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The Case against Hissène Habré, an “African Pinochet”

Case Summary

Habré Is Indicted in Senegal  
The Case Moves to Belgium  
Senegal Sends the Extradition Request to the African Union  
The United Nations Rules Against Senegal  
The AU Mandates Senegal to Prosecute Habré “On Behalf of Africa”  
Senegal Moves, Slowly  
The Effect of the Case in Chad  
Human Rights Watch has been working since 1999 with the victims of Chad's exiled former president, Hissène Habré, to bring him to trial.  
In July 2006, at the request of the African Union, the president of Senegal, where Mr. Habré lives in exile, agreed to prosecute Mr. Habré. Senegal has amended its laws and its constitution to allow such a trial, and has presented a budget for the investigation and trial, but as of May 2008, no proceedings had commenced.

" The files of Habré’s political police, the DDS, detail how Habré placed the DDS under his direct control, organized ethnic cleansing, and kept tight control over DDS operations. A total of 12,321 different victims were mentioned in the documents, including the deaths of 1,208 individuals. "

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Ex-Chad Dictator Indicted in Belgium
Press Release, September 29, 2005

Chronology of the Habré Case
Background Briefing, October 29, 2004

The Case against Hissène Habré, an “African Pinochet”
Thematic Page, September 29, 2005

Bringing a Dictator to Justice
Background Briefing, September 29, 2005

Options for Hissène Habré to Face Justice
Background Briefing, December 9, 2005

Senegal: EU Parliament Calls for Support of Hissène Habré Trial (4/26/07)
Press Release, April 26, 2007

Mr. Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 before courts ruled that he could not be tried there. His victims then turned to Belgium and, after a four-year investigation, a Belgian judge in September 2005 issued an international arrest warrant charging Mr. Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-90 rule. Pursuant to a Belgian extradition request, Senegalese authorities arrested Mr. Habré in November 2005. When a Senegalese court refused to rule on the extradition request, the Senegalese government announced that it had asked the African Union to recommend "the competent jurisdiction" for Mr. Habré’s trial. On July 2, 2006, the African Union, following the recommendation of a Committee of Eminent African Jurists, called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré “in the name of Africa,” and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so.  


Hissène Habré ruled the former French colony of Chad from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by current President Idriss Déby Itno and fled to Senegal. His one party regime was marked by widespread atrocities. Habré periodically targeted various ethnic groups such as the Sara (1984), Hadjerai (1987), Chadian Arabs and the Zaghawa (1989-90), killing and arresting group members en masse when he believed that their leaders posed a threat to his regime. The exact number of Habré’s victims is not known. A 1992 Truth Commission accused Habré’s regime of some 40,000 political murders and systematic torture. Most predations were carried out by his dreaded political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), whose directors all came from Habré’s small Gorane ethnic group and which reported directly to Habré.  
The United States and France supported Habré, seeing him as a bulwark against Libya’s Moemmar Qaddafi. Under President Ronald Reagan, the United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help Habré take power and remained Habré’s strongest ally throughout his rule, providing his regime with massive amounts of military aid. The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to train captured Libyan soldiers whom it was organizing into an anti-Khaddafi force.  
Since Habré’s fall, Chadians have sought to bring him to justice. The Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP) compiled information on each of 792 victims of Habré’s brutality, hoping to use the cases in a prosecution of Habré. The Truth Commission called for the “immediate prosecution” of those responsible for atrocities. With many ranking officials of the Déby government involved in Habré’s crimes, however, the new government did not indict Habré or pursue his extradition from Senegal.  

Habré is Indicted in Senegal

In 1999, with the Pinochet precedent in mind, the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH) requested Human Rights Watch’s (HRW) assistance in helping Habré’s victims bring him to justice in his Senegalese exile. Researchers from HRW, the Dakar-based African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO) and the Human Rights Program of Harvard Law School secretly visited Chad twice, where they met victims and witnesses and benefited from the documentation prepared in 1991 by the Association of Victims. Meanwhile, HRW quietly organized a coalition of Chadian, Senegalese, and international NGOs to support the victims. They include the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), RADDHO, the ATPDH, the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the National Organization for Human Rights (Senegal), the London-based Interights, and the French organization Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l’Homme. Seven individual Chadians acted as private plaintiffs, as did the AVCRP.  
In a criminal complaint filed in Dakar Regional Court in January 2000, the plaintiffs—several of whom came to Senegal—accused Habré of torture and crimes against humanity. The groups presented Investigating Judge Demba Kandji with details of ninety-seven political killings, 142 cases of torture, 100 “disappearances,” and 736 arbitrary arrests, most carried out by the DDS, as well as a 1992 report by a French medical team that treated 581 torture victims, and the Chadian Truth Commission report.  
The case moved quickly. Within four days, seven victims gave their closed-door testimony before Judge Kandji. Two former prisoners described being ordered by the DDS to dig mass graves to bury Habré’s opponents. Two others told of being subjected to a common method of torture, the “Arbatachar,” in which a prisoner’s four limbs were tied together behind his back, leading to loss of circulation and paralysis. Judge Kandji then called in Habré on February 3, 2000 and indicted him as an accomplice to torture and crimes against humanity and placed him under house arrest.  
Unfortunately, politics then entered the picture. Habré’s lawyers moved to dismiss the case, with the support of the state prosecutor, asserting that Senegalese courts had no competence over crimes committed in Chad, and a panel presided by the newly-elected president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade, transferred Judge Kandji off the case.  
The victims asserted that the U.N. Convention against Torture obliged Senegal to either prosecute or extradite alleged torturers who enter its territory and that under the Senegalese constitution, such international treaties apply automatically. The court of appeals nevertheless ruled that Senegalese courts had no competence to pursue crimes that were not committed in Senegal. The victims appealed the decision to the Cour de Cassation, Senegal’s court of final appeals. The Cour de Cassation upheld the dismissal on March 20, 2001.  

