Exiled Ethiopian Dictator Found Guilty of Genocide
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
ADDIS ABABA, Ethiopia, Dec. 12 -- An Ethiopian dictator known as "the butcher of Addis Ababa" was convicted of genocide Tuesday in a rare case of an African strongman being held to account by his own country.
Lt. Col. Mengistu Haile Mariam, who has been living in exile in Zimbabwe since 1992, was convicted in absentia after a 12-year trial. He could face the death penalty at his Dec. 28 sentencing, but Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe said he would not deport Mengistu if he refrained from making political statements or comments to the news media.
The trial focused on Mengistu's involvement in the killing of nearly 2,000 people during a 1977-78 campaign known as the Red Terror that targeted supposed enemies of his Soviet-backed regime.
A panel of judges, sitting before a packed courtroom, convicted him on charges of instigating genocide, committing genocide, illegal imprisonment and abuse of power.
Mengistu ruled from 1974 to 1991 after his military junta ended Emperor Haile Selassie's reign in a bloody coup. Some experts say 150,000 university students, intellectuals and politicians were killed in a nationwide purge by Mengistu's Marxist regime.
"I am very happy he has been found guilty," said Tadesse Mamo, 32, a businessman in Addis Ababa. "He killed so many of our intellectuals and our youth, most notably our emperor."
The emperor's cousin, Mulugeta Aserate, 55, said Mengistu's men came to his family's home in June 1974 and took his father away. He was a young boy at the time and never saw his father again.
"They told us that they were taking him to an interview, but I found out later he was summarily executed with 60 others," Mulugeta said.
When deposed in 1991 by rebels led by Meles Zenawi, now Ethiopia's prime minister, Mengistu fled to Mugabe's authoritarian regime in Zimbabwe, where his army had helped train guerrillas in their struggle for independence from white rule. The asylum was brokered by the United States and Canada to end the Ethiopian civil war as quickly as possible.
Ethiopia's courts have convicted 1,018 people since 1994 for participating in the Red Terror, but 6,426 await trial and more than 3,000 of them, like Mengistu, live in exile.