Ethiopia: After Years on the Run, Eshetu Alemu Will Face Trial


Door-to-door searches by Red Terror Troops to hunt down opposition members

After years on the run to evade justice, a member of former Ethiopian ruler Mengistu Haile Mariam’s Government faces trial for his role in the 1970s genocide in the country.

Eshetu Alemu’s trial began in The Hague on 21 November 2016.

Eshetu Alemu is brought to trial for war crimes committed in Ethiopia during the Mengistu era in Gojjam Province. This case is the result of a year-long investigation. Even if Ethiopia has requested extradition there is no treaty to that effect.

Eshetu Alemu has Ethiopian origin but also holds the Dutch nationality. He was serving as a member of the Provisional Military Administrative Council during the reign of the Derg, the Coordinating Committee of the Armed Forces, Police, and Territorial Army that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1987 and which elected Mengistu Haile Mariam’s as its chairman.

He has already been convicted and sentenced to death in absentia in Ethiopia on December 12, 2006 by the Derg-Tribunal in its 12 years ‘Red Terror’ trials, during which former President Mengistu was also convicted for genocide. Eshetu Alemu was among the dozens of the dreaded council’s members who fled into exile.

The International Crime Chamber in the District Court of The Hague (“Rechtbank ‘s-Gravenhage”) is dealing with the case. The District Court of The Hague additionally hears matters related to international criminal law and international law more generally.

Eshetu Alemu is presumably involved in:

  • Imprisonment and maltreatment of 321 people between February and August 1978
  • Torture of 9 prisoners between February and August 1978
  • Murder of 75 prisoners from August 1978
  • Continued detainment and maltreatment of 240 remaining prisoners after August 1978

Moreover, eleven Ethiopian’s witnesses will be questioned in the United States of America by one judge, one prosecutor and one Dutch lawyer residing in the United States.

During the reign of Derg, the estimated number of killing amounted to about 50,000 dissident students, political opponents and members of the Ethiopian middle class.

The majority of those murders took place during the 1977-1978 ‘Red Terror’, which was a campaign of urban counter-insurgency waged by the Derg in the main cities of Ethiopia during which excessive violence was used to terrify the population and eliminate dissent.

According to Human Rights Watch, the Red Terror was one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by the state ever witnessed in Africa.