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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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
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