The Case Moves to Belgium

Even before the Senegalese dismissal, another group of victims, supported by the same coalition, had quietly filed a case against Habré in Belgium, to create the possibility of extraditing him to stand trial there. Twenty-one victims, including three Belgian citizens, are plaintiffs in that action before Investigating Judge Daniel Fransen of the Brussels district court.  
Belgian law expressly incorporated the principle of “universal jurisdiction” that every state may bring to justice the perpetrators of particular crimes of international concern, such as genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, no matter where the crime was committed, and regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators or their victims. (In July 2003, that law was repealed, but the repeal did not affect the Habré case because the investigation had already begun and because there were Belgian citizen plaintiffs.)  
In April 2001, just after the Cour de Cassation decision, Senegal’s President Abdoulaye Wade declared publicly that he had given Habré one month to leave Senegal. This abrupt decision was a tribute to the victims’ efforts, but raised the possibility that Habré would go to a country out of justice’s reach. The victims appealed to the U.N. Committee against Torture (CAT), which, in an extraordinary move, called on Senegal to “take all necessary measures to prevent Mr. Hissène Habré from leaving the territory of Senegal except pursuant to an extradition demand.” Following a similar appeal by U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President Wade stated in September 2001 that he had agreed to hold Habré in Senegal pending an extradition request from a country such as Belgium capable of organizing a fair trial.  
In May 2001, Reed Brody and Olivier Bercault of Human Rights Watch discovered the files of Habré’s dreaded political police force, the DDS, piled knee-deep through several rooms in its abandoned N’Djamena headquarters. Among the tens of thousands of documents were daily lists of prisoners and deaths in detention, interrogation reports, surveillance reports, and death certificates. The files detail how Habré placed the DDS under his direct control, organized ethnic cleansing, and kept tight control over DDS operations. Human Rights Watch has copied the key documents onto CD-rom and entered them into a database. A preliminary analysis of the data by the Human Rights Data Analysis Group of the Benetech Initiative shows that a total of 12,321 different victims were mentioned in the documents, including the deaths in detention of 1,208 individuals.  
In February and March 2002, Judge Fransen visited Chad together with a Belgian state prosecutor and four policemen. The team visited the five N’Djamena jails where the DDS systematically tortured prisoners, accompanied by former inmates who described their inhumane treatment and torture. Another victim showed the judge the clearing where he had been forced to dig graves for hundreds of fellow prisoners who died in custody.  
In October 2002, the government of Chad told Judge Fransen that it would waive any immunity that Habré might seek to assert.  
Finally, on September 19, 2005 Judge Fransen issued an international arrest warrant against Hissène Habré. The same day Belgium asked for Habré’s extradition from Senegal.  

Senegal Sends the Extradition Request to the African Union

The extradition request received the support of such international figures as U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan, President of the African Union Commission Alpha Oumar Konaré, and Manfred Nowak, the special rapporteur of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights on torture and other cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. Chadian victims came to Senegal to tell their stories, and Senegalese victims of Habré’s rule confirmed their accounts. At the same time, Habré had used the money he had stolen from the Chadian treasury to build support in influential sectors of Senegalese society.  
The Senegalese authorities arrested Hissène Habré on November 15, 2005. However, following the recommendation of the state prosecutor, on November 25 the Indicting Chamber of the Court of Appeals of Dakar ruled that it had no jurisdiction to rule on an extradition request against a former head of state. Under Senegalese law, the decision thus went to President Wade. On November 26, the day after the court decision, the interior minister of Senegal issued an order placing Hissène Habré “at the disposition of the President of the African Union.” On November 27 the foreign minister of Senegal, Cheikh Tidiane Gadio, announced in a communiqué that  
The State of Senegal, sensitive to the complaints of victims who are seeking justice, will abstain from any act which could permit Hissène Habré to not face justice. It therefore considers that it is up to the African Union summit to indicate the jurisdiction which is competent to try this matter.  
At its January 2006 summit the African Union set up a Committee of Eminent African Jurists (CEAJ) to consider the options available for Hissène Habré’s trial, taking into account, inter alia, “fair trial standards,” “efficiency in terms of cost and time of trial,” “accessibility to the trial by alleged victims as well as witnesses,” and “priority for an African mechanism.”  
Just after the AU Summit the Belgian government reiterated that it was waiting for Senegal’s response to its extradition request and that if Senegal refused to extradite Habré or prosecute him in Senegal, Belgium would invoke the provisions of the UN Convention against Torture that provide for arbitration and recourse to the International Court of Justice.  

