HISSÈNE HABRÉ: GUILTY
By Franck Felix Gutenberg, US Africa News. Updated 2016-06-02
After ten months of trial, the African special tribunal in Dakar, Senegal created under an agreement between Senegal and the African Union (AU), has come to a decision: Hissène Habré, former president of Chad, was sentenced on Monday, May 30, 2016 to life imprisonment by the special African court, which found him guilty of crimes against humanity, torture, and rape during the period of repression when he was heading his country. Twenty-five years after his fall, Habré’s past finally caught up with him; the trial which took place on the African continent, and not before the International Criminal Court (ICC), will certainly be valued as a model for the way it was conducted, and further, for international justice. As a reminder, Habré seized power by force in 1982, quickly becoming a ruthless executioner and architect of terrible repression that marked the 8 years (1982-1990) of his reign. At his trial, the former president was referred to by the special prosecutor as the “true effectual supervisor” of the apparatus of repression.
“This is the first time ever that a former head of state has been convicted in an international trial of having personally committed rape," said Reed Brody, spokesperson for the organization Human Rights Watch. In a long lecture, the presiding judge, magistrate Burkinabe Gberdao Gustave Kam, discussed the ongoing torture committed during the eight years of the Habré regime, citing a "widespread and systematic attack against the people of Chad," rejecting some leaders of war crime, but retaining the crimes of torture and crimes against humanity, including crimes of rape and sexual slavery.
As the sentence was announced, victims and their relatives hugged each other, crying “Victory!”, and took to the streets to express their joy, blocking traffic. Amnesty International also welcomed the historic decision, calling on the AU and individual African States to follow this example to obtain justice for other victims in other countries of the continent. After the verdict, Hissène Habré, 73, remaining unmoved, in robe and white turban, his eyes hidden behind the same dark glasses since the first day of trial, praised his supporters, raising his arms and shouting: "Down with French Africa!" One of the court-appointed lawyers for the defense, Abdou Gningue, however, expressed surprise: “We feel that the Chamber has only approved the charge sheet” of the special prosecutor, who had requested life imprisonment. The convicted Habré has fifteen days to appeal.
It should be noted that only Habré has been judged. This had the merit of highlight his "role as orchestrator of the repression", in the words of the judge, but it has also overshadowed the role of other perpetrators of crimes. The prosecutor had additionally requested the indictment of five regime officials, including two former directors of the DDS (the political police), a former director of the Prison Service, a torturer, and a former special presidential adviser for security. None appeared. The first two were found in Chad, which refused to extradite them, and the other three have not been arrested.
Some aspects remain to be illuminated here, respecting the role of the current President of Chad, who has not been cleared, and that of the support given by the US and France to the Habré regime, including weapons, logistical support and intelligence. The French and Americans saw Chad as a bulwark against Gaddafi's Libya. Deby commanded Hissène Habré’s army during the period of "Black September" in 1984, when the people of the south were severely repressed. Finally, Africa has certainly managed to try one of its sons, but clearly he arrived there thanks to the good will of the Senegalese government, especially after the installation of Macky Sall, and thanks partly to money from several European countries.