Justice for Sierra Leone! No Justice for Ethiopia? By Alemayehu G Mariam

May 7th, 2012 Print Print Email Email

Warlord Charles Taylor Caged!

After 420 days of trial (over nearly four years), 115 witness, over 50,000 pages of testimony, and 1,520 exhibits, Charles Taylor, warlord-turned-president of Liberia, was found guilty on 11 counts by the U.N. Special Court for Sierra Leone. Taylor was found guilty of war crimes and crimes against humanity (including murder, rape, mutilating civilians, including cutting off their limbs, conscripting child soldiers, sexual slavery and other acts of terrorism) committed in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996, to January 18, 2002. Over 50,000 people died in that conflict. Taylor “aided and abetted” the notorious warlords Foday Sankoh, Sam “the Mosquito” Bockarie and Issa Sesay of the Revolutionary United Front (RUF) in Sierra Leone. Taylor participated in the planning, instigation and commission of these crimes and provided weapons and military support in exchange for “blood diamonds” mined by slave laborers in Sierra Leone. Taylor will be sentenced next month.

There were some problems in the prosecution’s evidence. There were few documents to show the depth and scope of Taylor’s involvement with the rebels. There was no evidence that Taylor was at the scene of the rebel crimes. There was little evidence showing the Liberian troops Taylor sent to Sierra Leone were directly involved in the war crimes and crimes against humanity. However, prosecutors were able to use radio and telephone intercepts and the testimonies of Taylor’s close associates and security detail and show that Taylor had shipped weapons to the rebels in exchange for (blood) diamonds.
Taylor avoided conviction for “command responsibility” under article 6(3) of the Statute of the Special Court which imputes criminal responsibility “if the superior knew or had reason to know that his or her subordinate was about to commit crimes prohibited by the Statute or had done so, and the superior failed to take the necessary and reasonable measures to prevent or punish the perpetrators”. Despite evidence that Taylor had knowledge RUF rebels were committing war crimes and crimes against humanity and that he had significant influence over them, there was insufficient evidence to prove that he had effective “command and control” over them to prevent the crimes or punish the perpetrators.

Taylor denied all of the charges and any responsibility for the crimes committed in Sierra Leone. He testified on his own behalf for seven months seeking to portray himself as a peace maker. The trial reportedly cost $USD250 million! Was it worth the expense? Does justice have a price tag?

Rogues Gallery of African Criminals Against Humanity

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has issued arrest warrants for other current and former African heads of state, including Cote d’Ivoire’s former president Laurent Gbagbo and Sudan’s president Omar al-Bashir (and the late Moamar Gadhafi). In November 2011, Gbagbo was quietly whisked away to the Hague from house arrest in Cote d’Ivoire to face justice before the ICC on charges of crimes against humanity (murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, persecution and other inhuman acts) that were allegedly committed during the post-election period. Gbagbo will soon be warming Taylor’s chair.

Al-Bashir sneered at the ICC indictment in 2009: “Tell them all, the ICC prosecutor, the members of the court and everyone who supports this court that they are under my shoe.” (In time, he may come under the ICC’s shoes.) The U.N. estimated well over 300,000 people have perished under Bashir’s regime. Along with Al-Bashir, the ICC has also issued warrants against other Sudanese nationals including Ahmed Haroun, a lawyer and minister of humanitarian affairs, Ali Kushayb, a former senior Janjaweed (local militiamen allied with the Sudanese regime against Darfur rebels), Bahr Idriss Abu Garda, a rebel leader and two others.

The ICC has also indicted criminals against humanity in Kenya. Uhuru Kenyatta, finance minister and son of Kenya’s famed independence leader Jomo Kenyatta, resigned following an ICC ruling that he will face trial for crimes against humanity in connection with the communal post-election violence between supporters of presidential candidates Raila Odinga and Mwai Kibaki in 2008. The U.N. estimates some 1,200 people died in weeks of unrest between December 2007 and February 2008, and 600,000 people were forcibly displaced. Cabinet secretary Francis Muthaura, a close ally of president Mwai Kibaki, former Education Minister William Ruto and radio announcer Joshua arap Sang face similar charges.

In Uganda, the ICC has indicted senior leaders of the “Lord’s Resistance Army” including the notorious Joseph Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti and three other top commanders. In the DR Congo various rebel and militia leaders and Congolese military officers and politicians including Thomas Lubanga Dyilo, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, Bosco Ntaganda, Mathieu Ngudjolo Chui and two others have been indicted. The ICC has issued arrest warrants for Moammar Gaddafi’s son Saif al-Islam and Libyan intelligence chief Abdullah al-Senussi who was arrested in Mauritania in March of this year. Libya is contesting ICC jurisdiction so that it may be able to try the two suspects in Libyan courts.

No ICC Indictments in Ethiopia?

While seeking out war criminals and criminals against humanity in the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, the DR of Congo, Libya and other places, the ICC and U.N. Security Council have avoided “Crimes Against Humanity Central– Ethiopia”. The evidence of crimes against humanity and war crimes in Ethiopia is fully documented, substantial and overwhelming.

An official Inquiry Commission appointed by Meles Zenawi in its 2006 report documented the extrajudicial killing of at least 193 unarmed protesters, wounding of 763 others and arbitrary imprisonment of nearly 30,000 persons in the post-2005 election period in Ethiopia. The Commission was limited to investigating the “violence that occurred on June 8, 2005 in Addis Ababa and violence that occurred from November 1 to 10, 2005 and from November 14 to 16, 2005″ in other parts of the country. (The Inquiry Commission has evidence on extrajudicial killings by security forces for dates other than those indicated, and had those casualties been included in the official Commission report the numbers would have increased several fold.) The killings investigated by the Commission occurred after Zenawi publicly declared that all of the country’s security and military forces were under his direct, exclusive and personal control.

The Commission’s evidence further showed that nearly all of the 193 unarmed protesters died from gunshot wounds to their heads or upper torso. The Commission found substantial evidence that professional sharpshooters were used in the indiscriminate and wanton attack on the unarmed protesters. The Commission further documented that on November 3, 2005, during an alleged disturbance at the infamous Kality prison near Addis Ababa, guards sprayed more than 1,500 bullets into inmate cells in 15 minutes, killing 17 and severely wounding 53. These and many other shocking facts were meticulously documented by the Inquiry Commission which examined 16,990 documents, received testimony from 1,300 witnesses and undertook months of investigation in the field. There is also documentary evidence to show that there are at least 237 named police and security officials directly implicated in these crimes and subsequently dismissed from their positions. No person has even been criminally investigated, arrested, charged, prosecuted or in any way held accountable for any of these crimes.

In December 2003, in the Gambella region of Ethiopia, 424 individuals died in extrajudicial killings by security forces. A report by the International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School’s Human Rights Program corroborates the extrajudicial killings. In 2008, in the Ogaden region of Ethiopia, reprisal “executions of 150 individuals” and 37 others were documented by Human Rights Watch:

Ethiopian military personnel who ordered or participated in attacks on civilians should be held responsible for war crimes. Senior military and civilian officials who knew or should have known of such crimes but took no action may be criminally liable as a matter of command responsibility. The widespread and apparently systematic nature of the attacks on villages throughout Somali Region is strong evidence that the killings, torture, rape, and forced displacement are also crimes against humanity for which the Ethiopian government bears ultimate responsibility.

No person has even been criminally investigated, arrested, charged, prosecuted or in any way held accountable for any of these crimes.

In 2010, Human Rights Watch made a submission to the U.N. Committee Against Torture “regarding serious patterns of torture and other cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment in Ethiopia.”

Torture and ill-treatment have been used by Ethiopia’s police, military, and other members of the security forces to punish a spectrum of perceived dissenters, including university students, members of the political opposition, and alleged supporters of insurgent groups, as well as alleged terrorist suspects. Human Rights Watch has documented incidents of torture and ill-treatment by Ethiopian security forces in a range of settings. The frequency, ubiquity, and patterns of abuse by agents of the central and state governments demonstrate systematic mistreatment involving commanding officers, not random activity by rogue soldiers and police officers. In several cases documented by Human Rights Watch, military commanders participated personally in torture.

