In 1974, the Communist military regime, known as the Derg, overthrown the Emperor Haile Selassie I and seized power in Ethiopia. In an attempt to consolidate power and eliminate its political opponents, the Derg subsequently launched what is now known as Qey Shibir or “Red Terror”. The first wave of the Red Terror was officially declared on April 17, 1977 and resulted in brutal political purges involving mass killings, unlawful arrests, torture and disappearances. The Derg effectively ruled the country until 1987 and is estimated to be responsible for the deaths of more than one million of Ethiopians.
Eshetu Alemu, former member of the Derg, allegedly participated in ordering the execution of 75 people,in torturing 9 people, and in controlling the illegal detention of more than 300 people, keeping them in cruel and inhuman conditions in Ethiopia’s Gojjam province during the Red Terror.
In 1990 he fled to The Netherlands and became a Dutch citizen in 1998.
Criminal proceedings in Ethiopia
On 12 December 2006, Ethiopia concluded a 12-year-long trial of former Derg officials and convicted Eshetu Alemu together with 57 other regime officials of genocide and crimes against humanity. Eshetu Alemu was judged in absentia and received a death sentence.
Criminal proceedings in the Netherlands
Eshetu Alemu was arrested in the Netherlands in September 2015. In September 2016, 15 Ethiopian residents in the United States and Canada were interrogated by a Dutch prosecutor and a judge The Ethiopian government has forwarded its documents pertinent to the case to the Dutch office of the prosecutor. Estehu Alemu pleaded not guilty to all charges. The trial was supposed to begin on 21 November 2016 in The Hague. However, it was postponed due to the Alemu’s decision to change his attorney and eventually started on 30 October 2017.
On 15 December 2017, Alemu was found guilty of war crimes, including arbitrary detention, inhumane treatment, torture and murders. He was sentenced to life in prison. The judge justified the sentence also by the fact that many of his victims were children which made his crimes particularly cruel.
Eshetu Alemu appealed the judgment on 3 January 2018. On 23 April 2018, the first preliminary hearing was held before the Court of Appeal in The Hague. On 19 November 2018, on the request of the defence the Court agreed to hear several witnesses in Ethiopia. An investigative judge will travel to Ethiopia together with the defense counsel and prosecutor to hear those witnesses.
The appeal is ongoing.