Hissene Habre verdict: Landmark decision brings justice for tens of thousands of victims
Today’s judgment convicting former Chadian president Hissène Habré marks a significant moment for international justice and a huge relief for the tens of thousands of victims who have waited for this day for over 25 years, said Amnesty International.
Following a trial which began in July last year, the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Dakar sentenced Hissene Habre to life imprisonment after he was found guilty of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990. He was found to have personally committed rapes. The Chambers rejected the seizure of his property frozen during the trial.
“This verdict is a victory for those victims who fought tirelessly to ensure Hissène Habré could not get away with crimes under international law. It demonstrates that when there is enough political will states can work together effectively to end impunity in even the most entrenched situations,” said Gaetan Mootoo, Amnesty International West Africa researcher.
“It is moments like these that other victims around the world can draw on in darker times when justice appears beyond reach. It will nourish them with hope and give them strength to fight for what is right. This landmark decision should also provide impetus to the African Union or individual African states to replicate such efforts to deliver justice to victims in other countries in the continent.”
The trial against Hissene Habré opened in Senegal on 20 July 2015, and 69 victims, 23 witnesses and 10 expert witnesses testified during the proceedings. Among other evidence, the Prosecution relied upon research reports from Amnesty International’s from the 1980s. A former Amnesty International staff member also testified during the trial as an expert witness. Two of the victims who filed the case against Hissene Habré have died in the meantime. Their children and relatives will now see that justice is done.
The case sets a new benchmark for efforts to end impunity in Africa, as it is the first universal jurisdiction case on the continent, and the first time a former African leader has been prosecuted for crimes under international law before a court in another African country.
Trust Fund for all victims
Hissène Habré has a right to appeal the conviction and sufficient resources must be allocated to the Extraordinary African Chambers so that it completes the case, fully and effectively. The EAC is also due to hold reparations hearings and is mandated to establish a Trust Fund for all victims, whether or not they participated in the proceedings.
The EAC should set up the Trust Fund without delay. It should be provided with resources and other support, including from the African Union (AU).
Efforts to address impunity for crimes committed in Chad must also not end here.
“Pressure must continue to be placed on Chad and potentially other states to investigate and prosecute others accused of committing serious human rights violations between 1982 and 1990, including crimes of sexual and gender-based violence, in fair trials without recourse to the death penalty. In particular, Chad should investigate mass killings that were committed in September 1984 in the south of the country,” said Gaetan Mootoo.
Amnesty International has been campaigning since the 1970s in favor of victims of human rights violations in Chad. The organization advocated that perpetrators of human rights violations committed during the Habré regime should be brought to justice. Despite major political barriers, victims working with civil society groups led an unyielding national, regional and global campaign which led to the establishment in August 2012 of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC).
Chad’s National Commission of Enquiry estimated that 40,000 people may have died at the hands of Chad’s security forces between 1982 and 1990. Government forces committed torture, arbitrary arrests, extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances throughout this period. More than 50,000 letters and cards of Amnesty International’s members were found in the archives of the Chadian Directorate of Documentation and Security.
While welcoming this landmark decision in the Habré case, Amnesty International expressed concern about several instances of non-cooperation by Chad and the lack of response by the African Union to these incidents, as well as about protection concerns in relation to some witnesses and lawyers. Since the trial opened, Amnesty International has advocated that the proceedings be held in accordance with international fair trial standards.