Proving Genocide in Ethiopia: The Dolus Specialis of Intent to Destroy a Group.

Author:Dugo, Habtamu

"As soon as I have power, I shall have gallows after gallows erected...then the Jews will be hanged one after another...until Germany is cleansed of the last Jew" (Adolf Hitler quoted in John Toland, 1977, 116). (1)

"I believe that the nation, as such, must be completely exterminated. Or else, if that were not possible by tactical measures, there should be an operation to expel them from the country and to take further specific measures" (Lothar von Trota quoted in Jurgen Simmerer and Joachim Zeller, 2010, 135). (2)


The Genocide Convention, as written on December 9, 1948, defines genocide as a criminal act "committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, as such...." (3) The crime consists not only of the deed, the actus reus, but in the case of genocide the crime must also include a mental element, the intent to destroy a targeted group. For example, the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda specified : "Genocide is distinct from other crimes because it requires a 'dolus specialis', a special intent....The 'dolus specialis' is a key element of an intentional offence, which offence is characterized by a psychological nexus between the physical result and the mental state of the perpetrator." (4) This stringent definition is used in order to differentiate all crime from the crime of genocide, and because some bias always exists in the judgment, the 'dolus specialis' of intent to destroy the targeted defined group must be absolutely recognizable.

Although Germans freely documented their intent to destroy targeted groups, such documentation is unusual. In a relevant court, without a confession of intent to destroy a group, the definition of genocide may not be met and the crime may not rise to genocide. In the case of Ethiopia, these is no confession of intent to destroy and the denial of guilt for any kind of atrocity by the ruling elites against Oromo people or any of the peoples of the south is so intense as to erase even criminal acts from the sight of strangers, much less the 'dolus specialis' of intent to destroy a group. This denial did not begin after the passage of the Genocide Convention because of the creation of a new, embarrassing global crime, but several generations in the past, when the minority elite rulers realized that they needed aid from Europeans who eschewed the publicity of barbaric behavior.

The presence of intent to destroy a group in Ethiopia is difficult to prove in part because of the constant denial by ruling elites. Social scientists who study the culture might see the criminal acts concurrent with an enormous amount of hatred, but they are loathe to report details because they would lose government approved acceptance and access to rural areas. Genocide scholars who might immediately recognize that the existence of hatred could be part of an intent to destroy are limited by the presence of multiple indigenous languages and by the almost complete control of information flow by the ruling elites. It would be difficult for them to recognize the intent to destroy a group that exists deep within the Abyssinian culture.

A factor that contributes to the misreading by foreigners of the Abyssinian nature is the "wax and gold" tradition, wax being a cover-up and gold being second hidden layer of meaning. Truth is mutable. Ambiguity is usually present. A false surface hides a different aspect of inner reality. According to Mohammed Girma, "dissimulation and ambiguity are as natural as breathing..." (5) in northern Ethiopian culture. In other words, lying is endemic and truthful communication with Abyssinian elites is problematic.

Nevertheless, it is important that indigenous civilians receive global recognition of genocide. A spotlight would be turned onto destructive acts against the populace. Also, Ethiopian elites have, from early in the 19th century, used donor aid almost exclusively to fund their genocidal policies. That foreign aid is misnamed and we call for its withdrawal. Aid is in fact complicity in genocide and must be eliminated in order to limit genocidal atrocities.

'Dolus specialis' can be found in patterns of government policy leading to poor outcomes and mass death, such as the ubiquitous presence of famine in the targeted communities and the mass deaths which occur during forced deportations. It is not always possible to show and prove intent because intent is mental and difficult to access cross-culturally. But if there is a lack of confession, there are ways of finding the truth. According to the International Tribunal for Rwanda, one could discern a pattern from within in the general context of the offence that would create a vision of intent. Factors would include, "The scale of atrocities committed, their general nature, a local region or country, or furthermore, the fact of deliberately and systematically targeting victims on account of their membership of a particular group, while excluding the members of other groups..." (6)

What if the court is biased? How much proof is required? And what happens if the genocidaire is aided by the passage of time, rural isolation, cultural barriers and the obstacle of the indigenous language? If genocide scholars cannot agree on a definition of genocide or on a scholarly decision of guilt, why would a court bother to take the very difficult political step and remove the protective bias that permits a continuation of blindness to facts? A "reform" of the Convention, a "wider interpretation or clearer guidelines" is required, writes Olaf Jensen, in order to alleviate the "different and sometimes conflicting interpretations of genocidal intent" that one may observe at this time in international law. (7)

When used outside of a court system, however, the element of intent to destroy is not the limiting factor in the definition. Journalists and other individuals are not bound by the legalities of law, and one can often hear and read of genocide, such as in the Darfur region of Sudan, where there has not yet been any legal finding of genocide, but where there has been mass murder and horrific atrocities. People with little knowledge of international law who lack understanding of the political repercussions that would result from such a verdict can respond without bias to the horror of mass killings of civilians, including women and children. As another example, genocide is widely assumed by almost all people to have occurred in Cambodia, but that is technically not yet the truth, as no one has yet been found guilty of the crime of crimes.

Our desire here is not to beg journalists and others to create a genocide where there was none, but to accept the fact that bias on an international level tends to aid denial of genocide by the perpetrators. In Ethiopia, ruling elites have perpetrated mass death by the use of government policies which created famine, from government policies of forced deportations, and from police and army attacks on a disarmed populace, among other methods. The rulers smile and apologize for their errors and promise reform while preventing global media from reporting the scale of atrocity and carnage or aid workers from delivering assistance in the places where assistance is required.

The patterns of human destruction in Ethiopia that could and should be used as evidence of a dolus specialis will never be sufficient to create even a hint of genocide in the minds of those who dress in clean clothing when they awake, eat their breakfast and expect a safe day ahead. In this paper, we attempt show the dolus specialis within the Abyssinian mindset rather than the patterns of destruction they have created in their path. In this way, perhaps it would be possible to maximize acceptance by jurists and genocide scholars of patterns of destruction and death within a targeted area of a country as evidence of the presence of intent to destroy a group. By detailing the existing mental state of the ruling elite, we hope to make the resulting patterns more acceptable as evidence of Ethiopian rulers' intent to destroy their people.

As the definition states, we will show the mental state of the rulers and their intent to destroy, in whole or in part, the group known as the Oromo people so that the rulers' criminal acts rise to the definition of genocide.

Although Oromo and other peoples of the south of Ethiopia are more numerous now than they were when genocidal massacres began in the 1840s, it can be said, as Kai Ambos writes, that the "genocidaire may intend more than he is realistically able to accomplish." (8) In the case of the Oromo nation, because we were so much more numerous than our well-armed genocidaires, we were difficult to totally destroy. However, it is evident that the Oromo are among the most poverty-stricken in the world despite living atop vast wealth of natural resources, and according to Bulcha, "the long-term effects of the assault perpetrated on them by the two emperors were socio-politically disastrous." (9)

Establishing Intent in Ethiopia

Motive as Intent

According to the Elements of Crimes, the special mental element of genocide, "will need to be decided by the Court on a case- by- case basis" (10) and that introduces the many variables of political and cultural bias and intentional confusion with the truth.

Yet, intent of Ethiopian rulers to destroy other groups can be shown in such measure that would be difficult to ignore in the relevant court of law, even if there are several factors that could be misinterpreted by decision-makers as motive, rather than intent. Intent means that you desire to commit an act.

Motive is the reason why you desire to commit the act, and it does not appear to be included in the definition of the Genocide Convention. If the totality of factors is to be limited to motive, then it is our position that in the case of Ethiopia, motive and intent are so intertwined that they cannot be separated...

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