April 2013 Hissène Habré stands trial!

Jugement Hissène Habré

February 8 2013 marked the inauguration of the Extraordinary African Court, created with the sole objective of bringing Hissène Habré to trial, at the Dakar Palais de Justice. Nearly thirteen years ago, on 26 October 2000, we accompanied 17 of Habre’s victims who had come to testify against him.

A struggle that has lasted thirteen years will finally come to an end with the trial of Hissène Habré, the murderous dictator who ruled over Chad from 1982 to 1990. Ousted by force under the supervision of Idriss Deby, the current head of state, Habré took refuge in Dakar in December 1990 with all the cash he was able to pocket. He has been living in the Senegalese capital ever since, where he leads, with his wives and his wealth, the life of a well-to-do businessman and a pious follower of Islam.

The road has been long and winding. The legal and political obstacles seemed to keep multiplying, and we have to admit that there were times when we thought we would fail. All of the legal advances we made were negated by an absence of political will.or equally by the reluctance of the former Senegalese President Abdoulaye Wade to judge his protégé – a reluctance surely born out of strong religious solidarity.

Wade refused, over and over again, to extradite Habré and send him for trial. Belgium asked for him to be extradited three times, having acknowledged charges made by three Chadian victims who had become Belgian citizens and having conducted a lengthy inquest of more than three years duration, during which time the Belgian judge travelled to Chad. Senegal’s condemnation by the International Court of Justice following Belgium’s complaint, and Wade’s loss in the election, finally meant we were free of, the maze they wanted to lose us in.

The African Union ordered Senegal to try or extradite Habre in the name of Africa

The Extraordinary African Court is the product of an agreement between the African Union and Senegal, currently under Macky Sall. It is an “internationalised tribunal” which works within Senegalese jurisdictions, a special procedure with the sole purpose of pursuing only “international crimes committed in Chad between 7 June 1982 and the 1 December 1990”. The statutes of this court guarantee that the fundamental principles of fair trials will be observed:

  • one is innocent until proven guilty,
  • has the right to interrogate prosecution and defence witnesses,
  • has the right of appeal…

The victims, for their part, can sue for damages and a support fund has been created to support them in this.

The statutes of the Extraordinary African Court show that “the results of the investigations carried out by the legal authorities of other countries can be used” and that they can “validate any element of evidence established by the competent authorities in the relevant states.”

Thus the prosecutor can use not only the Investigating Commission’s report but also the Belgian files. Finally, the prosecutor will have the memorandum (72 pages and 252 annexes) that we have put to him.

Everything is in place for a model trial and one which will inevitably be long. The prosecutor will present his opening remarks at the end of this month (March). Habré will probably be accused of genocide, crimes against humanity, and acts of torture and serious violations of international Humanitarian Law. The instruction will last 15 months, so the verdict is likely to be announced in the second half of next year. The sentencing will be definitive in the beginning of 2015, after the appeal that Habre will surely call for.

We are overjoyed to see an end to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu called ‘The interminable political and legal soap opera’.

The ‘American Pinochet’ will answer for his crimes, thirty years after having committed them. The determination of his victims and the organisations that support them has triumphed over the obstacles that were thrown up before them.

This happy conclusion is a testament to the fact that it’s increasingly difficult for those guilty of international crimes – even if they were once heads of state – to escape punishment.

Milosevic only escaped his sentence through his death; Taylor, ex-president of Liberia, was tried and sentenced by the International Criminal Court; the criminals of Sierra Leone and Cambodia have been condemned by international tribunals; Rios Montt is currently being tried in Guatemala; Duvalier will soon be in Haiti, and Habré in Senegal will be the first African leader to be tried on African soil.

André Barthélemy

The International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré includes the Association of Victims, the Chadian Human Rights League and the ATPDH (Chad), RADDHO and ONDH (Senegal), Human Rights Watch (USA), The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH) and Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l'Homme.


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