Mengistu Haile Mariam

04.05.2016 ( Last modified: 06.06.2016 )
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facts

Mengistu Hailé Mariam was born in 1937 in Walayata in Ethiopia. His father was a soldier and his mother a household servant .As a young man, he joined the Army and graduated from the Military Academy in 1966.

In 1974, Mengistu was one of the officers who overthrew the Emperor Hailé Sellasié during a coup fomented by the Derg, a Marxist style revolutionary junta which then took over power. In 1977, Mengistu became Head of State and the uncontested leader of the Derg.

His years in power were marked by a totalitarian style of government and a massive military build up in the country, backed notably in this respect by the Soviet Union. From 1977 to 1978 tens of thousands of suspected Derg opponents were tortured or killed during a huge purge, which came to be called the “Red Terror”

His government, notably, was forced to contend with periods of full scale drought and with the disastrous famine of 1984-1985. Furthermore uprisings broke out in the country’s northern province of Eritrea which became independent in 1993. The Eritrean rebels invaded Addis Ababa in 1991 and ultimately overthrew the regime

Mengistu was forced to flee Ethiopia first of all to Kenya, and then afterwards to Zimbabwe together with numerous other members of the Derg. He obtained political asylum in Zimbabwe and has been living there ever since, despite attempts by Ethiopia to have him extradited.

The Derg’s seventeen years in power were witness to numerous human rights violations: the murder of around sixty leading figures in the Emperor’s inner circle in 1974, the execution of hundreds of young people just before the first of May festivities in 1975 and 1976, the “Red Terror” campaign of the years 1977-1979 during which thousands of opponents to the regime were murdered, the forced displacement of thousands of farmers in the eighties , the use of napalm and fragmentation bombs against civilians in the rebel regions and the recourse to famine as a weapon of war.

According to estimates, the Derg was responsible for the death of more than half a million civilians. Based on some other sources, however the number of victims was certainly much higher.

On 13 December 1994, the name of Mariam Mengistu Hailé appeared on a long list of individuals who were put under indictment, notably, for the crime of genocide.

legal procedure

On 13 December 1994, the name of Mariam Mengistu Hailé appeared on a long list of individuals who were put under indictment, notably, for the crime of genocide.

A trial began in Addis Ababa on 13 December before the High Court, with the reading of the Bill of Indictment against 73 of the accused who were still alive, of which 26 were living abroad, in particular, Mengistu.

Amongst the crimes listed with which the accused were charged were the murders of 1823 identifiable victims, one being the former Emperor, outrages upon personal dignity of 99 identifiable victims, and the enforced disappearances of 198 identifiable persons. The policy of forcible displacement of the civilian population, which resulted in the death of around 100’000 people in the mid-eighties also appeared on the Bill of Indictment.

In 1997, the Chief Prosecutor announced the further indictment of 5’198 persons, of which 2’246 were already in detention, for crimes committed during the Derg regime.

Due to the profusion of cases and the great number of witnesses to be heard, the trials took place over an extended period (See “Context” for further details).

On 11 May 2001, in an address to the Ethiopian Parliament, the High Court Special Prosecutor underlined that diplomatic efforts had been instituted by the Minister of Foreign Affairs to open the way for Colonel Mengistu, in exile in Zimbabwe, to respond to the court summons.

However, Zimbabwe has refused to cooperate. Up until today, Mengistu Hailé Mariam is still living there.

On December 12, 2006, the Court rendered its judgment and found Mengistu guilty of genocide. The genocide verdict was passed by two votes to one on the three-judge panel.

On January 11, 2007, Mengistu was sentenced to life in prison. It is, however, unlikely that this sentence will ever be carried out against Mengistu, who remains in exile.

The government’s special prosecutor appealed against the sentence on the grounds that the penalty Mengistu and his henchmen received was not commensurate to the crimes they committed and sought to raise it to the death penalty. The appeals procedure started on 12 June 2007.

