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The Mengistu genocide trial in Ethiopia

journal contribution
posted on 2007-05-01, 00:00 authored by Firew TibaFirew Tiba
This article analyses the sentencing judgment issued on 11 January 2007 by
the Ethiopian Federal High Court in the case of Mengistu Hailemariam and
his co-accused who had been tried, among others, on charges of genocide and
crimes against humanity. This was the first African trial where an entire regime
was brought to justice before a national court for atrocities committed while in
power. Twenty-five of the 55 accused found guilty, including Mengistu, were tried
in absentia (Mengistu remains in exile in Zimbabwe). The trial took 12 years,
making it one of the longest ever trials for genocide. In December 2006, Mengistu
was convicted by majority vote of genocide and crimes against humanity pursuant to
Article 281of the1957 Ethiopian Penal Code, which includes ‘political groups’among
the groups protected against genocide. A dissenting judge took the position that the
accused should have been convicted of aggravated homicide because the relevant part of the provision had been repealed. A few weeks later, the Court, by majority,
sentenced the top tier of the accused to life imprisonment, taking into account
certain extenuating circumstances. If not for these, the death penalty would have
been imposed. In addition to ensuring some accountability, the judgment
is important for providing an official and detailed account of what happened
in those years in Ethiopia under Mengistu’s reign. Given that in Ethiopia there are
no official gazettes where court judgments are published, it is unlikely that the public
will be able to read the judgment and thus become aware of what had happened.
In addition to analysing the reasoning of the court, this article also looks into
the prevailing political circumstances in the country and reflects upon the trial
and the reception that this important decision has had, and will receive, in the
wider community.



Journal of international criminal justice






513 - 528


Oxford University Press


Oxford, England







Publication classification

C1.1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2007, Oxford University Press

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