Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

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

Academic journal article The Journal of Pan African Studies (Online)

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

Article excerpt


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. …

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