Former Chadian dictator, Hissène Habré has appealed against his conviction for crimes against humanity and war crimes, a spokesman for the Special African Chamber that conducted his trial in Senegal said on Saturday. “The lawyer’s commission have submitted the paperwork for Habre’s appeal,” said Marcel Mendy, a spokesman for the Chamber, a tribunal created in 2013 by Senegal and the African Union for human rights crimes committed during Habre’s rule. He also added that not only will the appeal two new judges be appointed, the appeal will take at least seven months without a date for commencement.
Two weeks ago the a special criminal court in Senegal sentenced Hissène Habré, to life in prison. Habré went on trial in July last year on charges surrounding crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture.
Human rights groups accused the 73-year-old of being responsible for the death of 40,000 people and torture the of 200,000 more during his rule from 1982 to 1990. As such, the verdict caps a 16-year battle involving victims and activists to bring the former leader to justice in Senegal, where he fled to after being deposed in a 1990 coup.
“Hissène Habré, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery, and kidnapping, as well as war crimes,” said Gberdao Gustave Kam, the Burkinabe president of the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) court. “The court condemns you to life in prison,” Kam added.
The court gave Habré 15 days to appeal against the sentence and he remained defiant as he was led out of the courtroom after his sentence, raising his arms and shouting.
This trial is the first in the world to have the courts of one country prosecute a former ruler of another for human rights crimes. These crimes took place under his authority during his eight year rule over Chad from 1982 to 1990 through the Bureau of Documentation and Security (Direction de la Documentation et de la Sécurité (DDS)), the state’s political police.
“Down with France-Afrique!” a term which is critical of France’s influence in its former colonies
Critics dubbed Hissène Habré “Africa’s Pinochet” because of the atrocities committed during his rule. During his trial, survivors recounted the gruesome details of the torture carried out by Habré’s dreaded DDS operatives, some of which have been convicted by a Chadian court. One of the most notorious detention centres in N’Djamena was a converted swimming pool. Witnesses said victims endured electric shocks, near-asphyxia, cigarette burns and having gas squirted into their eyes.
“Today will be carved into justice as the day that a band of unrelenting survivors brought their dictator to justice,” said Reed Brody from the Human Rights Watch. Reed Brody has worked on the case for 17 years and was in court for the judgement.
“The feeling is one of complete satisfaction,” said Clement Abeifouta, president of a Habré survivors association after the court sentenced him to life in prison.
Why was Habré not tried in Chad or by the International Criminal Court?
The International Criminal Court only has jurisdiction over crimes committed after July 1, 2002, when its statute entered into effect. The crimes which Hissène Habré is accused of took place between 1982 and 1990. Chad never sought Habré’s extradition, and there are serious doubts that he could have gotten a fair trial in Chad, where he had been sentenced to death in absentia for his alleged role in a 2008 rebellion to overthrow current president Idriss Déby. In July 2011, President Wade threatened to expel Habré to Chad but, days later, retracted his decision in the face of international pressure over the risk that Habré could be mistreated or even killed.
Habré’s Trial in Senegal: A timeline of events
In 2008, the Senegalese government made amendments to its justice system which allowed Habré to be tried in its courts. However, the country later changed its position and this prompted Belgium to pressure the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to force Senegal to either extradite Habré to Belgium to proceed with the trial. This request was denied by the ICJ.
In November 2010, the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) court of justice then ruled that Senegal could not hold trial in the matter through a local court only, and asked for the creation of a special tribunal on the matter of Habré’s prosecution.
In April 2011, after initial reticence, Senegal agreed to the creation of an ad hoc tribunal in collaboration with the African Union and the Chadian state.
In December 2012, the Parliament of Senegal passed a law allowing for the creation of an international tribunal, which became known as the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC)in Senegal to try Habré. The judges of the tribunal were appointed by the African Union.
MP Cheikh Seck said he voted for the law because it would show that Africa could hold its own leaders accountable.
“It’s not up to the West to try Hissène Habré. It’s why I voted in favour of this law,” he told the Associated Press news agency.
On the 30th of June 2013, Habré, was arrested in Senegal by the Senegalese police, that same year he was sentenced to death by a Chadian court for crimes against humanity.
On May 30, 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers found Habré guilty of rape, sexual slavery, and ordering the killing of 40,000 people during his tenure as Chadian president and sentenced him to life in prison.
Habré’s western link: When will the US and France go on trial?
The United States gave covert CIA paramilitary support to help Habré take power and remained one of Habré’s strongest allies throughout his rule, providing his regime with massive amounts of military aid. The United States also used a clandestine base in Chad to train captured Libyan soldiers whom it was organizing into an anti-Gaddafi force.
“The CIA was so deeply involved in bringing Habré to power I can’t conceive they didn’t know what was going on,” said Donald Norland, U.S. ambassador to Chad from 1979 to 1981. “But there was no debate on the policy and virtually no discussion of the wisdom of doing what we did.
Documents obtained by Human Rights Watch shows that the United States provided Habré’s DDS with training, intelligence, arms, and other support in spite of its knowledge of their atrocities. Records discovered in the DDS’ meticulous archives describe training programs by American instructors for DDS agents and officials, including a course in the United States that was attended by some of the DDS’ most feared torturers.
According to the Chadian Truth Commission, the United States also provided the DDS with monthly infusions of monetary aid and financed a regional network of intelligence networks code-named “Mosaic” that Chad used to pursue suspected opponents of Habré’s regime even after they fled the country.
In the summer of 1983, when Libya invaded northern Chad and threatened to topple Habré, France sent 3,000 paratroops with air support, while the Reagan administration provided two AWACS electronic surveillance planes to coordinate air cover. By 1987 Gaddafi’s forces had retreated.
“Habré was a remarkably able man with a brilliant sense of how to play the outside world,” a former senior US official said. “He was also a bloodthirsty tyrant and torturer. It is fair to say we knew who and what he was and chose to turn a blind eye.”
So how did a man sponsored by the US and France, end up shouting “Down with France-afrique!” in a court that was mostly funded by Europe? Habré appears to be another pawn abandoned by his western masters.
It took over 25 years to bring Habré to answer for his crimes, but when will Chadians get justice for the role France and the US played in the tragedies that took place during Habré’s regime? Considering the fact that the US put such a horrible person in charge and supported him throughout the years he committed those atrocities to serve its interest as a bulwark against Libya at the expense of the Chadian people.
Africans and the international community are praising the EAC’s handling and verdict on Habré’s case, it is seen as a strong start towards building an effective, fair and competent indigenous international justice system inspired by universal jurisdiction, that is capable of holding past leaders accountable for crimes they committed in office. Habré, like the people he maimed and killed, is a victim but unlike a real victim, he brought his suffering upon himself.