Ethiopia: The way to forgive and pardon the Derg Eskinder Nega

January 14th, 2011 Print Print Email Email

Even after 37 years, Makonnen Endalkachew,only son of Endalkachew Mekonnen , icon of Ethiopia’s long entrenched elite and briefly the nation’s Prime Minister, explodes with unrestrained anger when the issue of pardon for Derg officials is raised. “For those that are actively pursuing this issue(pardon for Derg officials) (more…)

Even after 37 years, Makonnen Endalkachew,only son of Endalkachew Mekonnen , icon of Ethiopia’s long entrenched elite and briefly the nation’s Prime Minister, explodes with unrestrained anger when the issue of pardon for Derg officials is raised. “For those that are actively pursuing this issue(pardon for Derg officials) and suggesting that justice has been already served, I have but one thing to say……SHAME ON YOU!” wrote Mekonnen .(What Price Justice? What Value Life? by Makonnen Endalkachew. ) “Due process was followed, and justice according to the Ethiopian Code of Law was delivered. That is

more than can be said of the mock justice meted out by these individuals during their long time in power. As such, they should

suffer the consequences of their actions and serve their sentences without any interference from supposed “concerned” external factions…… justice and history demands that, at the very least,” he summed up.

Another victim ,Teshome Gebre-Mariam, a prominent lawyer, provocatively decries the very initiative of pardon itself(as pposed
to the act of pardon by the government)as unconstitutional. “Viewed from the perspective of the unambiguous wording of Article 28 of the Constitution, which bars pardon to genocide convicts, the very act of seeking pardon(for Derg officials) runs counter to the Constitution. And that is an infringement of the statues that obligate citizens to uphold the Constitution,” Teshome has said to news outlets.

An informal (and unscientific )tally of victims reactions to the pardon initiative reveal that a majority share Mekonnen’s and
Teshome’s sentiment. Of those who dared to take a public stand, only one(to my knowledge), Mulugeta Asrate Kasa, a scion of Ethiopia’s nobility who relishes controversy, has endorsed the pardon initiative. “It’s my duty as a Christian,” he has said to the surprise of many.

But in sharp contrast to Ethiopia, there is South Africa, where the trauma and wounds of Apartheid indisputably run deeper but the idea of reconciliation between victims and offenders had stirred much less controversy. “ I have been bowled over by the incredible humility one has experienced from the victims, both black and white, who have suffered as much as they have,” says Archbishop Desmond Tutu of his nation’s experience with forgiveness. “By rights, they should have been hate ridden by lust for revenge. They have exhilarated me by how ready they are to forgive. I have come to believe fervently that forgiveness is not just a spiritual and ethereal thing unrelated to the real world, the harsh world out there. I have to believe very fervently that without forgiveness, there is no future.”

And in Israel and Rwanda, where real genocide is a lived experience, two sharply contrasting perspectives—akin to that between Ethiopia and Israel—on forgiveness prevail. In Israel, a 2010 Haaretz online news recounted of an interesting poll. Marking the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War, Israelis were asked “if it was time to forgive the German people and Germany for crimes committed in the Holocaust.” The results were unexpected : 51 percent said they “totally disagreed with the sentiment;”19 percent “disagreed somewhat;”23 percent “were willing to forgive;” and 7 percent “had no
opinion.” But in Rwanda, a process triggered by prison overcrowding, which forced the government to release 400,000 murder and rape suspects, eventuated in broad enthusiasm for the redemptive powers of personal and public forgiveness.

Where lie the differences and similarities between these countries? Ethiopia and Israel are apparently struggling with the issue of forgiveness, while South Africa and Rwanda embrace it with evident enthusiasm. Could it be that Ethiopia and Israel reel in punitive cultures, where forgiveness is scorned as a betrayal of victims—particularly the dead?

At a glance, the answer would be in the affirmative. Both Ethiopia and Israel, after all, share national self-perceptions which emphasize austerity, discipline and military prowess. Any appearance of weakness—personal or collective—is ardently ridiculed. But dig a little deeper and the real reasons for the stark differences lie elsewhere.

