A court in the Netherlands convicted a 63-year-old man Friday of committing war crimes under a brutal Marxist regime in Ethiopia in the 1970s and sentenced him to life imprisonment, a ruling that one victim hailed as delivering justice to survivors.
Eshetu Alemu was not present in The Hague District Court as he was convicted of ordering the murder of 75 political opponents and the arbitrary detention in cruel and degrading conditions of more than 300. He was also found guilty of failing to prevent the torture of six people.
Some experts say 150,000 university students, intellectuals and politicians were killed in a nationwide purge by the Dergue regime of former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam, though no one knows for sure how many suspected opponents were killed. Human Rights Watch has described the 1977-78 Red Terror campaign as “one of the most systematic uses of mass murder by a state ever witnessed in Africa.”
The court ruled that Alemu was the highest representative of the Dergue regime in Gojam province and, as such, was responsible for eliminating opposition.
“It was in this context that he had a large group of mainly teenagers arrested, tortured and killed on the pretext of their affiliation with the EPRP, the main opposition movement in Gojam at the time,” a court statement said.
In an emotional speech during his trial, Alemu accepted blame for crimes by the Dergue but told judges he did not personally commit them.
But the court ruled that he was responsible and said the crimes were “so serious that only a life sentence” is the fitting punishment.
Negus Gebeyehu, who said he was imprisoned as a 15-year-old, told the court on Friday: “Justice has been done for Ethiopia.”
Alemu was tried in a Dutch court because he moved to the Netherlands in the early 1990s and was granted Dutch citizenship in 1998.
Mengistu now lives in exile in Zimbabwe. He was convicted in absentia by an Ethiopian court in 2006 of genocide and later sentenced to death.
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