n African Human Rights Law Journal - Apology and trials : the case of the Red Terror trials in Ethiopia

Volume 6, Issue 1
  • ISSN : 1609-073X
  • E-ISSN: 1996-2096



The Red Terror was a campaign of terror by the military government (Derg) that ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991. The Derg era was characterised by massive human rights violations, including crimes against humanity. The Red Terror trials are the prosecutions of the Derg officials who are suspected of committing mass human rights violations. The trials are unique in the sense that they have largely taken place in Ethiopia, with local impetus and without the involvement of the international community, as was the case in Rwanda, Sierra Leone or the former Yugoslavia. The author argues in favour of retributive justice, making the prosecution of mass human rights violations the duty of the state. In this regard, the author provides the major arguments in favour of the prosecution of human rights violations. The article also examines the major problems in prosecuting human rights violations in general, and the problems presented by the Red Terror trials in particular. However, the author also argues that the recent request on the part of the Derg officials to make a public apology to the Ethiopian people needs to be part of the remedial process. It is argued that apology should be part of the acceptance of responsibility and accountability for mass human rights violations (as retributive justice demands) and not necessarily as part of an incipient strategy of amnesty.

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