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Justice for Sierra Leone! No Justice for Ethiopia?

Alemayehu G Mariam


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.


Amharic translations of recent commentaries by the author may be found at:

Previous commentaries by the author are available at:  and

16 thoughts on “Justice for Sierra Leone! No Justice for Ethiopia?

  1. The devil that is going by the name of Meles Zenawi is very manipulative and elusive for ICC. Ethiopians need to bring justice themselves the old fashion way.

  2. How come you guys do not even mention Mengistu Hailemariam – the most criminalperson in Ethiopian history who is living his luxurious life with another dictator Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe .This shows that you are narrow minded Or you have been part of his 18 years killing and corruption.

    Abera replies:

    Hey man, it is normal for people to focus what they are facing now. Just because we are not talking about Mengistu every day it does not mean we been part of his government. when there is a discussion about Meles and the TPLF we talk about them if there is a discussion about Mengistu we will talk about him, but don’t accuse people. Why don’t you talk about Meles now? About the racist and dictatorial TPLF government?

  3. In the picture above this Taylor guy does not look like he is in prison now. Is he allowed to get his picture taken with his friends?

    Thank You for reading my comment.

    Jegnaw replies:

    I think you should go ask charles Taylor and com back and tell us the news!!!!

    Fezaza replies:

    That is a smart idea Jegnaw and you must be a smart guy? Is your name real or you just gave yourself a name. It would be great if we all are lucky like you, you picked a good name if it matches who you are. I did not have that chance my friends call me fezaza.

    I think when there is change in our country you can easily have a very high position in the Army. If they don’t make you one I am going to write them a letter and tell them my disappointment.

    by the way i read the comment you sent to Ezana, I did not understand what you meant by “twen brother”. My friend thinks you meant “twin”. And I so “saw” another one I missed that says “He Ezana” I can not even guess what that meant i hope you did not mean “Hey”.

    Thank you for your time.

    Jegnaw replies:

    That is exactly my point. very little mind is very dangerous!!and thanks in pointing my spelling error. and i will ask my English professor to correct your native language int English..kkk
    I am sure your English teacher will be very proud in your English command, and your understanding of his culture, and his philosophy. but not your Owen.that is our problem.that is Ethiopia’s problem.and that is Africa’s problem.
    so i suggest you emancipate your self from the mental slavery you have put your self in to..

    and you will find many error i am not hear for spelling bees.
    good day.

  4. Fezaza, Hehehe, that is a good one. I am getting to like your comments, such innocent comments!!

    Good day

    Ezana From Toronto

    Jegnaw replies:

    He Ezana you got your twen brother Fezaza.

  5. ICC is targeting African Leaders who do not serve their purpose. Meles is doing the dirty job of the West and no reason to go against their interest.

    Jegnaw replies:

    I think you are correct in your assessment for now but they will turn on him as soon as they have no need of Melese..

    Anonymous replies:

    You got that right

  6. Prof. Almariam,

    If you are really fair, it is not only Meles who must be indicted and investigated for the election 2005. Justice does not discriminate Prof. Justice serves equally to everyone. But you do not sound you are a fair, a just person except you hate Meles so much you wanted to see him in court. I am never in love with Meles, but justice to be served to everyone one involved in the incident. This will mean the Kinjit leaders like Berhanu Nega, Shawl and others must be investigate and charged equally with Meles. This is due to the fact, this felas declared they won before the election board. They started dancing with foreign ambassadors claiming they won the election? they could not even wait for the formal declaration of the results. And they insigated violence and people started burning shops, buses, block-roads and started attacking Tigreans accompanied with the Slogan nibret wede kebele and Tigrie wede Mekele. Which govenment in the world does it allow violence to prevail over peace? Prof. Almariam, I have to tell you are not a fair judge as I have been following you all along. You must give credit for Meles for trying to a national election which was dubbed the most fair election in the history of Ethiopia. I do agree Meles has been against Ethiopia from day one. But at the same time, if Meles had bad intention why did allow the election in the first place? Why? I personally believe Meles was very stupid and foolish to go for election with all the antiEthiopia policies in his hand. I have no doubt on the defeat of Meles or for that matter TPF. Reason: I do not believe any Ethiopian will elect TPLF if there was or there is fair and free election. But blaming everything on Meles is not fair and just. We all know Meles is bad and the most hated person in Ethiopia because of his antiEthiopia stand. Meles still stands firm he is antiEthiopia. We all agree on this. But I do believe the election chaoes must be blamed on the cause and effect. I do believe in cause and effect. Cause and effect is the law of physics. It is natural law of action and reactions. I do believe Kinjit acted savagely and could not even manage their behavior and that turned into violence. Meles who was so naive and stupid who was not even prepared to handle protest showered the protesters with live bullets. I do believe Meles did it out of fear and after feeling threatened. So Prof. Almariam, I suggest you put your stand on balance so that your judgment can be balanced? You have vindicated the Kinjit leaders from crime on the election 2005? you blamed everything on Meles? That is not justice. You are not overtaken by your hate for Meles. So you wish Meles to be in court in Europe? I believe Meles and others who have caused too much suffering in Ethiopia must be tried in Ethiopian court. We do not need the Hague or a court in Europe. We want you to know Prof. We love our country like you, but we do not want to want our problems to be solved by any external court. I also suggest you can say whatever you wanted but you do not represent Ethiopians. Do not act as if you are the spoke person of the entire nation because you think you are the most educated person of Ethiopia? you have to realize there are many many brillient Ethiopians who never say anything in public. That does not mean you are the only person who is educated and who knows everything and you can tell the world what to do with our affairs. I oppose TPLF or Meles. But I do believe we have to remove them ourselves and we have to deal with them ourselves because that is the only lasting solution that can help us solve our problem from inside home. Meles, Kinjit leaders who got invovlveed in the death of many people must be in court room when time allows. You can not let go people whom you love free and criminalize and condmen people whom you do not like? I do not expect that from you. If something bad happens, it takes two parties, not just only one party. You can preach has the entire almost 10 years the same story. Please censor yourself and be fair and just to everyone. I wanted a fair and impartial system in Ethiopia but I hate biased stories. It has been now almost 10 years, you are not able to move on from election 2005? you are still living in that time. You cannot bring back the people who died even if you keep on telling us your biased theory about the crisis. I find too hard to understand an educated person keep on writing one bloody event for almost 10 years nonstop and accusing only one person? if you really wanted an great Ethiopia where all people live in peace? you really need to be patriotic and real Ethiopian. We do not care how Americans do their affairs or we do not care about any body else. You try to brain-wash us as if our people have to live according to Americans? We love the American people to our bones, but we do not want Messiahs like you who preach us day in and day out about American and etc.