In both South Africa and Rwanda, the public ritual for forgiveness involved both victims and offenders. Central to the process, however, is victim’s universal need to express and validate their anger and pain in public—at least in front of peers, friends, relatives and neighbors. Once afforded with an outlet to release their rage, victims are almost always psychologically transformed. In South Africa, there were the highly publicized Truth and Reconciliation public hearings which served as ideal forums. In Rwanda, where hundreds of thousands of victims and offenders who lived next to each other were involved, neighborhoods were mobilized to public gatherings where victims relayed their stories. In both countries, offenders followed in the immediate footsteps of victims to openly concede the harm they had inflicted and seek personal forgiveness from victims and public absolution from the community. And finally, interpersonal dialogue between victim and offender is encouraged, which in most cases has promoted reflection, compassion and reconciliation. In other words, forgiveness is the end result of a qrueling process.

The Ethiopian scheme for public forgiveness, however, visualizes no role for victims. “I can categorically say that no one contacted any family that I know of to request comment on this issue. For that matter, no member of the committee which manages and maintains the Memorial for the 68 Former Officials Executed by the Dergue was asked for their opinions on this matter,” wrote Makonnen.

As originally envisioned by the religious leaders who had set off the process, public forgiveness was to be attained by no more than a nationally broadcast admission of guilt and plea for forgiveness by senior Derg members. No one pondered whether this would be enough for victims, offenders, or the nation as a whole. Even after a storm of protest ensued and victims could no more be overlooked, no one thought of a national process. The governing wisdom was that victims could be appeased with a forum or two, and a resolution in support of the initiative could then somehow be steamrolled. Everything still dangled on the grand finale: the appearance of humbled and remorseful Derg members on national media. Anything grander was deemed beyond the reach of the religious leaders. And they were right. In South Africa it took a Commission established by an act of Parliament. In Rwanda, the whole state machinery was involved. Of course, in the end, nothing less would work in Ethiopia, too.

And here lies the national dilemma: does the EPRDF, one of the world’s famously determined violators of human rights, have the moral authority to undertake such a delicate process? Of course, many people, including myself, would respond in the negative.

In the meantime, however, there is the pending issue of the Derg officials sentenced to death (absent a fair trial) for the wrong reason—genocide. Here is where the religious leaders could do something meaningful: It’s time those death sentences are pardoned!!! (Genocide convicts could be pardoned—but only to a life sentence— if capital punishment is involved, according to Ethiopian law.) Not even the most ardent opponents of the pardon initiative are against a pardon for the death sentences. In this at least, we stand firmly united as a nation.

Religious leaders: You could do it. You must do it!

  1. Tegga Lendado
    | #1

    “And here lies the national dilemma: does the EPRDF, one of the world’s famously determined violators of human rights, have the moral authority to undertake such a delicate process? Of course, many people, including myself, would respond in the negative.”

    With my limited knowledge of Ethiopian history, I cannot think of any Ethiopian leader coming to power peacefully. Regretably, Dirgue resorted to bloodshed despite the Emperor’s voluntary dethroning “for the good of the nation”…. The rest is history. We cannot live by and for history, no matter how we love or lament it! Forgiveness is the missing link between such a bitter past and a better future. God is very clear about forgiveness. He expects us to gorive others as He forgives our sins (Mt. 6:12). It is extremely difficult to fogive whereas our natural inclination is tooth-for-tooth. But, God’s way of healing us starts where our vengence ends. Let the venom of vengence go and let God take over! That is our healing’s trigger point.

    I believe there is not many a citizen who has been negatively affected by the so called “revolution” one way or another whether he/she are concious or not. Thus we all need healing because we are sick whether you are a victim or villain. We all need God’s fogivieness for our committed thoughts and acts of sin.

    As for the “dilemma”, God’s righteous justice does not differentiate the criminal from the victim, the judge from the law-enforcer or the administrator, etc. We all have sinned and have come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). Therefore, we all have to repent and our confess sins. Public offenses (sins) need public confessions. No one is exempt from repentance and confession.

    I wish to see the religious leaders usher the their respective congregants and eventually somehow the nation led to such healing.

    As the author elequently put it, the examples of other nations may be followed. May God bless Ethiopia and heal us all.

  2. Acha
    | #2

    Not all are bad apples .It is colective punishment going on there till this days.They should be one to one trail instead of in groups.It is to late to do that now . Any politician incuding present political prisoner should forgivenes.Ethiopia is a christian country.Today in Ethiopia from one corner to another corner become full of hate and revenge. One of this days will explode before happen that let’s reconcile to live together. Amen!

