November 9, 2006 (MGN) - The Ethiopian government is responsible for the killing of tens of thousands of students and other critics over the past 15 years, one of the country's most senior judges, who has defected to Britain, said on Wednesday.
In an interview with the Guardian in London, Judge Teshale Aberra claimed the government of Meles Zenawi is as bad or worse than that of his predecessor, Mengistu Haile Mariam, which was widely condemned for human rights abuses.
"The Mengistu government killed and boasted about it. The Meles government kills and asks 'who killed them?', and then sets up an inquiry commission," Aberra said. "This government may be more deadly."
The United States has been muted in its criticism, partly because it sees Meles as an ally in its "war on terrorism" and a counterweight to the unrest in Somalia. The British government cut direct aid last year in protest at a clampdown, but the reaction of the international community, taking its lead from Washington, has been low-key.
Aberra, who was a judge for 12 years, said between 15 000 and 20 000 people have been killed in the Oromia region, which is one of the biggest provinces in the country and includes the capital, Addis Ababa. Others had been killed elsewhere in the country, many of them student protesters.
He cited various incidents with which he was familiar, including two students killed by a policeman last year in what he described as cold blood.
The Meles government was criticised last year after police allegedly massacred 193 people involved in anti-government demonstrations. Aberra said about 80 000 people were arrested in the subsequent round-up, though most were later released.
Aberra, who was president of the Oromia supreme court, said that, with prisons overflowing, those arrested had been held in the military and police academies, and torture was commonplace. "They detain people without court orders. They detain people even after the decision is rendered that they should be released. They persecute people and, in some areas, they kill people. There is massive killing all over. There is a systematic massacre."
He fled Ethiopia on October 29. His wife and two children have also left and are in hiding. He characterises himself as non-political and said he decided to leave because of pressure on the judicial system from the government and threats from senior figures in the Oromia regional government. "They warned me to comply with demands to suppress certain judges, to detain people who had been released, and release the people who had been detained but the government wanted out." - Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2006