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There was no foul play in releasing former Derg members

By Mulugeta Aserate Kassa
Oct. 23 2011

Derg higher officials - Tigrai Online

May I from the very outset be allowed to highlight a personal statement – for whatever its worth – about my view on the ongoing release of Derg members. Having publically argued in favour of forgiving the convicted Derg members – and not in favour of forgetting their heinous crimes – I now welcome their release from 20 years in prison, with cautious optimism but without pangs of regret or twinges of conscience. On the other hand, I fully acknowledge and respect other Ethiopians’ right to be unwilling to forgive those who hounded and hunted their dearest and nearest.

I am not here to give a sermon on forgiveness. My one and only reason to revert, yet again, to this matter stems from my disbelief in witnessing in some of our most commendable websites an inadvertent inclination to being blurred by a miasma of sheer speculation on matters related to the recent release of former Derg members. At the heart of the confusion lies an inference of foul play in releasing the former Derg members so much so that the EPRDF Government stands accused of violating Article 28 of The Constitution of FDRE.

As I have never ever been in the legal profession, I like it to be known that I stand ready and willing to be corrected in the event a contrary forensic argument is offered. In the meantime, however, I happily stand by my assertion that EPRDF’s role in the affair was conducted in an above-board manner and the accusation that the Government has violated Article 28 of the Constitution of FDRE cannot withstand the rigours of a robust cross examination on the tenets of the article in question. In order to expose the fallacy inherent in the accusation that EPDRF has bulldozed Article 28, it behoves us right to go through the said article with a fine tooth comb. The following, then, is Article 28 of the Constitution verbatim:

Article 28

Crimes against Humanity

i) Criminal liability of persons who commit crimes against humanity, so defined by international agreements ratified by Ethiopia and by other laws of Ethiopia, such as genocides, summary executions, forcible disappearances or torture, shall not be barred by statute of limitation. Such offences may not be commuted by amnesty or pardon of the legislature or any other state organ.

In the case of persons convicted of any crime stated in sub-article (i) of this Article and sentenced with death penalty the Head of State may without prejudice to provision hear above, commute the punishment to life in prison.

It is crystal clear that Article 28 refers to two categories of criminals. Sub- article (i) refers to fugitives from justice – those hordes of blood-stained kakitocrats who have taken refuge in various parts of the world including their God-father Colonel Mengistu Haile Mariam. The provision of bringing to court those convicted in abstentia or those who are in the run from the law, therefore, is not bound by “Yirga” (Statute of Limitation) which means that their case is subject to prosecution at any time in the future. Sub-article (ii) on the other hand, refers to those criminals, who after having being arrested, charged, convicted and duly sentenced to death: the likes of the 17 former top brass of the Derg. Then sub-article (ii) of Article 28 goes on to bestow the prerogative to commute death to life in prison on an incumbent Head of State. Now, here lies the crux of the matter, sub-article (ii) of Article 28 does not deny the right to apply for “Amekero” (parole) to the 17 former Derg members whose death penalty had duly been commuted to life in prison by H.E. President Girma Wolde Giorgis – a safe and sound delivery of justice within the purview of the Constitution of FDRE. Consequently, what followed then becomes a mere administration matter for the Prison authorities: he/she who served 20 full years behind bars, as part of a life in prison sentence, is eligible for parole and for eventual release. The “Derg 17” have completed 20 years in prison.

This, then, is the long and short of the release process of former Derg members. Bashing the EPRDF on an utterly wrong premise not only beggars belief, but serves no good purpose to the common good.

As I had started off with a personal statement, let me end my commentary, too, with a personal statement. I believe that no country needs the spirit of reconciliation to flow to every nook and cranny of society as does our own society. Seventeen years of bloody rule by the Derg has ripped off the very fabric of Ethiopian society and made a lot of us lose faith and hope on the Motherland. The arduous task of correcting the wrongs of the past and, indeed, of rebuilding a nation fit for the new millennium is very much work in progress. Together we had over the last 20 years managed to pick up the pieces of a violent revolution, brought to an abrupt end to the scourge of prolonged fratricidal war and succeeded in salvaging the union from further dismemberment. We’ve got every reason to be proud of our bounce-back efforts as a nation on the move. These are, but some of the factors which, along with my unflinching faith-based stand on forgiveness being a virtue and not a vice which spurred me to boldly speak out in favour of the Group of Ethiopian Religious Leaders’ call for national reconciliation by forgiving former Derg members who had already served 20 years in prison. Contrary to the claims of my bewildered critics on this matter, I neither had an axe to grind, nor was I in hock to a Stockholm syndrome when I decided to forgive those who killed my father and who imprisoned me for nine years. I did it out of my own volition, perhaps nudged by a desire to save my children from the cycle of retribution. I did it, too, for Ethiopia. Once I had forgiven the former Derg members, it becomes a non-issue to me (and I hope too many as well) to see them happily reunited with their families, or for that matter to see them win the jackpot of the National Lottery! What we should, instead, be prepared for is to nip in the bud any attempt by former Derg kakitocrats to use the release of their former masters as a spring-board to mug the process of our new-found democracy in Ethiopia.