  3. Michael Kebede
    | #3

    The comment by Acha says Ethiopia is a christian country. I DISAGREE because if you break it down christian is about 50% islam around 45% and the other 5% wih various beliefs. So we can and should say Ethiopia is multi religious country eventhough you may want it to call it Christian. To do so will be wrong in the eyes of the numbers themselves and will identify you as biased.
    To my dear friend tega Lendado, even though I agree with forgiveness,I think religios people or thse who profess it should remain out of such worldly political matters as such. In fact, if we dig down deep enough more lives have been lost in the name of religion especially christianity than many of the other wars combined together. Do you remember the war of the crusades? the first world war and second world war fought by christian nations killing other christians? Do you remember the britich catholic pope blessing the army in the name of God and telling them to “go kill the Germans,do kill them.” what else it there left to say my dear friends. Will you forgive me if I slap you 100 times a day as long as I can come back and just say ‘Sorry”?
    I am confident that the best thing for you to do will be to abstain from worldly matters as Jesus did and wait for the real salvation by Jehovah God! Jesus teachings show we need not be any parts of this world for the world as a whole lies in the hands of the wicked one, which is satan the devil. If any part of my thought is useful in any way let it be yours. If not, please forgive me!
    Thank you

  4. Idiot dictator
    | #4

    Mr. Eskinder. A journalist should not be this biased. The Genocide of the Jews was performed in Europe not in Israel. Isarael is their fake country that was formed in 1945. You are so far away from being a professional Journalist. Oh, I take it back. Maybe to Woyane standards, you are professional.

  5. nana
    | #5

    i don’t think those criminals can learn from their mistake, abugida, ethioreview,ethiomedia.etc are members of the derg criminal gangs they are still continue thier criminal action. so the solution is not pardon or mercy the solution is to give aproprate panshiment.

  6. aha!
    | #6

    This article by Eskinder Nega brings to light the non-justification for pardon of Derg Officials for genocide, from the perspective of the families of the Officials of Emperor Hailesellassie’s regime and EPRP Officials by the TPLF/eprdf regime. In their argument, they assert that justice has been served with respect to genocide, where one says the constitution provides for no pardon for genocide, and the other says justice has been served for genocide and they have they have to serve their sentence with no pardon, perhaps hinging being justified for the massacre of the 68 Officials of the Emperor Haile sellassie’s Regime, and/or individual predicament as seems to be the case with the lawyer, but not from the perspectives of the Offials of EPRP of pardon Derg Offials for the massacre of 100′s of thosands fo EPRP members of all ethnic groups.

    One also should take note of the 68 Officials massacred with a squad patrol, I presume are those suppsedly to undertake a democratic Government under a constitutional Monarrchy with the consent of His Imperial Majesty, Emperor of Ethiopia, which has already provided for a parliament of individuals elected to the parliament, which may have been a spear head to democratic revolution and/or reform. That did not happen much to nay sayers, be it Derg, MEISON, or EPRP, which took the path of civil war based on differences of ideology. On the one side, there is/was a student movement geared by the oppression of nations and nationalities, with underlying communistic ideology for class struggle, cosisting of TPLF, EPLF and other liberation movements, which now formed TPLF/eprdf regime and its constitution, and on the other side there were student movenment for class struggle, consiting, perhaps the Dergue with Military Dictatorship and EPRP advocating for civilian rule and perhaps democracy, where both vouch for unity and territorial integrity of Ethiopia. Desipte the fact EPRP has one thing in common with Derg, EPRP pses a threat to the existence of the Derg Military Dictatorship with unerlying comminstic ideoloy, by failing to succumb to the path for Contitutional Monarchy and/or constitutional Democracy and opting to engage in civil war with EPRP and war with the liberation movements spearheaded by TPLF and EPLF with the pretext of oppression of nations and Natioalities with communistic ideology as a subtext.

    The question is who is behind the the elected and/or nominated officials along winth Emperor Haileselassie killed by the Derg Regime as a political group for genocide or human rghit violations.

    Now on the question of pardon, not the verdict for genocide EPRP is contending, EPRP asserts that the Dergue Officials do not deserve pardon, also denying the current regime the moral authority not only to judge but also to goive pardon, as far I could be able to fathom, and Mekoen Endalchew is disgruntled about the pardon, yet acknowleding that justice has been served. The question is by whom against Derg Officials for the massacre of the 68 Officials of Emperor Haileselassie’s Regime or the masacre of EPRP members?

  7. aha!
    | #7

    Correction: In the second paragraph, the third sentence should read ….
    .. to liberate ethnic groups from Ethiopia…., which materialized into what in known as Eritrea and which is still pesisiting with current liberation movements.

