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Ethiopia high court sentences former dictator Mengistu to death in absentia

[JURIST] Mengistu Haile Mariam [BBC profile; JURIST news archive], the former Marxist president of Ethiopia [JURIST news archive], was sentenced to death Monday after the Ethiopian Supreme Court allowed Ethiopian prosecutors' appeal of his January 2007 life sentence [JURIST reports] on charges of genocide, homicide, illegal imprisonment, and illegal property seizure. Mengistu and 11 associates convicted [JURIST report] in absentia in 2006 after a twelve-year trial. Eighteen Mengistu aides were also sentenced to death Monday. Prosecutors had argued that the life sentence for Mengistu was not equal to the crimes he committed. No execution date has yet been set because the sentences have to be confirmed by Ethiopia's president. AFP has more.

Mengistu ruled Ethiopia from 1974 to 1991 at the head of a Marxist military junta called the Derg [LOC backgrounder] which had overthrown the monarchy of Haile Selassie. Under the Mengistu regime, the Ethipoian government committed numerous human rights violations, including the 1977-1978 "Red Terror" [LOC backgrounder], during which thousands of Mengistu's political opponents were executed. Some 150,000 university students, intellectuals, and politicians are believed to have been killed during Mengistu's rule. Overthrown by rebels in 1991, Mengistu went into exile in Zimbabwe. In December 2006, a Zimbabwean government spokesman said it had no plans to extradite Mengistu [JURIST report], although his future in that country may depend on the outcome of this year's presidential elections [JURIST news archive].

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