Imprisonment, Torture, and the Red Terror

Post written at the end of the third day of the trip, August 15

Today we visited the “Red Terror Martyrs” Memorial Museum, which recounts the horrors suffered by the people of Ethiopia at the hands of General Mengistu, the leader of the Derg ruling party.


As our impromptu tour began, seemingly just because we were a willing audience of foreigners, our guide spoke passionately about Ethiopia in the Derg regime, emphasizing repeatedly how a person or a group had been killed without due process.

I didn’t quite understand our guide’s passion until he revealed how he had been tortured in the traditional manner, hung from a pole cuffed and shackled as his feet were whipped. He described how prisoners would have their nipples pinched off toenails removed, and molars pulled with pliers. Women would suffer genital mutilation.

Formerly a monarchy, the government of Ethiopia was overthrown by a communist rebel movement known as the Derg after the Emperor, Haile Selassie, failed to respond to a terrible famine which killed countless people.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before the Derg began greater abuses of power than Selassie ever had. Mengistu and the Derg tortured and killed hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians.

Perhaps the most powerful moment of the tour, aside from the personal revelation made by our guide, was when we stepped into a room, an ossuary of sorts, filled with the remains of those who had been killed. Pulled from mass graves there was shelf after shelf of human skulls and bones, most of which have never been identified.

In a society where speech is free and elections are democratic in theory but all too often not in reality, though it is 20 years after the overthrow of the Derg, the significance of this museum, recounting in vivid detail and depiction the horrors of a tyrannical government, simply overwhelmed me.

The museum’s slogan is “Never, ever again.” And our guide continued to say that we cannot forget what happened so that it will never happen again.

So that’s what this is, an attempt to honor that commitment to remember in an attempt to prevent… but what the astute reader may recall is that thousands were disappeared or jailed following protests against an unfair election in 2005, actions frighteningly reminiscent of the those taken by the current government’s predecessors.

Posted at 1:45 PM on August 17th, 2011
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Guest post by Geoff Yeowell – Post written at the end of the third day of the trip, August 15...