The victims of the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré have been fighting for more than 20 years to bring him to justice in a fair trial so that he can answer for the crimes committed by his government from 1982 to 1990.
Despite our efforts, the time has come to face the fact that the justice tirelessly sought by the victims has not been forthcoming. We have been subjected since 1990 to what Archbishop Desmond Tutu and 117 groups from 25 African countries denounced in July 2010 as an “interminable political and legal soap opera.”
On July 22, 2011, the Chadian government took the responsible decision to ask Senegal to extradite Habré to Belgium, which had sought his extradition in 2005 after Senegal courts ruled that they could not try him. A new Belgian extradition request submitted in September is pending before the Senegalese courts.
Faced with Senegal’s clear and repeated lack of will to prosecute Habré, we consider that extraditing him to Belgium is the most practical and timely option to ensure that he can respond to the charges against him with all the guarantees of a fair trial. Belgium is the only country that has received and listened to the victims and that continues to offer them a path toward justice.
In Belgium, a trial could be organized quickly, which is essential given that many survivors have already died. The victims of Habré’s crimes should be able to testify about their experience and to participate actively in his trial.
A Belgian investigating judge, with the assistance of police detectives specialized in the prosecution of crimes against humanity, examined the charges for four years. The team visited Chad in 2002, interrogating Habré’s former accomplices and visiting detention centers and former mass graves. It seized and analyzed copies of thousands of documents of Habré’s political police (the “DDS”), which revealed the identity of 1,208 people who died in detention and 12,321 victims of torture or other human rights violations. This strong evidence allowed the Belgian judge to indict Habré on charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, and allowed Belgium to request his extradition.
In addition to the time factor, Belgium offers the conditions for holding an exemplary trial:
- An independent judicial system;
- Respect for fair trial rights;
- The capacity to investigate and try a complex case involving mass crimes committed more than 20 years ago in a foreign country, largely due to its experience in similar cases;
- A civil party (partie civile) system, which allows victims to participate fully in the trial;
- Use of the French language, which is spoken by the accused and most of the victims;
- An environment conducive to raising public awareness around a trial that will take place far away from Chad, including freedom of expression and the ability to make video and audio recordings of the court proceedings to be transmitted in Chad; and
- Free access to the trial for non-governmental organizations and journalists who can monitor proceedings and encourage public debate.
We take note of the willingness and availability of Rwanda to organize this trial, in response to an inquiry by the African Union. The offer brings honor to Rwanda, which has also suffered from atrocities committed on its territory and which therefore understands the stakes and the need for justice for the victims to foster national reconciliation.
However, we wonder whether this option, put forward by the AU, is yet another dilatory tactic which calls into question its efforts to see Habré tried according to the strict dictates of the law. The law offers a clear response to Senegal’s refusal, for more than five years, to discharge the mandate of the African Union: the extradition of Habré to Belgium.
Moreover, we are particularly concerned that additional years might be needed for Rwanda to enact a legal framework allowing its courts to prosecute crimes that have no direct link to the country, to secure financing for the trial, to restart a complex transnational investigation, and to request Habré’s extradition. Many more survivors would be likely to die during those years.
We both understand and share the desire to see Habré tried in Africa. More than anyone, we have relentlessly attempted to bring about such a trial for years. We filed a complaint against Habré in Senegal in 2000. We presented to Senegalese judicial authorities hundreds of witness statements gathered in Chad and an analysis of the thousands of documents uncovered at the DDS headquarters that reveal in detail the scope of the crimes committed. And, between 2007 and 2010, we mobilized the international community to finance Habré’s trial in Senegal.
Today the most realistic option to avoid impunity for the mass crimes allegedly committed by Hissène Habré, and the option supported by Chad, is to extradite him for trial to Belgium. We call on the international community, and in particular the African Union, to support this option so that the victims can finally obtain justice.
The Steering Committee:
The Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissène Habré (AVCRHH)
The Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH)
The African Assembly for the Defense of Human Rights (RADDHO)
Human Rights Watch
The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH)