Prominent Zimbabweans feel Mugabe was wrong to reject Ethiopia’s request for its former leader to be sent home to face justice.
By Fred Bridgland in Johannesburg (AR No. 88, 22-Dec-06)
Opposition representatives, top human rights lawyers and church leaders in Zimbabwe have called for the extradition of the former the Ethiopian president Mariam Mengistu who was last week convicted in absentia for crimes of genocide by a court in Addis Ababa.
A day after the conviction on December 12, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe rejected an appeal by the government of Ethiopia to extradite Mengistu, found guilty of causing the deaths of between half a million and 1.5 million of his fellow countrymen, to face justice at home.
Justifying protecting a leader responsible for more deaths than any other African dictator, Mugabe said through his spokesman, "As a comrade of our struggle [against white rule in former Rhodesia], Comrade Mengistu and his government played a key and commendable role during our struggle for independence and no one can dispute that.”
Mengistu provided arms to Mugabe’s ZANU, Zimbabwe African National Union, guerrilla movement and trained Zimbabwe’s air force pilots after independence. But Mugabe has come under a barrage of criticism from human rights and opposition groups in Zimbabwe for protecting Mengistu. Various international organisations such as the London-based International Bar Association have called for the president himself to be tried by the new International Criminal Court in The Hague for crimes against humanity.
"Verdicts such as this [in Addis Ababa] build up pressure and send the message that leaders who are bloodstained must not be allowed to retire in comfort," said Peter Takirambudde, Africa head of Human Rights Watch. He said Mengistu would find it impossible to travel to neighbouring countries, even for medical treatment, without facing the danger of arrest. "This man and his followers committed monstrous crimes against humanity, and international justice demands he be brought to face justice. The cycle of impunity must and will be stopped."
Leading Zimbabwean human rights lawyer Otto Saki, of Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights, said his organisation demanded that Mengistu be conveyed to Ethiopia to accept responsibility for his crimes. “We expect the government to fulfil this commitment,” he said. “We expect government to draw a precedent from the Taylor case.”
It is difficult to exaggerate the scale of Mengistu’s crimes. At the start of the darkest days of his rule in 1976, Mengistu stood before a huge crowd in the central plaza of Addis Ababa and smashed a series of jars filled with pigs’ blood. They represented, he said, the blood of the “counter-revolutionaries” that would flow as his regime set out to eliminate rivals of the ruling junta.
“The revolution needs to be fed by the blood of traitors,” he said. Human rights groups reported that at the height of the terror campaign, organised by Soviet advisers and Mengistu’s East German-controlled Department of State Security, government hit squads were summarily executing 100 to 150 “anarchists, feudalists, exploiters of the people and counter-revolutionaries” each day on the streets of Addis Ababa, other centres and in the notorious state prison on the edge of the capital.
Kenya’s main daily newspaper, The Nation, commented, “Why does it not come as a surprise that President Mugabe is not willing to hand over Mengistu to the Ethiopian government? It is no wonder that he [Mengistu] long ago found a soul-mate in Mugabe and was given sanctuary; the two are birds of a feather when it comes to atrocities against their people.”
Among the voices raised against Mengistu’s presence in Zimbabwe is that of Pius Ncube, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Bulawayo, Mugabe’s most fearless and outspoken critic who repeatedly says the best service the Zimbabwean head of state can do for his countrymen is to die. “Mugabe is using the taxpayers’ money to keep a dictator who killed a million people,” said the archbishop. “You can see what kind of friends Mugabe keeps. You need one dictator to prop up another.”
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The purpose of this blog is to collect testimonials of all survivors of Mengestu Haile-Mariams Dictatorship. We trust that good will prevail only if the Human race will choose to learn from past wrongs. We will redeem our humanity if we recognize our responsibilities. We sincerely hope that the validity of this endeavor will be self-evident.