On 26 May 2008, the Ethiopian Supreme Court followed the Prosecutor’s appeal and converted the life sentence on Mengistu and his 17 co-accused into a death sentence.

spotlight

On 13 December 1994, the Special Prosecutor opened up an important trial in the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa against numerous former leaders of the Derg. The Bill of Indictment drawn up against 73 of the accused, of which more than twenty had flown the country, charged them with participating in acts of genocide and multiple violations of human rights. The Indictment had as a basis hundreds of thousands of pages of government documents, many of which bore the signature of former high ranking leaders. Amongst the crimes listed with which the accused were charged were the murders of 1823 identifiable victims, one being the former Emperor, outrages upon personal dignity of 99 identifiable victims, and the enforced disappearances of 198 identifiable persons. The policy of forcible displacement of the civilian population, which resulted in the death of around 100’000 people in the mid-eighties also appeared on the Indictment.

In relation to above the Prosecutor’s office also brought charges against thousands of other persons. In 1997, the Chief Prosecutor announced the further indictment of 5’198 persons, of which 2’246 were already in detention, for crimes committed during the Derg regime. In May 2001, the Special Prosecutor, Girma Wakjira, presented an overall account to the Ethiopian Parliament of the proceedings underway or already concluded. He brought to their attention the fact that 6’180 cases had been recorded and of these 1’181 verdicts handed down. The death penalty had been pronounced in eleven cases and there had been seven cases of life imprisonment.

According to Amnesty International, which used as its reference official statistics made available in mid-2003, since the beginning of the trials in 1994, 1’017 persons had been tried- of which 552 had been sentenced-and 3’426 others are still awaiting to be brought to trial. In the course of 2003, six of the accused had been condemned to death and others had received prison sentences.

The lengthy trial against Mengistu and 72 other senior leaders of the Derg regime came to an end when the court rendered its verdict in December 2006. According to media reports, all of the accused were convicted of genocide and crimes against humanity, except for one defendant who was acquitted after proving that he was in prison at the time of the crimes. All those convicted became liable to receive a death sentence, which was in fact handed down on Mengistu and 17 of his co-defendants in May 2008 on appeal.

context

On 13 December 1994, the Special Prosecutor opened up a important trial in the Federal High Court in Addis Ababa against numerous former leaders of the Derg. The Act of Indictment drawn up against 73 of the Accused, of which more than twenty, charged them with participating in acts of genocide and in multiple violations of human rights. The Act of Indictment had as a basis hundreds of thousands of pages of government documents, many of which bore the signature of former high ranking leaders.

Amongst the crimes listed with which the Accused were charged were the murders of 1823 identifiable victims, one being the former Emperor, outrages upon personal dignity of 99 identifiable victims, and the enforced disappearances of 198 identifiable persons. The policy of forcible displacement of the civilian population, which resulted in the death of around 100’000 people in the mid-eighties also appeared on the Act of Indictment.

Along parallel lines the Prosecutor’s office brought charges against thousands of other persons. In 1997, the Chief Prosecutor announced the further indictment of 5’198 persons, of which 2’246 were already in detention, for crimes committed during the Derg regime. In May 2001, the Special Prosecutor, Girma Wakjira, presented an overall account to the Ethiopian Parliament of the proceedings underway or already concluded. He brought to their attention the fact that 6’180 cases had been recorded and of these 1’181 verdicts handed down. The death penalty had been pronounced in eleven cases and there had been seven cases of life imprisonment.

According to Amnesty International, which used as its reference official statistics made available in mid-2003, since the beginning of the trials in 1994, 1’017 persons had been tried- of which 552 had been sentenced-and 3’426 others are still awaiting to be brought to trial. In the course of 2003, six of the Accused had been condemned to death and others had received prison sentences.

The lengthy trial against t Mengistu and 72 other senior leaders of the Derg regime came to an end when the court rendered its verdict in December 2006. According to media reports, all of the Accused were convicted for genocide and crimes against humanity, except for one defendant who was acquitted after proving that he was in prison at the time of the crimes. All those convicted could receive a death sentence.