No person has even been criminally investigated, arrested, charged, prosecuted or in any way held accountable for any of these crimes.

International Criminal Court of Justice or International Criminal Court of Selective Justice?

It is historic and commendable that the ICC UN Special Tribunal for Sierra Leone has convicted Charles Taylor for war crimes and crimes against humanity. The verdict is undoubtedly a giant step forward in ending the culture of official impunity and criminality in Africa. African dictators and tyrants may no longer assume automatic impunity for their criminal actions. David Crane, the former prosecutor who indicted Taylor in 2003 correctly pointed out, “This is a bell that has been rung and clearly rings throughout the world. If you are a head of state and you are killing your own people, you could be next.” U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described the Taylor verdict as “a significant milestone for international criminal justice” that “sends a strong signal to all leaders that they are and will be held accountable for their actions.”

But the ICC and the U.N. Security Council must not succumb to the shameful practice of selective justice. It is hypocritical to indict criminals against humanity in the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and the DR Congo and pretend to “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil” on the war criminals and criminals against humanity in Ethiopia. There cannot be a double, triple or quadruple standard of justice tailored for different grade of war criminals and criminals against humanity. There is no such thing as a good war criminal or criminal against humanity. There can be no beauty contest among warthogs. What is good enough for the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and the DR Congo MUST be good enough for Ethiopia because what is good for the goose is good for the gander. Based on the compelling and substantial readily available evidence, the ICC has a legal duty and a moral obligation to at least open an investigation into war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Ethiopia since 2002 when the court was created.


  1. astra
    | #1

    Alemayehu- you speak so eloquently about the crimes of Meles and quite commendable for you to do so. What about the crimes of your friend Mengistu, whose crimes are a thousand times more!!! He is safely hiding in Zimbabwe. Would you be able to write about him. I doubt it. So keep on barking without exhibiting any sense of justice or fairness

  2. bimm
    | #2

    the west is playing politics. meles is their dog and whatever he does is tolerated.

  3. በጎ አድራጊ ወይስ ኢንቨስተር
    | #3

    You are hypocritical for mentioning only weak state leaders:

    ‘…It is hypocritical to indict criminals against humanity in the Sudan, Kenya, Uganda and the DR Congo and pretend to “hear no evil, see no evil and speak no evil” on the war criminals and criminals against humanity in Ethiopia…’

    Why did you fail to include European leaders that fund atrocities against African by supporting and legitimizing corrupted leaders like Mobutu, took money from dictators like Gadafi ….?

    You are selective.

  4. Tagadalit Adanahoum
    | #4

    I have a serious doubt about ICC. The Italians who were in charge of the massacre in Addis Ababa during Grasseani did not appear in court even those who authorized the mustard gas . But for an English prisioner of war, an Italian officer was sentenced in mock court to die swiftly. It is all a jock to bambuzzle and obsfucate the turd World of ours. One should be strong enough like Emperor Menelik to deal on equal basis with the rulers of Western Nations. Charles Taylor is a product of demented creature who came out of the womb of US. I have said enough for now!

