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The Ethiopian Red Terror Trials

The Ethiopian Red Terror Trials: Transitional Justice Challenged

Series: African Issues
Copyright Date: 2009
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 176
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  • Book Info
    The Ethiopian Red Terror Trials
    Book Description:

    How was an autocratic emperor replaced by a totalitarian dictator? An unexpected popular upsurge in February 1974 made the ancien regime of Emperor Haile Selassie buckle. The Derg, a group of army officers led by an obscure and ruthless major Mengistu Hailemariam, seized power by military coup in September 1974 and removed the Emperor. What was the 'red terror'? The callous executions of members of the old regime initiated a cult of violence. The Derg were united by the shedding of blood. Search and destroy campaigns against militants led on to the full-blown 'red terror' in which thousands of the regime's opponents were brutally murdered in the streets. In what way was 'transitional justice' administered? The main officials were found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity by the Ethiopian Federal High Court and sentenced to life imprisonment. Some of the minor officials had already been sentenced to death, whilst President Mugabe has given Mengistu Hailemariam sanctuary in Zimbabwe. KJETIL TRONVOLL is Professor in Human Rights, Peace and Conflict Studies at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo; CHARLES SCHAEFER is Associate Professor of African History, Valparaiso University; GIRMACHEW ALEMU ANEME is a Research Fellow at the Norwegian Centre for Human Rights, University of Oslo.

    eISBN: 978-1-84615-723-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xii)
    Kjetil Tronvoll, Charles Schaefer and Girachew Alemu Aneme
    (pp. xiii-xiii)
    (pp. xiv-xiv)
    (pp. xv-xvi)
  8. 1 The ‘Red Terror’ Trials The Context of Transitional Justice in Ethiopia
    (pp. 1-16)

    Three decades after the appalling bloodshed and killings of tens of thousands of Ethiopians in a counter-revolutionary campaign called the ‘Red Terror’, the main officials who orchestrated the violence and gross human rights violations – Col. Mengistu Hailemariam and the key political leaders of his military junta – were found guilty of genocide and crimes against humanity on 12 December 2006, twelve years after the trial began. The Ethiopian Federal High Court sentenced Mengistu and his accomplices to life imprisonment. The verdict and sentencing were supposed to close one chapter in Ethiopia’s horrendous and turbulent past. By evading capital punishment, however, the...

  9. 2 The History of the Red Terror Contexts & Consequences
    (pp. 17-32)

    The contrasting faces of the Ethiopian Revolution are all too apparent. As in other classical revolutions, notably the French and the Russian, the euphoria that attended the initial outbreak was followed by anguish and remorse. Indeed, seen retrospectively, the latter sentiment clearly overshadows the former. Nothing illustrates this more graphically than the fact that the protagonists of the Ethiopian Revolution were imprisoned, facing charges of genocide and mass murder. The best and the brightest perished in that process, particularly in the two fateful years between 1976 and 1978. The gap left behind by this calamity is akin to the generation...

  10. 3 The Rights of the Accused A Human Rights Appraisal
    (pp. 33-50)

    Ethiopia experienced gross and widespread human rights violations during the years 1974 to 1991. The military regime of Col. Mengistu Hailemariam – the Derg and its Worker’s Party of Ethiopia (WPE) – is well-known for its brutality, especially because of the summary executions of a large number of Emperor Haile Selassie’s political officials, including the Emperor himself, and the atrocious Red Terror campaign against so called anti-revolutionaries and reactionary elements. The well organized campaign of systematic violations of human rights resulted in thousands of summary executions, disappearances and cases of torture. The Derg’s violent campaigns to strike down insurgencies amounted to gross...

  11. 4 The Role of the Special Prosecutor’s Office
    (pp. 51-67)

    This chapter looks at some of the activities of the Ethiopian Special Prosecutor’s Office (SPO) and its relationships with other key players in the prosecution of members of the former Ethiopian government for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide. It is not primarily concerned with evaluating the work done by the SPO. Nor does it assess whether pursuing the particular course of action chosen by Ethiopia in attempting to put down a marker against past impunity has been more or less successful than those adopted elsewhere, be they domestic or international processes. Rather, the chapter confines itself to some observations...

  12. 5 The Red Terror Trials versus Traditions of Restorative Justice in Ethiopia
    (pp. 68-83)

    After marching into Arat Kilo, the government headquarters in Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian People’s Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) declared victory over Mengistu’s Marxist regime and committed itself to restoring human rights, ensuring the rule of law, initiating representative government and pursuing capitalist development. Expectations were exceedingly high in the early 1990s. Among the immediate problems facing the EPRDF in 1991 was what to do with the high-ranking Derg officials who carried out the Red Terror and were accused of committing genocide against students, intellectuals and other persons deemed threatening to the survival of the military junta. Resolving these gross human...

  13. 6 The Quest for Justice or the Construction of Political Legitimacy? The Political Anatomy of the Red Terror Trials
    (pp. 84-97)

    In May 1991 the Ethiopian Peoples’ Revolutionary Democratic Front (EPRDF) assumed power in Ethiopia in the wake of a protracted war of resistance where ethnically organized insurgents’ movements were pitched against one another in the struggle to defeat the authoritarian and violent central government of the Derg military junta. At that time the Ethiopian people were shattered by the societal consequences of the implementation of rigid, authoritarian ideological doctrines and the wanton disregard of basic human rights. The new revolutionary front which seized power after the collapse of the Derg regime promised substantive changes in that regard, saying that henceforth...

  14. 7 Building State & Nation Justice, Reconciliation & Democratization in Ethiopia & South Africa
    (pp. 98-115)

    A brutal, repressive regime creates what Vaclav Havel (1991: 391) calls a ‘contaminated moral environment’ where both state and society are scarred by violence, fear and inhumanity. The consolidation of a new democracy burdened with such a legacy thus requires the creation of ‘[…] a new type of society, a new form of politics, and a new kind of people’ (Parlevliet, 1998: 174), which in turn requires dual processes of the democratization of state and civil society.¹ There is a near-global consensus² that this demands a reckoning of some kind with the past, but what form this should take is...

  15. 8 Beyond the Red Terror Trials Analysing Guarantees of Non-Repetition
    (pp. 116-135)

    While states have a duty under international law to provide an effective remedy for past human rights violations, the content of this duty is far from being definite. Nevertheless, the UN-sanctioned ‘van Boven principles’ provide that the right to effective remedy should contain the following minimum components: investigation and prosecution, compensation, restitution, rehabilitation, satisfaction and guarantees of non-repetition.¹ Investigation and prosecution are aimed at punishing human right violators and documenting the violations. In undertaking the tasks of investigating the past violations and prosecuting those responsible, while providing due process of law, states are dispensing justice to victims as well as...

  16. 9 Concluding the Main Red Terror Trial Special Prosecutor v. Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam et al.
    (pp. 136-152)

    The Federal High Court issued its final verdict in the main Red Terror trial in the case Special Prosecutor v. Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam et al. on 12 December 2006.¹ A total of fifty-five top officials of the Derg-WPE government were convicted and sentenced. Twenty-two of the top officials – including Colonel Mengistu Hailemariam, the military leader of the Derg and former Ethiopian head of state 1977–91 – were convicted in absentia. To an extent the verdict and sentencing test the efficacy of the judicial process in Ethiopia and offer a unique contribution to the discourse on transitional justice. The main Red...

  17. INDEX
    (pp. 153-160)
  18. Back Matter
    (pp. 161-161)