The United Nations Rules Against Senegal

In a decision rendered on May 19, 2006, on the merits of the victims’ communication, the UN Committee Against Torture concluded that Senegal had violated the UN Convention against Torture by failing to prosecute or extradite Habré. The Committee called on Senegal “to submit the present case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution or, failing that, since Belgium has made an extradition request, to comply with that request, or, should the case arise, with any other extradition request made by another State, in accordance with the Convention.” The Committee also noted Senegal’s obligation to “adopt the necessary measures, including legislative measures, to establish its jurisdiction” over Hissène Habré’s alleged crimes.  

The AU Mandates Senegal to Prosecute Habré “On Behalf of Africa”

In its report to the July 2006 AU Summit, the CEAJ noted, “Since Habré is within its territory Senegal should exercise jurisdiction over him. As a State party to the Convention Against Torture, Senegal is under an obligation to comply with all its provisions.” Citing the CAT ruling, it added that “[i]t is therefore incumbent on Senegal in accordance with its international obligations, to take steps, not only to adapt its legislation, but also to bring Habré to trial.” It therefore concluded that “Senegal is the country best suited to try Habré as it is bound by International law to perform its obligations.”  
On July 2 the African Union, following the recommendation of the CEAJ, called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré “on behalf of Africa,” and President Wade declared that Senegal would do so.  

Senegal Moves, Slowly

After four months of silence, on November 2, 2006, Senegalese government spokesman El Hadji Amadou Sall said that Senegal would revise its laws to permit Habré’s trial.  
On February 12, 2007, President Wade signed into law amendments to Senegal’s penal code and code of criminal procedure incorporating the crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes and giving Senegalese courts competence over these crimes even when committed outside of Senegal by non-Senegalese.  
A governmental commission first proposed creating a new court to try Habré, with a new building and 15 new judges paid at top United Nations salaries. President Wade reportedly found the plan – and its €66 million price tag – exorbitant and asked for a more reasonable proposal. A second, and final report, provides for the alternative of trying Habré before the regular Senegal courts with an estimated cost of € 29 million.  
On July 13, 2007, Senegal’s Minister of Justice Cheikh Tidiane Sy announced that an eventual trial of Hissène Habré would be held before the Cour d’Assises, which would be reformed to do away with lay jurors and to create an appellate court, but he refused to give a timetable.  
Also in July, the Presidents of Switzerland and France announced that they would provide assistance to Senegal for the conduct of the investigation and trial. The Netherlands, Belgium and the European Commission have also committed to help Senegal. In January 2008, a European Union team visited Senegal to pave the way for EU support for the trial.  
In April 2008, Senegal amended its constitution to make clear that its courts could prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the past. This appears to remove any legal obstacles to Hissène Habré’s trial. But at the same time, Senegal appointed the former coordinator of Hissène Habré’s legal team, Mr. Madické Niang, as Minister of Justice – a key position for the organization of the trial.  

The Effect of the Case in Chad

Just as Pinochet’s arrest in Britain broke the spell of Pinochet’s impunity in Chile, the Habré indictment in Senegal had an immediate impact back in Chad, opening up new avenues for justice. The victims who had initiated the case gained a new stature in Chadian society, having accomplished something no one had thought possible, and they announced their intention to file criminal charges in Chadian courts against their direct torturers. President Idriss Déby met with the Association of Victims’ leadership to tell them that “the time for justice has come” and that he would remove all obstacles to their pursuit of justice. On October 26, 2000, seventeen victims lodged criminal complaints for torture, murder, and “disappearance” against named members of the DDS. The case was initially thrown out, but was reinstated after the victims appealed to the Constitutional Court, and an investigating judge has been hearing witnesses.  
The victims have also used the Habré case to seek broader justice. A July 2005 report by Human Rights Watch, listed forty-one of Hissène Habré’s henchmen who still held positions of power in Chad while noting that his victims had never received compensation or recognition from Chad’s current government. In response, Chad’s prime minister announced that the government would remove all of Habré’s accomplices from government, that the government would quickly consider a draft law to compensate Habré’s victims, and that it would construct a monument to honor the memory of the victims as soon as it had the funds to do so. While some agents have in fact been removed, the other measures have not been taken.  
The victims’ actions are a direct challenge to the continuing power of Habré’s accomplices, who have responded violently: the victims’ Chadian lawyer, Jacqueline Moudeina, was severely injured by shrapnel from a grenade thrown at her by security forces commanded by one of Habré’s accused henchmen. A number of victims have been threatened or lost their jobs.  
Last updated May 2008

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