Chad: Time for justice for victims of Hissène Habré’s regime

The opening of the trial against former Chadian President, Hissene Habré, in Senegal on Monday will put an end to 25 years of impunity and give hope to the tens of thousands of victims of human rights violations and crimes under international law committed under his watch, said Amnesty International.

Habré is being tried by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar on charges of crimes against humanity, torture and war crimes committed while he was in power between 1982 and 1990. This is the first time a court in one African state will try the former leader of another African state.

The trial against Hissène Habré is a major milestone for justice in Chad and in Africa. For many victims, this day will mark the end of a 25-year-long wait

Gaëtan Mootoo, Amnesty International’s West Africa researcher, who worked on Chad during Habré’s presidency.

“Amnesty International spent years shining a spotlight on the torture, arbitrary arrests, executions and enforced disappearances so prevalent under Habré’s regime. This historic trial will also send a message that there is no safe haven for those suspected of criminal responsibility for war crimes or crimes against humanity. The organization hopes a fair trial that meets international law and standards will ensure that justice is done.”

The National Commission of Enquiry estimated that 40,000 people may have died at the hands of Habré’s security forces between 1982 and 1990. Arbitrary arrests and torture, extra judicial executions and enforced disappearances were also common.

While Amnesty International welcomes Habré’s trial as a significant step against impunity, it notes that five other senior officials in Habré’s administration indicted by the Court are yet to be brought to trial.

Chad’s current President Idriss Déby has not been indicted by the Extraordinary African Chambers, but served as Chief of Staff of the army under Habré’s administration. Research undertaken by Amnesty International suggests that troops under his command may have committed mass killings in southern Chad in 1984. Déby later fled to Sudan in 1989 and organized a coalition of armed groups that toppled Habré in December 1990.

The next step for the Chadian authorities is to ensure that no stone is left unturned when it comes to bringing those suspected of criminal responsibility for crimes under international law committed during Habré’s time in office to justice

Gaëtan Mootoo.

“The only way for Chad to break with its tragic past is to ensure all those responsible for the massive catalogue of human rights violations and crimes under international law face civilian courts. Anything less will send the message that these crimes are actually allowed.”

Amnesty International has campaigned tirelessly to expose human rights violations in Chad since the 1970s. After the fall of Habré’s administration, more than 50,000 letters and postcards from Amnesty International members were found at the main security headquarters known as Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS).

Amnesty International was also instrumental in the decision by Senegal and the African Union in 22 August 2012, to establish a new internationalized court – the Extraordinary African Chambers – in which the crimes committed during the administration of Hissène Habré would be tried.

Background Information

Even though a national commission of inquiry was put in place in 1990, those suspected of criminal responsibility for human rights violations and crimes under international law committed during the eight years of Hissène Habré’s presidency were not investigated. In October 2001, Amnesty International called on the Chadian and Senegalese authorities to take the necessary steps to end this impunity.

After many legal twists and turns, including a judgment by the International Court of Justice, Senegal and the African Union adopted, on 22 August 2012, an agreement establishing a new court in which the crimes committed during the administration of Hissène Habré would be tried: the Extraordinary African Chambers.

As early as 1982, Amnesty International sent thousands of appeals to the government and to the Chadian president to demand the release of prisoners against whom no legal proceedings had been undertaken. No reply was given by the government. In 1985, during an Amnesty International mission to Chad, the government rejected all accusations of extrajudicial killings and arbitrary detention.

In August 1989, Chad complained about the campaigns led by Amnesty International, and other human rights organisations, against the country. Chadian authorities categorically denied allegations of torture and extrajudicial killings, the government did however admit that arrested members of armed opposition had been subjected to “exceptional treatment”, without further detailed explanation.

Amnesty International has been campaigning under several Presidents in Chad, in favour of those who are victims of these violations. The organisation’s first campaign was for the release of prisoners of conscience imprisoned in Chad in the early 70s, when Ngarta Tombalbaye was President. In 1975, after General Félix Malloum’s military coup, a representative of the organization went for the first time to Chad to meet with members of the government.