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.

Case against Eshetu A.

Based upon the testimony of a number of witnesses and documents received from the Ethiopian authorities and found in the defendants home, the court has established the involvement of the defendant in the arbitrary detention of over 300 persons in cruel and degrading circumstances, the torture of more than 6 persons and the killing of 75 persons. He ordered the detention and killings and did not stop the torture. These crimes were committed in the province of Gojjam, in Ethiopia in 1977/1978, during a civil war between the Derg military regime and opposition movements. The defendant was the highest Derg representative in the province of Gojjam and as such responsible for the elimination of any opposition within the province. It was in this context that he had a large group of mainly teenagers arrested, tortured and killed on the pretext of their affiliation with the EPRP, the main opposition movement in Gojjam at the time.

The court has granted the claims for non-material damages, except for one plaintiff who was not herself a direct victim, but whose brother was killed by order of the defendant. Dutch law does not allow for next of kin to claim non-material damages.

The court held that the defendant by committing these crimes caused the victims and their loved ones such suffering on such a large scale, felt by the survivors up till the present times, that the only possible punishment can be life imprisonment.

On 8 June 2022 the appeal judgment in this case was given by the Hague Court of Appeal.  As the District Court had done in December 2017, the Court of Appeal too sentenced Eshetu A. to life imprisonment. 


The Hague District Court, 15 December 2017

The Hague Court of Appeal, 8 June 2022