Hissene Habre

(Nairobi) – The decision on April 27, 2017, by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal to uphold the conviction of former Chadian President Hissène Habré vindicates the persistence of the victims’ struggle for justice and the fight against impunity in Africa, Human Rights Watch said today.

On May 30, 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese court system convicted Habré and sentenced him to life in prison for his role in torture, war crimes, and crimes against humanity. The chambers were inaugurated by Senegal and the African Union in February 2013 to prosecute the “person or persons” most responsible for international crimes committed in Chad between 1982 and 1990, the period when Habré ruled Chad.

“For over 26 years, the many victims of Hissène Habré’s crimes fought courageously for justice to be done,” said Richard Dicker, international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “Today, their journey ends with the conviction of a once untouchable leader confirmed and his life sentenced upheld, giving hope to victims everywhere.”

Habré’s trial, which began on July 20, 2015, was the first in the world in which the courts of one country prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. It was also the first case on the principle of universal jurisdiction to proceed to trial in Africa. The principle allows countries to try a small number of very grave crimes in their domestic courts – regardless of where the crimes were committed or the nationality of the victims.

Habré fled to Senegal in 1990 after being deposed by the current Chadian president, Idriss Déby Itno. Although Habré was first arrested and indicted in Senegal in 2000, it took a long campaign by his victims before the Extraordinary African Chambers were inaugurated in February 2013 to prosecute international crimes committed in Chad during Habré’s rule.

Habré’s one-party rule was marked by widespread atrocities, including waves of ethnic cleansing. Files from Habré’s political police, the Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS), which were recovered by Human Rights Watch in 2001, reveal the names of 1,208 people who were killed or died in detention, and 12,321 victims of human rights violations.

Human Rights Watch extensively documented the Habré government’s responsibility for widespread political killings, systematic torture, and thousands of arbitrary arrests. Together with Chadian victims’ groups and rights activists, Human Rights Watch worked for over 15 years to advance justice for these crimes. The African Extraordinary Chamber’s decision on April 27 marks the culmination of these efforts.