What have the victims just done?
A number of survivors of torture of Hissène Habré's regime, and the family members of some who died from torture, have filed a complaint with the Senegalese prosecutor, charging Habré with crimes against humanity and torture. They asked the prosecutor to investigate their claims and file formal charges against Habré.
What does the complaint allege?
The complaint alleges that Hissène Habré created and controlled a political police force, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), which systematically tortured political opponents and members of ethnic groups perceived as hostile to his regime. The complaint alleges that Hissène Habré used torture as a method of repression, was constantly informed of the DDS's use of torture and, on occasion, ordered torture to be used on specific persons and was present physically or by walkie-talkie as torture was being performed.
What is the evidence against Habré?
The case is based on documentary evidence and well as the testimony of victims and those who worked for Hissène Habré. In 2001, Human Rights Watch discovered the files of the DDS 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. 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 these files alone, Hissène Habré received 1,265 direct communications from the DDS about the status of 898 detainees. Former members of the DDS have also testified that Habré was informed regularly of all DDS activities. In addition, hundreds of victims have also given testimony about the abuse they suffered.
Are there other charges against Habré?
Habre is also accused of carried out waves of attacks on ethnic groups when he believed that their leaders posed a threat to his regime, killing and arresting group members en masse: the Sara (1984), Hadjerai (1987), Chadian Arabs and the Zaghawa (1989-90), These charges will be detailed in a second complaint to be filed by the victims.
What happens next?
The prosecutor will consider the complaint and the evidence provided by the victims and decide whether to present formal charges against Hissène Habré before a team of investigating magistrates who have been named specifically to deal with the Habré case. Those magistrates will then investigate the charges and listen to Hissène Habré himself. In their investigation, they will presumably have access to the results of the four-year Belgian investigation (see below). The magistrates will decide whether to indict Habré and, if so, ask the three-judge Indicting Chamber (Chambre d'Accusation) for his trial. If the Indicting Chamber confirms the charges, Hissène Habré will be tried by Trail Court (Cour d'Assises). It is hard to predict how these steps will take.
Why has the case taken so long?
Habré was first indicted in Senegal in 2000 but, after political interference, appellate courts ruled that he could not be tried in Senegal for crimes committed abroad. 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. When a Senegalese court refused to rule on the extradition request, the Senegalese government asked the African Union to recommend "the competent jurisdiction" for 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. In the two years since the AU request, Senegal has passed legislation permitting it to prosecute cases of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, even when they are committed outside of Senegal, and in July amended its constitution to make clear that the law applies to such crimes even when they were committed before the law was passed.
Why did the victims wait until now to file a complaint?
The victims waited until Senegal had completed the legislative and constitutional changes removing the legal obstacles to Hissène Habré's trial.
How can Hissène Habré be prosecuted for crimes that were just added to Senegal's legal code?
Senegal's constitutional amendment says that the principle of the non-retroactivity of criminal law does not bar the prosecution of acts "which, when they were committed, were criminal according to the rules of international law relating to genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes." This amendment is in harmony with article 15 (2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, ratified by Senegal, which states that the non-retroactivity principal does not bar the prosecution of an act "which, at the time when it was committed, was criminal according to the general principles of law recognized by the community of nations."
Hasn't Hissène Habré already been tried on these charges?
No. Hissène Habré has never been tried or acquitted in Senegal or elsewhere on these charges. Complaints were filed against him in Senegal in 2000, an investigation was opened, and he was indicted. The Court of Appeals of Dakar and then the Cour de Cassation of Senegal dismissed the charges on the ground that Senegalese courts did not have the competence to try him. The merits of the charges were never considered, however.
How will the case be funded?
Senegal has said that the investigation and trial will cost 28 million euros, although the budget it put forward has been widely criticized as based on invalid assumptions. The Senegalese government has said that it is laying out 1.5 million euros (1 billion francs CFA) for the trial this year, but expects international support. The European Union is committed in principle to help Senegal, in addition to a number of individual countries including Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Switzerland. In January 2008, at Senegal's request, European Union experts visited Senegal to evaluate its financial and technical needs. The experts called on Senegal to define a prosecution strategy and set forth a precise calendar and a reasonable budget, none of which has been done.
Is the Belgian arrest warrant still valid?
Yes. If Hissène Habré were to travel, he could be extradited to Belgium.
Can the Senegalese courts use the results of Belgium's investigation?
Yes. Belgium has said that it is prepared to turn over copies of its investigatory file, including witness interviews and legalized copies of the DDS documents, to a Senegalese judge, and to have Belgian investigators testify before the Senegalese court.
Why isn't Habré extradited back to Chad?
Chad has never formally sought Habré's extradition. Even if it did, there are important reasons not to send Habré back to Chad: given Chad's human rights record, there is a serious risk that Habré would be mistreated or even killed. In addition, Chad's weak judiciary is not in a position to guarantee Habré a fair trial.
What about Hissène Habré's conviction in Chad for supporting rebel groups?
In August 2008, Habré and 11 Chadian rebel leaders were sentenced to death in absentia by a Chadian court for their alleged roles in attempting to overthrow the Chadian government in February 2008. Both the Chadian and Senegalese justice ministers have made clear that this conviction will not affect the case against Habré in Senegal which is based on events occurring in the 1980s.
Why can't Habré be prosecuted by the International Criminal Court?
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is prospective only, addressing crimes committed after its statute went into effect in 2002.
What is the position of the Chadian government?
The Chadian government has supported the international cases filed against Hissène Habré, giving full cooperation to the Belgian judge when he visited Chad, granting the victims access to the DDS archives, and waiving Hissène Habré's immunity from jurisdiction. The government has said that it will fully cooperate with the Senegalese judiciary.
What was the role of Chadian president Idriss Déby Itno under Hissène Habré?
President Déby was Commander in Chief of the Chadian army in the early years of Habré's regime before becoming a military advisor. His forces were, in particular, accused of widespread atrocities in the south of Chad in 1984 in a period that became known as "Black September." In April 1989, Déby and several colleagues took up arms against Habré, ultimately overthrowing him in December 1990.
Who is supporting the victims?
The victims are represented by the Chadian Association of Victims of Political Repression and Crime (AVCRP). The case against Habré is supported by all the leading human rights group in Chad and Senegal, as well as a number of international NGOs, who have formed the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré. Its Steering Committee is comprised of Jacqueline Moudeina, Coordinator (president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights), Reed Brody (Human Rights Watch), Souleymane Guengueng (Founding President of the AVCRP), Alioune Tine (President of the African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights - RADDHO), and Dobian Assingar, a Chadian activist representing the International Federation of Human Rights Leagues (FIDH). Other groups in the coalition include the Chadian League for Human Rights (LTDH), the National Organization for Human Rights (Senegal), and the French organization Agir Ensemble pour les Droits de l'Homme.