  8. kahsay
    | #8

    Yes, thank you nana, the old dogs are in in Addis( in prison)but their sons arehere ,ie ethioreview,Ethiomedia,abugida ,who they don’t learn from the time and condition. They are still working hard to distablize Ethiopia in conjunction with Shabia, Arbegnoch,Gunbet7 . But in my opinion the better freed for the sake of the Ethiopian people and History,since they are not going to change any thing.

  9. Drama
    | #9


  10. Tegga Lendado
    | #10

    If forgiveness is the way to go, then it has to be followed to the tooth. Detailed accounts of the offense should be enlisted. Ushering forgiveness requires patience and skillful delving into the details. A set of process for restitution of the victim, rehabilitation of the offender, evaluation and management must be in place. That is why I said we should learn from the experience of other societies such as those of South Africa, Ruwanda, etc. Forgiveness is not simply saying “sorry” and ha-ha-ha! There are lot of principles we learn from our own culture and the Word of God. We will not undermine the experience of our fore-fathers.

    You are right, my brother Michael Kebede, I am not a politician and I have stayed away from it all my life. However, minding Christ’s mandate of being salt and light, we are required to speak the truth in love at all times and places. Besides, I am just as concerned about the wellbeing of our people as you and multitude of aothers are. Knowing what is right and not doing it according is sin by itself. My humble exposure and experience has taught me some things that I would like to share with you and the rest of the world. I am always teachable and ready to be corrected if and when I make mistakes.

    I try to carry my Christian integrity to every aspect of my life. It is like being and Ethiopian. You can’t help being it! “Religious” people are not exempt from making mistake and taking the blame for it. Please, forgive the “religious” people including myself. Without forgiveness we both the offender and the victim are stuck and suffer the pain. We need healing! Only God can heal us!

    By the way, remember Bishop Tutu, the Rev. Abel Muzerewa, Rev. Michael Kassidy (white man) and many others who fought apartheid! We cannot forget the founding fathers of the United States who were devout believers in God.

  11. Ethio lover
    | #11

    pls kill all these derg Slaves cuz they have lot of blood in their hand

  12. Voice of the voiceless
    | #12

    I am amazed by the brazen irresponsibility, on so many levels, of the idea of a “pardon” that is floating around. How is justice served when those guilty of inflicting so much paid and damage on millions of Ethiopians go unpunished? How is it mercy when the criminals don’t even admit to their crimes, are not contrite, or don’t ask for pardon? How is it helpful for posterity when such horrific crimes against our country are trivialized?

    The Derg’s crimes were not committed in a vacuum. Mekonnen Endalkachew and Teshome Gebre-Mariam don’t make it a secret that they are the victims of the Derg. Unfortunately Derg victims number in the millions, and not all of them have a voice to express their opinion on this issue: most of them are dead, brutally executed and their remains thrown in unmarked mass graves. Thousands of those who escaped murder were tortured, raped and left permanently damaged. An entire generation of Ethiopians grew up orphaned, childless, or without sibling. Their lives were cut short or irreparably damaged, and deprived of justice for too long until the Derg were brought to justice. These nameless and faceless Ethiopians were young students, parents, workers, grandparents, all of them with dreams and aspirations. I believe someone should speak on their behalf.

    This is the regime whose policy was to murder anyone suspected of thinking different thoughts, owning something the leaders wanted to expropriate for themselves, “draining the pond” to kill the fish. These are the people who tortured, raped, kidnapped, killed at will. These are the people who meted out collective punishment, …

    These are the people who celebrated their anniversary of their power grab by spending aid money when millions of people were dieing of hunger in 1984. This is just the tip of their iceberg of crime.. There are many more horrific acts that they must answer for.

    Derg Members never admitted their crimes, they never apologized. They are not even asked own up or confess to their crimes. There is no suggestion of a “Truth a Reconciliation” process to bring closure to millions who want it. Why pardon thrust upon them, given to them unilaterally?

    Is this crazy idea to pardon Mengistu as well, while he is in exile? Is he being allowed to come back to Ethiopia a free man, a victor?

    Where were all these religious institutions when the Derg was raging havoc on the country? Why weren’t our religious leaders there to help? I’ve often thought that our religious institutions were derelict in their duties by remaining silent during the Derg years. Maybe the time has come for them to ask for public forgiveness for their inaction.

    As I said, I am amazed but not shocked. We cannot negate that some people benefited under the Derg. I just don’t believe that their voices should be the only ones heard or louder.

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