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Mengistu Haile Mariam (Ethiopia, 1990)

An Ethiopian court yesterday convicted former dictator Mengistu Haile Mariam for a range of war crimes including instigating genocide (see the Washington Post for more details). Mengistu, who led a Marxist junta from 1974 until ousted by force in 1991, unleashed a vicious campaign against his own people that murdered thousands. The trial focused on the notorious "Red Terror" campaign of 1977-78 that killed approximately 2,000 people. Perhaps even worse, Mengistu was responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths from famine in the mid-1980s, which resulted more from deliberate government policy than from drought itself.

Despite the convictions - and possible death sentence to be decided later this month - Mengistu is unlikely to face justice anytime soon. For the past sixteen years he has been living in Harare, Zimbabwe under the protection of President Robert Mugabe. Mugabe has reportedly rejected Ethiopian attempts at extradition, and seems unlikely to give him up now.

But this is also risky for Mugabe. Coddling a genocidaire will only serve to highlight the blood on Mugabe's own hands, too, particularly from a military campaign known as gukuruhundi that slaughtered up to 20,000 people in Matabeleland in the early 1980s. The abuses are well-documented by human rights groups and the Catholic Commission for Justice and Peace, but there has been no action yet taken against those responsible. Indeed many of them are still in top positions in the Mugabe government, and several are even considered possible successors to the 82-year old president. The outcome in Addis yesterday may be a partial victory for justice in Ethiopia. But it could also help to force Zimbabwe to face its demons as well.

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CGD blog posts reflect the views of the authors drawing on prior research and experience in their areas of expertise. CGD does not take institutional positions.