dergue’. After internal power struggles, Colonel Mengistu seized power. Under the Mengistu-régime, Ethiopia lived through a bloody period of repression and strife at the cost of thousands of lives. The ‘red terror’ of the régime was accompanied by mass arrests, torture and killings by the government.
The case file contains the statements of several witnesses. They are Ethiopians who are now living abroad. These witnesses have given statements to the Dutch Police and subsequently testified to the investigative judge about the crimes that the accused is charged with. Some of them will come to the Netherlands to be present at the Trial.
In the first two or three days of the hearings, the court will question the accused about the facts on the indictment. One day will be reserved for the statements of the victims. The closing statement of the Prosecution is expected in the second week of November, followed by the Defence arguments. The date of the judgment has not yet been set.