Zimbabwe says no to Mengistu extradition

Gift Phiri

ZIMBABWE has rejected an extradition bid to bring deposed Ethiopian dictator, Mengistu Haile Mariam, to justice for massive human rights violations during his rule.



face=”Verdana, Arial, Helvetica, sans-serif”>Mengistu, who was granted political asylum in Zimbabwe in 1991 when he was toppled, is currently being tried in absentia in Addis Ababa together with 37 former top soldiers accused of genocide during his 17-year rule.


Ethiopian ambassador to Zimbabwe, Duna Mufta, last week confirmed that he had passed an extradition request to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


“It was not a new request really,” said Mufta. “Mengistu committed crimes against humanity and he must be brought to justice. He is a dictator who killed millions and we have made several extradition requests to the Zimbabwean government before so that he stands trial for his crimes.”


Mufta said the Zimbabwean government had not officially responded to the extradition request. He declined to draw any meaning from the Foreign Affairs ministry’s silence.


“I cannot comment on behalf of the Zimbabwean government, talk to them,” said Mufta.


It was not possible to obtain comment from Foreign Affairs minister Stan Mudenge. Foreign Affairs spokesperson Pavelyn Musaka had not responded to questions sent to her last week.


Diplomatic sources said the government had declined to return Mengistu to Ethiopia citing concerns about the fairness of the Ethiopian trials. The Zimbabwe Independent understands that there is no extradition treaty between the two countries. Ethiopia is however arguing that Mengistu’s crimes are so grave that the absence of a treaty with Zimbabwe should not be used as a reason to refuse extradition.


Ethiopia previously asked South Africa to extradite Mengistu when it emerged that he had been receiving medical treatment there. The South African government however received the extradition request when the former military ruler had already left the country.


Mengistu is believed to be a holder of a Zimbabwean diplomatic passport and lives in a heavily-guarded mansion in the capital, Harare. The Zimbabwean government argues that they gave refuge to Mengistu because he helped train and arm liberation fighters during Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle in the 1970s.


The Ethiopian envoy however said his country had sought Mengistu’s extradition to stand trial for organising the “Red Terror” campaign in which tens of thousands of opponents of his regime were slaughtered in the 1970s and 80s.


Mengistu is the key defendant in the trials of 2 000 former officials that began nearly five years ago in the Ethiopian capital. Two men were sentenced to death in absentia this month in these trials.


Diplomatic sources suggested that if Zimbabwe was genuinely worried about the fairness of the trial, they should extradite the former dictator to South Africa which could try him before its own courts. The South African constitution incorporates customary international law, which holds that all countries should exercise jurisdiction over crimes against humanity and torture.


Alternatively, Zimbabwe could extradite Mengistu to a country which is willing to prosecute the former dictator and guarantee a fair trial, a diplomat said.


From 1974 to 1991, Mengistu’s “Dergue” was responsible for human rights violations on a massive scale. Tens of thousands of Ethiopians were tortured, murdered or “disappeared.” Tens of thousands of people were also killed as a result of humanitarian law violations committed during Ethiopia’s many internal armed conflicts. Many others, perhaps more than 100 000, died as a result of forced relocations ordered by the Mengistu regime.