  7. I agree with Yedebreberhanu in that Prof. Al simply ignores the other criminal/murderer, Mengistu H/mariam who is thumbing his nose at all Ethiopians from his luxurious refuge in Zimbabwe after committing huge numbers of extra-judicial killings and fleeing the country like the coward he was.

    Prof. Al simply ignores that crime. He should be ashamed especially in his capacity as a lawyer and human rights activist.

    Nevertheless, his stand re Melles is fully justified and should be encouraged to continue with the good work with the hope that he would be more consistent with his principles.

  8. A reply to Alula,I have been my self in Ethiopia in the election of 2005,because I arrived there in Addis for some thing important,atleast for my self before the election day,every body was hopeful no hate or anti tigray sentment,many people thought there will be a peaceful election and people like Meles must leave the office,I talked with some one in the bus we said to each other,it is the way democracy works,they might come back in another election,I my self am a Tigrean but Meles or some body from Tigray in power is nothing to me,I believe in honest Ethiopian,many fought for change in the time of Atse Haileslassie, unfortunatlly it went the wrong way and created or changed that great hope into hopelessness and the tragedy that followed,what I want to say is do not comper the leaders of kinijet with Meles and what he represents,as I said it above and having lost my younger brother who fought with the T.P.L.F,what we have expected was heros and winners who will be ready to give the power to the people but as we have heard it from G.Medhin Araya and a man from Adwa himself told the world that they were criminals from the very begining,what jestice said is reasonable,as to the T.P.L.F leadership under Meles and Sebhat I am ashamed of them,there was a person I knew when I was a student in Mekelle,she was from Adwa,it is in 1965 Gregorean calander she was in the national service from university,the first woman I saw from university, she was very fashnable later she joined the T.P.L.F.and she was one of them and if she is still with them I am ashamed for her and can you call her educated person,I do not hate any body,I do not believe too that only Amharans ,Oromos and other tribes are opressed,every educated Ethiopian respect the other, amharic being a language of comunication,the nazis were a bunch of ignorant criminals in a land of civilized nation,dear Ethiopians,I do not like war or to die,yes it is probably un patriotic,one thing I know,I am not better than any body,God bless you.

  9. T.GT.Gebregzi

    I did not say TPLF is good. All I said everyone has to be responsible. You cannot blame single person for 20 years. If Meles was the only bad person, he would not have stayed 25 years now. He is reigning Ethiopia with iron fist because we are all useless and useless people. How can one stupid person control 91 million people for 25 years now? Something is wrong with all of us man.

    Why Berhanu and et al. refused to takeover addis ababa? Berhanu Nega works from Asmara? was it better to work from addis than from asmmara? Kinjits were stupid who did not have any vision or strategy except they were a loose coalition of weak personalities. I blame most for Kinjit who played a negative role and gave new lease for Meles.

    Controlling the capital city was a big win,but they messed it up. I supported Kinjit then, but never knew they were a bunch of immature felas.

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