In a case that shows that the hand of justice is long, a Dutch court has convicted an aide of former Ethiopian dictator of war crimes committed in the 1970s and sentenced him to life in jail.
Eshetu Alemu, who served Ethiopia’s ruthless leader Mengesitu Haile Mariam in the late 1970s, has been sentenced to life in jail by Dutch judges in the Hague.
The 63-year-old dual Ethiopian-Dutch national was convicted of war crimes including ordering the execution of 75 people during Ethiopia’s “Red Terror” purges.
Prosecution lawyers had called for Alemu to be jailed for life for conducting ‘an atrocious campaign’ and the judges agreed with them.
‘‘He is guilty of war crimes and treated his fellow citizens in a cold and calculating manner… including robbing them of their right to life,” presiding judge Mariette Renckens said, adding the court “sentences him to life in prison, because this is the only appropriate measure.”
Prosecution had also argued that imposing a life sentence would ‘also make clear to the international community how serious the alleged conduct of the suspect is’.
Alemu denied the 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.
“I do not recognise the role that has been assigned to me personally,” Alemu 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.
Mengistu fled to Zimbabwe where he still resides. He was found guilty in absentia of genocide by an Ethiopian court in 2007.
Alemu himself had been sentenced to death in absentia by an Ethiopian court. But this particular sentence wasn’t enforceable in the Netherlands, the country Alemu had fled to in the early 1990s, obtaining citizenship in 1998.
Adira Kallo with agency reports