Hissène Habré Trial Begins: A Historic Event to Render Justice to the Victims

Press release
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The trial of Hissène Habre, former dictator of Chad, opens today in Dakar before the Extraordinary African Chambers, an internationalised tribunal within the Senegalese court system. This is the first time that a former African Head of State will be judged under the jurisdiction of another African state.

Hissène Habré is accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture and may receive a life sentence if he is found guilty of all charges. This is the end of a 20-year long quest for justice led by the victims and the organisations supporting them.

This trial is a historic event that should provide justice to thousands of victims of the Habré regime who have been waiting for this moment for over 20 years. It is also an opportunity to show that the highest representatives of a State can be prosecuted and judged for the crimes they have committed. It is a very positive and strong signal in favor of the fight against impunity in Africa,” said Karim Lahidji, FIDH President.

The former Chadian dictator, who served as president of the country from 1982 to 1990, will be judged by the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC). Senegal and the African Union created this ad hoc court in February 2013 to prosecute and judge those principally responsible for the crimes and grave violations of international law committed in Chad under the Hissène Habré regime. Habré is accused of thousands of political assassinations, the systematic use of torture, and stealing from public coffers during his years as president.

As the date of the trial in Senegal approached, stalled parallel proceedings in Chad against members of the Habré regime finally moved forward. On 25 March 2015, the N’Djamena Criminal Court sentenced seven former agents of the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS), including former DDS director, Saleh Younous, to life in prison for “assassination” and “torture.”

FIDH and its member organisations in Chad and Senegal have worked relentlessly on the Habré case. They have played a pivotal role in establishing the facts of the case and have been involved on the judicial side as well, accompanying the victims in their search for justice.

After a rollercoaster ride of legal developments lasting 15 years, the trial of the former dictator is finally taking place. It is the result of the courage, perseverance and thirst for justice of the victims and civil society organisations. It shows that from now on, dictators, war lords and criminals will be judged in Africa. This is a major step forward on the road to justice and a message of hope for all victims of crimes in Africa and elsewhere in the world,” said Jacqueline Moudeïna, ATPDH President and longtime lawyer for the victims.

LTDJ and ATPDH, the FIDH members organisations in Chad, were the first to inspire and mobilise the victims of the Habré regime to prosecute the former dictator and his henchmen before the courts in Chad, Belgium, and Senegal. At the request of the Chadian organisations, FIDH and Human Rights Watch joined other organisations on fact-finding missions, collected on-site evidence, and assisted the victims in their quest for justice in every way they could.

For the last 20 years, we have been fighting alongside the victims to bring Habré and the members of his government to court. This is a historical moment for all Chadians, and also for all Africans and for victims of tyrannical leaders throughout the world. We see that it is possible to bring to trial the perpetrators of the most serious crimes, even top political leaders. Time does not change anything. They remain accountable to their victims; that is the meaning of the Dakar trial,” said Dobian Assingar, LTDH honorary president and FIDH representative to the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré.

FIDH has published two explanatory documents on its website, Questions & Answers on Hissène Habré’s case and Chronology of the Hissène Habré Case, and will be attending the opening of the trial. The trial should last approximately 3 months.

FIDH and its member organisations in Chad and Senegal are founding members of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré, together with Human Rights Watch, Agir ensemble pour les droits d’Homme, Amnesty International, Rencontre africaine pour la démocratie et les droits de l’Homme and dozens of other African and international organisations that have been working for years to obtain a fair trial for Hissène Habré and the members of his regime.

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