Hissène Habré is arrested and charged in Senegal

Published: 1 Aug 2013
By: Djibril Balde

This may be the first time that a former African Head of State is put on trial in Africa. On 8 February 2013, the Extraordinary African Chambers embedded in the Senegalese justice system were inaugurated in order to judge Hissène Habré, the former president of Chad, who ruled from 1982 to 1990. Habré has been living in Senegal since his fall. The judges and the prosecutors were named by the president of the AU Commission after being proposed by the Senegalese minister of justice.

Hissène Habré was arrested and charged by the committee of investigation of the Extraordinary African Chambers. He is being prosecuted for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. It is said that approximately 40,000 people were killed at the hands of Habré’s regime. In addition, Human Rights Watch was able to obtain documents from the Department of Documentation and Security (DDS), Habré’s political police, revealing the names of 1208 persons who were either executed or died in detention, and 12,321 victims of other human rights violations. Victims’ organizations say that they can show that Habré exercised direct control of the DDS, and used it to torture and kill his opponents.

Victims of Habré’s regime have hailed his arrest, putting their confidence in the Extraordinary African Chambers and hoping that justice will eventually be done. They consider the fact that Senegal has charged him as a strong symbol. They have also saluted the tireless effort of human rights organization that have mobilized over many years to carry out sensitization activities, advocacy and pressure to make the trial a reality.

The Chadian refugees were overjoyed when they learnt about the arrest of and the detention of Habré. One of them said “Habré and all African dictators must know that justice exists.” They also pointed out that they had been waiting for years for justice.

Some observers opined that Idriss Deby should face similar charges accusing him of committing crimes against humanity, genocide, torture. They argued that he worked closely with Habré as his Army Chief of Staff. Some refugees argued that nobody could hold such a position during the reign of Habré without committing serious crimes. Others disagree, Jacqueline Moudeina, the leading lawyer of the victims of Habré and President of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights, argues that Deby is not responsible for crimes committed by Habré’s administration.

Nonetheless, others point to numerous human rights violations committed since Deby’s accession to power in 1990 including extra-judicial killings, torture, degrading treatment, illegal detention and disappearance of leaders of the opposition and journalists – calling for accountability for these crimes.

It is also worth noting that the victims will be authorized to participate in the process and reparations will be made available, even for those who do not formally participate.

The Chadian and Senegalese people, the victims and the international and African communities have the right to know the truth about what happened during the reign of Habré and his trial is a vital part of this process. It is foreseen that the proceedings will be recorded in order that it can be broadcasted in Chad. Journalists and civil society access will have access to the proceedings. The majority of the Senegalese population also supports the proceedings, given the grave nature of the crimes of which he is accused, and are expecting a fair trial.

It won’t make up for what he did, and it won’t give us a full story, but developments in the Habré trial constitute a substantial step in the fight for justice.

Programmes: Resolving Displacement, Justice and Accountability
Regions: Western Africa, Senegal
Type: IRRI Blog