Ethiopian Leaders Found Guilty of Genocide

Former Ethiopian leader Mengistu Haile Mariam was
found guilty of genocide in abstentia by a court in Ethiopia. Other leaders in
his regime, some of whom, were present in the courtroom were also found

I read with great interest the report by the BBC that Mengistu Haile Mariam, former military leader of the Marxist government of Ethiopia, was found guilty of genocide yesterday by a federal high court in Ethiopia. Mengistu led a regime noted for its murderous reign. It was known as the “Red Terror,” not only because it was Marxist but also because thousands of Ethiopians were killed by the regime, so many it was said the streets of Addis Ababa ran red with blood.

Issuing its verdict, the court said the Dergue, as the government was known in the 1970s under Mengistu , “set up a hit squad to decimate, torture and destroy groups opposing the Mengistu regime.”

The Dergue made allies with East Germany, the USSR and other Eastern Bloc nations. I worked in Ethiopia on a film about the Ethiopian Orthodox Church during this time. While there, I met Soviet fighter pilots operating out of Gondar, a northern city, who were flying bombing runs against Eritrea, the northernmost province that fought for and won independence in 1991.

Ethiopia was a police state. I was told the East German State Security Police (Stasi) trained Ethiopian agents to monitor visitors in the hotels and other settings. I got used to returning to my hotel room and discovering that my suitcase had been searched.

Movement around the country was difficult and required numerous requests, filing applications and providing documents. Our crew was monitored and we had to secure travel permits to travel even to the edge of Addis. Sometimes if the government didn’t want us to go to an area, we were delayed for days and occasionally required to produce documentation from outside the country as a way to slow our movement.

At first the heavy security was creepy and frustrating. But with experience I learned to keep my notes with me at all times and to write in cryptic, ambiguous sentences so that when I had to show them to the censors they were unintelligible to them. This happened most often when we were required to go to government agencies to get travel documents.

Our inconveniences were nothing compared to the hardship endured by the Ethiopian people. Ethiopian peasants were forcibly removed from drought-stricken regions and re-located under force of arms. Others were forced to re-locate to carry out state collective agriculture schemes. Some were moved in order to break up resistance groups, others to demonstrate the power of the government to any who might resist or oppose the Dergue.

Mengistu is in exile in Zimbabwe. He is 70. He was a young colonel in the military when he seized power and presided over the death of emperor Haile Selassie and sixty cabinet and government officials. He has denied the brutality attributing the violence to colonizers and the resistance in Eritrea and Tigray.

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