Friday, December 15, 2006

Ethiopia: Mengistu convicted... of genocide?

The BBC reports on the conclusions of the marathon Mengistu trial:

"Ethiopia's Marxist ex-ruler, Mengistu Haile Mariam, has been found guilty of genocide after a 12-year trial.

The former leader was tried in his absence. He has been in exile in Zimbabwe since being ousted in 1991 and many fear he will never face justice. In a notorious campaign - known as the Red Terror - thousands of suspected opponents were rounded up and executed and their bodies tossed on the streets. Mengistu and dozens of his officials could face the death penalty. " [read rest here]

Mugabe in Zimbabwe of course refuses to extradite Mengistu. Hoorah, the African Old Boy's Club is alive and well. No surprise there.

Still, the Mengistu conviction is surprising. Mostly, why genocide--what 'genus' of Ethiopians were targeted and killed, besides those sharing the non-physical trait of opposing socialist policies implemented by the Dirgue, the military junta that ousted Haile Selassie in 1974?

Literature on Ethiopia's 'Red Terror' tends to amalgamate the government-sanctioned killing of political dissidents with those who died from famine (approx. 1.5 million) in rural areas in the late 70s and early 80s. These deaths resulted, so the argument goes, from land redistribution programs that forced the resettlement of hundreds of thousands of farmers to uncultivated, barren areas of the country. Little information is available on the legal arguments used to frame the totality of these deaths as genocidal, which would require proof of a state apparatus constructed deliberately for the single purpose of identifying and terminating the lives of individuals exhibiting certain physical traits. Rwanda and Nazi Germany are the classic examples.

My sense has always been that Mengistu's Ethiopia fashioned itself (with Soviet support) a laboratory for Marxist land reform schemes that failed miserably, such that millions perished, as lab rats do in any controlled environment when an experiment runs amok. Large scale humanitarian tragedy, yes, made even worse by a lack of justice for its victims. Social engineering in hyper-drive, yes, but a genocide?

The affair also made me do a quick mental inventory of other African dictators who absconded with their crimes--where are they now?

Idi Amin, the self-proclaimed 'King of Scotland', died in Jeddah in 2003 after a long exile. His ouster by Tanzanian troops ('regime change' a l'africaine) in 1979 ended an eight year rule. Amin never faced trial for his alleged crimes. Up to 400,000 people are believed to have been killed under his rule. [Amin in reflection: "No coffee, just more medals."]

Chad's Hissein Habre is still alive in Senegal, having fled in 1990 after ouster by Idriss Deby, the country's currently beleaguered president. A Chadian government inquiry accused Habre's regime of 40,000 political killings and 200,000 cases of torture during his 1982-1990 rule. After significant international pressure and a call for extradition for trail in Belgium, Senegal agreed to undertake Habre's trial. It has requested international funding to do so.

[With Mitterand, looking rather like a Whirling Dervish.]

Liberia's Charles Taylor first found refuge in Nigeria, but has since been extradited to the ICC in the Hague. He is accused of funding Sierra Leone's former rebels, the Revolutionary United Front by selling diamonds on their behalf and buying weapons for them. RUF fighters were notorious for hacking off the arms and legs of the civilian population with machetes, as well as killing, raping and robbing them.
[See other charges against Taylor here]

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