Volume: Volume 3(2) - 1999
Article type: Refereed article
Author/s: Sarkin, Jeremy
Jeremy Sarkin describes how Ethiopia has chosen to prosecute perpetrators of past human rights violations rather than to use the truth commission route. However, high ranking figures in former regimes have fled to countries where they are immune from prosecution or extradition.
Faced with a choice between Ethiopian law or international customary law, the Office of the Special Prosecutor (SPO) decided to use the former because its definition of genocide includes offences against political groups. A second reason is that it was not clear whether it is possible to charge alleged perpetrators with war crimes under international customary law if the alleged crimes were committed in an internal conflict. (This uncertainty has subsequently been resolved.) Various problems with the process are noted, including the fact that it may take up to 20 years to complete . The author argues that it is very difficult to meet the hopes and expectations of victims during war crimes trials. Among other things, victims are seldom involved in such trials; they are denied the catharsis of a truth commission process which focuses on them as victim; and a guilty verdict is far from certain, given the standards of proof demanded in a criminal trial.