In a rare move, Dutch prosecutors Wednesday called for a Dutch-Ethiopian national to be jailed for life for “an atrocious campaign” of war crimes during Ethiopia’s “Red Terror” in the 1970s.
“The gravity of the crimes and the interest of the victims and their relatives, call for a life sentence,” the prosecution told the trial in The Hague.
Imposing such a sentence on the suspect, Eshetu Alemu, 63, would “also make clear to the international community how serious the alleged conduct of the suspect is”.
Alemu was “responsible for an atrocious campaign” of war crimes “that include arbitrary detention, torture and killing of opponents of the 1970s revolutionary regime in Ethiopia”.
It “was intended to eradicate all opposition” to the then ruling Marxist-Leninist junta known as the Derg, prosecutors added in a statement.
Series of horrors
“The nature and scale of the violence are hard to grasp,” they said, identifying Alemu as a representative for the military regime of former Marxist dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam in northwestern Gojjam Province.
“The case consists of a series of horrors that were purposely inflicted on people. The accused acted as master over life and death,” the prosecutors added.
Alemu has denied four charges of war crimes contained in a 100-page indictment, which includes the names of 321 victims — many of them high-school students.
Among them were 75 people killed in one night in a church in August 1978 whose bodies were then dumped in a mass grave.
But Alemu told the opening of his trial last month that he had never given any orders to execute political opponents.
“I do not recognise the role that has been assigned to me personally,” he said.
“Those who have these crimes on their conscience, can never be allowed to find a safe haven. Not anywhere in the world, and that includes The Netherlands. Even after 40 years,” prosecutors said.
Mengistu ruled Ethiopia from 1977 with an iron fist after the overthrow of Emperor Haile Selassie in 1974. He was then ousted himself in 1991 after a series of revolts.
Alemu came to The Netherlands in the early 1990s and obtained citizenship in 1998. He was sentenced to death in absentia by an Ethiopian court — a sentence which cannot be enforced in The Netherlands.
It is rare for the Dutch prosecution service to demand life imprisonment.
But “sometimes a life sentence is the only punishment that can do justice to the gravity of the offences that were committed,” they said Wednesday.
The trial will continue next week, with a verdict expected in the second half of December.