While today holds significance and symbolism in the United States as it is Memorial Day, the day in which all veterans from all branches of the United States military are honored for their service, there is a different type of symbolism in Ethiopia. In Ethiopia, the occasion is completely different.
Today on May 26, Ethiopian Army Lieutenant Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam was issued the death penalty by Ethiopia’s Supreme Court. Seventeen of Mengistu’s senior officers have been issued the same sentence.
From 1977 until 1991, Mengistu and his regime have ruled Ethiopia with an iron fist. For that time, Mengistu’s regime was a junta known as the Derg. Three years earlier, the Derg had taken power.
Mengistu has faced charges of genocide between the years of 1977 and 1978 in which tens of thousands have died or went missing. This event in Ethiopia’s history during the rule of the junta was known as the Red Terror.
The junta was overthrown in 1991. Since then, Mengistu has lived in exile in Zimbabwe as a guest of Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe. Recently, Zimbabwe has been shaken up in midst of elections. There is a run-off election set to take place soon between Mugabe and opposition opponent Morgan Tsvangirai.
While Mengistu and the other 17 officers of his regime were originally handed life sentences back in 2007, the prosecution aimed for the death sentence. Today, the sentence of life in prison was replaced by the death penalty.
Supreme Court Judge Desta Gebru said: “They have tortured and executed thousands of innocent people in public, which applies as genocide according to Ethiopian law.” He adds: “All defendants are guilty of genocide, murder and illegal confiscation and detainment of innocent people. As a result, they will be handed out the most severe punishment in Ethiopian law.”
Fiesseha Desta the former Vice-President, Legesse Afsaw the “Butcher of Tigre,” and Fikresallassie Wogderes the former Prime Minister will too be sentenced to death. It is official; Mengistu has been sentenced to death. However, he still lives comfortably in Zimbabwe under Mugabe’s protection.
If Tsvangirai can play his cards right, he could use this against Mugabe prelude to the runoff elections. Should Tsvangirai win the runoff election, it could be possible that he will send Mengistu back to Ethiopia to serve out his death sentence.