Case Summary
February 11, 2009
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.

Background  
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  
Belgium asks World Court to Act
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.

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 Habré with crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture committed during his 1982-90 rule and requested his extradition. Senegal then asked the African Union to recommend a course of action. In July 2006, the African Union called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré "on behalf of Africa," and President Abdoulaye Wade declared that Senegal would do so.

In 2007-2008, Senegal amended its constitution and laws to lift the legal obstacles to Hissène Habré's trial, but took no action to begin a case. On September 16, 2008, fourteen victims filed complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture. Senegal has said, however, that it will not process the complaints until it receives €27 million from the international community for all the costs of the trial, and President Wade has threatened to send Habré out of Senegal.

Faced with Senegal's inaction, Belgium on February 19, 2009 asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order Senegal to prosecute or extradite Habré. Belgium also asked the ICJ immediately to order Senegal not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending the court's judgment on the merits.

Background

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 rule. The exact number of Habré's victims is not known. A 1992 Truth Commission accused Habré's government 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 then provided his regime with massive military aid. The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to organize captured Libyan soldiers 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 792 victims, 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 pursue Habré's 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 assistance in helping Habré's victims bring him to justice in his Senegalese exile. HRW put together a coalition of Chadian, Senegalese, and international NGOs, including the African Assembly for the Defence for Human Rights (RADDHO) and the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH), to support the victims.

With the coalition's support, seven Chadian plaintiffs accused Habré of torture and crimes against humanity in a Dakar court in January 2000. The victims testimony before Investigating Judge Demba Kandji was buttressed by the Truth Commission report and the AVCRP's documentation. On February 3, 2000, Judge Kandji indicted Habré on charges of torture and crimes against humanity and placed him under house arrest.  
 
Unfortunately, politics then entered the picture. A panel presided by the newly-elected president of Senegal, Abdoulaye Wade transferred Judge Kandji off the case and the state prosecutor joined Habré's motion to dismiss the case.  
 
Under the  U.N. Convention against Torture, Senegal is obliged to either prosecute or extradite alleged torturers who enter its territory. A 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, which upheld the dismissal on March 20, 2001.  

The Case Moves to Belgium

Even before the Senegalese dismissal, another group of 21 victims, including 3 Belgium citizens, had quietly filed a case against Habré in Belgium, to create the possibility of extraditing him to stand trial there. Belgian law then provided  "universal jurisdiction" over genocide, crimes against humanity, or war crimes, regardless of the link to Belgium. (In 2003, that law was repealed, but the repeal did not affect the Habré case.)  
 
In April 2001, just after the Cour de Cassation decision, President 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 agreed to hold Habré in Senegal pending an extradition request.  
 
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. The documents give the names of 12,321 abuse victims, 1,208 who died in detention.  
 
In February and March 2002, Brussels Investigating Judge Daniel Fransen visited Chad together with a Belgian state prosecutor and four policemen. The team interviewed victims and Habré-era officials, visited the five N'Djamena jails where the DDS systematically tortured prisoners, as well as the sites of mass graves, and took copies of the DDS documents.  In October 2002, the government of Chad told Judge Fransen that it would waive any immunity that Habré might seek to assert.  
 
After years of investigation, on September 19, 2005 Judge Fransen issued an international arrest warrant against 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  U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan and, President of the African Union Commission Alpha Oumar Konaré. 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 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 27 the foreign minister of Senegal announced that "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 Habré's trial, giving "priority for an African mechanism." 

The United Nations Rules Against Senegal

In a decision rendered on May 19, 2006, on the merits of the victims' case, the UN Committee against Torture (CAT) concluded that Senegal had violated the UN Convention against Torture by failing to prosecute or extradite Habré. CAT called on Senegal "to submit the present case to its competent authorities for the purpose of prosecution or, failing that," to extradite Habré to Belgium or another country has made an extradition request, to comply with that request, or, should the case arise. CAT also noted Senegal's obligation to "adopt the necessary measures, including legislative measures, to establish its jurisdiction" over 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." On July 2 the African Union heads of state called on Senegal to prosecute Hissène Habré "on behalf of Africa," and President Wade declared that Senegal would do so.   

Senegal Moves, Slowly

Over two years, Senegal amended its constitution and laws to lift the legal obstacles to Hissène Habré's trial. 

On February 12, 2007, President Wade signed laws 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.  In August 2008, Senegal amended its constitution to make clear, in accordance with international law, that its courts could prosecute genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes committed in the past.

But Senegal has failed to begin proceedings against Habré.  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, for a € 66 million price tag.  A second report, presented in late 2007, provides for trying Habré before the regular Senegal courts with an estimated cost of € 27.4 million, including €8 million to reconstruct a courthouse.  In April 2008, Senegal appointed the former coordinator of Hissène Habré's legal team, Madické Niang, as Minister of Justice - a key position for the organization of the trial. 

The Presidents of Switzerland and France in 2007 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, but requested a revised and detailed budget, which has yet to be presented. 

Faced with Senegal's slow progress, on September 16, 2008, fourteen victims filed complaints with a Senegalese prosecutor accusing Habré of crimes against humanity and torture in an attempt to get the case started, but the Senegalese authorities have refused to act on the complaints. Senegal has said that it will not move forward until it receives full international funding for all the costs of the trial. Moreover, President Wade declared that if Senegal did not receive full international funding he would make Habré "leave Senegal".

On October 6, 2008, Hissène Habré filed a complaint before the ECOWAS Court of Justice alleging that Senegal violated his fundamental rights, such as the right to a fair trail or the principle of non retroactivity. On December 16, 2008, one hundred and fourteen of Habré's victims presented a request to intervene before the Court.

Belgium asks World Court to Act

Faced  with Senegal's inertia and Wade's threats, Belgium on  February 19, 2008 took the extraordinary step of filing a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the UN's highest tribunal, alleging that Senegal had violated the torture convention and its other obligations under international law by failing to  prosecute or extradite Habré. Belgium asked the ICJ to rule that Senegal was obliged to prosecute Habré or, failing that, to extradite him to Belgium. Belgium also asked the ICJ immediately to order Senegal not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending the court's judgment on the merits. On May 28, the Court accepted Senegal's formal pledge not to allow Habré to leave Senegal pending its final judgment.

The Effect of the Case in Chad

The victims' actions are a direct challenge to the continuing power in Chad 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.  
 
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.  A case filed by the victims in Chadian courts in 2000 for torture, murder, and "disappearance" against named members of the DDS has moved very slowly.  

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