Life imprisonment for war crimes in Ethiopia

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The Hague, 08 juni 2022

The Court of Appeal in The Hague sentences former Ethiopian official to life imprisonment for war crimes committed during the Derg’s “Red Terror”-regime during the 1970s. The defendant was living in the Netherlands when he was arrested. 

The specialized international crimes section of the Court of Appeal in The Hague convicted the 67-year old defendant today for his role in the Ethiopian Derg’s “Red Terror”-regime during the 1970s. The defendant was the representative of the regime in the Gojjam province in 1978 while a fierce battle was raging with the EPRP, one of several opposition groups. The Court of Appeal established that during this time, a number of war crimes were committed with the knowledge and participation of the defendant.

Several hundred victims – named in the indictment – were arrested without just cause and detained arbitrarily under inhuman conditions. A number of them were severely tortured, even within earshot of others. The vast majority was sentenced to prison terms without any trial or due process, some received the death penalty. The death sentences were executed at the defendant’s direction in a brutal manner. Most victims were young at the time, many were students. The court has established that the defendant and others jointly committed these crimes. The court has also ordered the defendant to pay compensatory damages to a number of victims. The prosecution office had argued in favor of conviction and the life sentence that the court has imposed. The defense had argued for an acquittal. 

In 2017, the District Court of The Hague reached a similar verdict in this case. Both the defendant and the prosecution office appealed. The court hearings on appeal were attended by a number of victims and family members of deceased victims, in person and via livestream. The defendant is severely ill and was unable to attend the hearings at the court. Therefore, several court sessions were held at the detention facility where the defendant is housed.