News Service 09/97
AI INDEX: AFR 25/01/97
23 JANUARY 1997 header text
Amnesty International today welcomed the 15 January announcement by the authorities in Addis Ababa that the majority of detainees held for alleged involvement in human rights crimes under the former Dergue government have now been charged with specific criminal offences.
The organization called on the government to bring those charged to trial as soon as possible, to ensure that these trials are carried out fairly, and to bring charges against a further 600 long-term detainees alleged to have committed war crimes.
"Although we understand the problems of having hundreds of trials at the same time as trying to reorganize a depleted and over-stretched judiciary, it is very important that these trials do not drag on for years," Amnesty International said. "They should be conducted fairly, openly and quickly."
According to Ethiopia's Federal High Court, charges against 1,218 from a total of about 1,800 detainees have now been filed. Details of those charged and their alleged offences are not yet available. It is not yet known, for example, if Mammo Wolde, the 64-year-old Olympic gold medalist, has now been charged. The charges are said to relate to the former government's Red Terror campaign against its opponents. In 1977-1978, thousands of people were extrajudicially executed, "disappeared" or brutally tortured.
The detainees have mostly been detained since the 1991 overthrow of the government of Mengistu Haile-Mariam, although there have also been recent arrests. Their cases are now to be allocated to courts, but no further details have been given on when or where the trials will take place.
The trial in Addis Ababa of 46 members of the former Dergue military government (and 25 others in absentia, including ex-president Mengistu, in exile in Zimbabwe) resumed last week before the Federal High Court. More than 115 witnesses have already given evidence -- including horrific testimonies by survivors of the Red Terror and relatives of its victims -- and many more are expected as the Chief Special Prosecutor?s case proceeds, with hearings twice a week.
Amnesty International is concerned that those recently charged could receive death sentences if found guilty -- the same fate which could await the 46 defendants currently on trial. The organization opposes the death penalty in all cases as the ultimate cruel, inhuman and degrading punishment.
"There has been enough killing in Ethiopia, and further executions will not right the wrongs committed during the Dergue government or contribute towards better respect for human rights in the country now and in the future," the organization said.
In June 1996 an Amnesty International delegate observed an early stage of the Dergue trial. Local and international observers are permitted and encouraged, with translation facilities provided from Amharic to English. The proceedings are being conducted in a public, open and normal court. More than 30 defence lawyers are engaged privately or assigned in dignified and serious manner by the court. Defendants will have the right of appeal to the Supreme Court and the right to petition the Head of State for clemency if condemned to death.
However, in addition to the delays in charging and trying the detainees, Amnesty International is still concerned about one fair trial issue -- the denial to defendants of full confidential access to their lawyers. Although lawyers can talk to their clients confidentially in prison, the prison authorities do not allow the defendants and their lawyers to receive, give or work together on written material under conditions of confidentiality. This impedes their ability to prepare and conduct their defence. Defence lawyers have frequently complained unsuccessfully about this violation of international standards on the rights of defence.
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