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Former Ethiopian president Mengistu Haile Marian, is seen in Ethiopia, in this Aug. 9, 1990 file photo. Mariam, the Ethiopian dictator who directed the "Red Terror" against supposed enemies of his Soviet-backed regime, was convicted Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006, of genocide in a rare case of an African strongman being called to account by his own country. Mengistu has been living in exile in Zimbabwe since 1992 and was convicted in absentia after a 12-year trial. (ARIS SARIS/AP)
Former Ethiopian president Mengistu Haile Marian, is seen in Ethiopia, in this Aug. 9, 1990 file photo. Mariam, the Ethiopian dictator who directed the "Red Terror" against supposed enemies of his Soviet-backed regime, was convicted Tuesday, Dec. 12, 2006, of genocide in a rare case of an African strongman being called to account by his own country. Mengistu has been living in exile in Zimbabwe since 1992 and was convicted in absentia after a 12-year trial. (ARIS SARIS/AP)

Globe editorial

Deprive tyrants of their refuges Add to ...

Tunisian tyrant Zine El Abidine Ben Ali has found refuge in Saudi Arabia. As the sands shift in their countries, other rulers, including those of Egypt and Yemen, are - despite protestations to the contrary - no doubt studying their expatriate retirement options. It remains an international disgrace that so many will elude justice, in the manner of Chad's ex-dictator Hissène Habré, and the poster-tyrant for them all, Ethiopia's monstrous Mengistu Haile-Mariam.

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While the pressure on exiled dictators has been increased in recent years - with efforts to identify and freeze ill-gotten assets, and the threat of pursuit by human rights lawyers and international prosecutors - apprehension, convictions and punishment have been rare.

Human Rights Watch, for example, has worked for years to seek justice for Mr. Habré's victims. Accused of thousands of political killings and systematic torture when he ruled Chad from 1982 to 1990, Mr. Habré is living in Senegal. He appears the most vulnerable of the ex-dictators. Senegal's president promised four years ago to prosecute him, but then pleaded poverty. Last November, international donors raised the $11.7-million cost for a trial. Even so, President Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal has dithered.

The case of Colonel Mengistu is even more egregious. Chairman of the dreaded Derg, a Communist military junta that in 1974 overthrew (and then murdered) Emperor Haile Selassie, and later the self-declared president of Ethiopia, Col. Mengistu accrued an impressive list of sins, running the gamut from regicide to famine and genocide, before fleeing to Zimbabwe in 1991. Among the legion of Africa's rotten ex-despots, a special place of dishonour is reserved for Col. Mengistu.

Yet, while he has been convicted in absentia of genocide by an Ethiopian court, the colonel continues to enjoy a luxurious exile as the guest of the authoritarian President of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe. "Why to this day the International Courts have not as yet indicted the brutal dictator, Mengistu Haile-Mariam, and his other henchmen, remains a mystery," said Prince Ermias Sahle-Selassie Haile-Selassie, the late emperor's grandson and the current president of the Crown Council of Ethiopia.

It is a very good question. The international community needs to turn up the pressure on authoritarian safe havens like Saudi Arabia, Senegal, Zimbabwe (and until recently France, in the case of Jean-Claude Bébé Doc Duvalier). The maxim applied to such despicable people should be, they can run but they can't hide.

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