  5. Anonymous
    | #5

    I could not have said this any better. Thank you for the well researched and well articulated article. Those former leaders of Ethiopia (going back to mengistu) need to be brought to justice for how they have systematically brought our country down. However, I don’t see the International criminal court or any other organization on the international level bringing these sub-humans (meles and mengistu) to justice simply because those who are in the International court have strong ties to America and as we all know America has a strategic alliance with Ethiopia with the air base and other facilities in our homeland – Ethiopia. So it is in Americas best interest to to keep a pawn (meles) in power and turn a blind eye to anything happening in Ethiopia. SO, WE ETHIOPIANS NEED TO BRING THEM TO JUSTICE OURSELVES. WE CAN’T WAIT FOR OUTSIDE HELP BECAUSE THAT WILL NEVER HAPPEN. ALL OPTIONS SHOULD BE ON THE TABLE TO BRING THEM DOWN. EITHER THROUGH ELECTIONS, AND IF NEED BE HAVE ALL THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA REPORTERS IN ETHIOPIA DURING THE ELECTION TO WITNESS IT(AND ELECTIONS COULD BE DONE BY A THIRD PARTY CHOSEN BY THE PEOPLE OR ANOTHER AFRICAN NATION THAT HAS NO STRATEGIC CONNECTION WITH ETHIOPIA-MAYBE ZAMBIA AS THEY JUST HAD AN ELECTION AND THE NEW PRESIDENT IS ON A MISSION TO END CORRUPTION SO IT WILL WORK OUT GOOD FOR BOTH NATIONS. OR WORST CASE SCENARIO IS ON THE DAY OF THE ELECTION WE COULD SELECT CITIES AS DESIGNATED PARTIES. (EG IF YOU WANT TO VOTE FOR MELES YOU GO TO CITY A AND IF YOU WANT ANOTHER DEMOCRATICALLY ELECTED PM THEN GO TO CITY B. THEN CAST YOUR VOTE. THIS NOT ONLY GIVES YOU THE OPPORTUNITY TO VOTE BUT ALSO A VISUAL DEPICTION OF THE TOTAL NUMBER OF PEOPLE. IF THE INTERNATIONAL MEDIA IS COVERING IT, IT WILL EASIER FOR THE WORLD TO SEE MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN CITY B AND ONLY THE GOVERNMENT OFFICIALS IN CITY A. THE OTHER OPTIONS MIGHT BE MORE VIOLENT IF NEED BE.

  6. Belehennet
    | #6

    Dear Al,

    You’re right in calling for justice regarding the Melles regime’s criminal activities. However, as a lawyer and human rights activist, you ought to be ashamed of the fact that you’re silent about the other criminal, Mengistu H/Mariam, who is basking in luxury in Zimbabw after committing the murder and torture of numerous Ethiopians and after having facilitated the take over of Ethiopia by the current regime by running off like the coward he really was!

  7. በጎ አድራጊ ወይስ ኢንቨስተር
    | #7

    Issue is not about bringing criminals to ICC. Issue is why only weak states leaders? What about developed European leaders? If we are selective of who should we bring to ICC then we are too hypocrites.
    Africans are victim of colonialism, apartheid and European interventions. Now ICC and UN are mouthpiece of developed countries.
    Do you know any African country who invaded or colonized European country?

  8. Anonymous
    | #8

    I want realy know what Dr.or prof. Alemayehu has done against Butcher, kannibal regime of Mengestu, in 1970th and 1980th.

  9. Belehennet
    | #9

    Dear Beggo Adragi Woyes Investor,

    Plase have another look at your logic. You seem to be suggesting that simply because leaders of European states are not brought to justice, our own Ethiopian murderers should go scot free. You may call for ICC action regarding any allegation concerning any European leader but why, for heavens sake, do you object to African criminals being brought to court at the ICC?

    In any case, as the ICC is currently constructed, bringing Melles and Mengistu let alone any European leader is easier said than done.
    Nevertheless, even the call for legal action against such atrocious despots as Melles and Mengistu is worth the effort.

  10. በጎ አድራጊ ወይስ ኢንቨስተር
    | #10

    To Belehennet

    ‘The whole truth’ is all I asked for- not this or that truth. The Whole Truth!!

    Logic is if you do not bring to ICC those very determining forces/groups behind criminals then you are not going to see justice. You only trimming problem to make it look good for the eye.

    Melles is history and Meles without European political leaders, businessmen and bankers is nothing. So, Belehennet do not try to fool Ethiopians by telling us otherwise.

    If you want to know how the West removes 3rd world leaders from their thrones then see how they treated Syria and Libya leaders.
    If the West want to keep the dictators in power then see how they turn blind eyes and protect them. ምሳሌዎችን አንተም ታውቃቸዋለህ

    Without support of European criminals there is very little chance for African leaders to stay in power.

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