Today, the Court in Senegal found Chad's ex-dictator Hissene Habre guilty of torture, rape and human atrocities during his 1982-1990 rule. He was sentenced to life in prison. Sadly, this justice will never bring back the lives lost or undo the horrors committed. Until the countries of the world acknowledge accountability and responsibility for the actions of its state against its people and other nations, unconscionable and inhuman atrocities will continue to occur. The plight of humanity is a shared fight. Arguing rules should apply to others, but not to yourself, is the highest form of hypocrisy; and when it engenders rape, torture and murder, such hypocrisy is unforgivable.
As Human Rights Watch reported in The Case of Hissène Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal, Habré was indicted on charges of crimes against humanity and torture as a member of a “joint criminal enterprise” and of war crimes on the basis of his “command responsibility.” Today, Habré was found guilty of murder, summary executions, enforced disappearances and torture.
Habré was the deposed president of Chad, he ruled as dictator from 1982 until he was deposed in 1990 by Idriss Déby, the current president. Habré was living in exile in Senegal ever since. In a 714-page study, Human Rights Watch documented evidence of "Habré’s government’s responsibility for widespread political killings, systematic torture, and thousands of arbitrary arrests, killing and arresting en masse when the administration perceived that the groups’ leaders posed a threat to Habré’s rule. "
The Chadian Truth Commission accused Habré's government of systematic torture and said 40,000 people died during his rule. Most abuses were carried out by his political police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), whose directors reported directly to Habré. The Directorate of Documentation and Security (D.D.S.) was in charge of suppressing the regime’s political opponents, real and assumed. Innumerable Chadians died from torture, outright execution, disease and malnutrition in the seven secret detention centers set up in the capital or other prisons in the provinces.
The D.D.S. also played an important role in the violent campaigns the army conducted against populations in southern Chad between 1982 and 1987 and then against the Hadjarai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, former allies of the regime who had become its enemies. The same operating method was used repeatedly: Community leaders were targeted first, then the entire community. Mbaissouroum Manda René, a farmer from Maibo, in southern Chad, was 19 years old when soldiers surrounded his village on the morning of March 7, 1985. They selected him and 16 other young men, and brought them to a big néré tree. The villagers were ordered to lie face-down. “And after that, all we could feel were the bullets striking us. Pok, pok, pok,” Mr. Mbaissouroum told the court. He was one of only four survivors.
In July of 2013, the chief prosecutor also requested the indictment of five officials from Habré’s administration suspected of being responsible for international crimes. These included: Saleh Younous and Guihini Korei, two former directors of the DDS. Korei is Habré’s nephew; Abakar Torbo, former director of the DDS prison service; Mahamat Djibrine, also known as “El Djonto,” one of the “most feared torturers in Chad,” according to the National Truth Commission; and Zakaria Berdei, former special security adviser to the presidency and one of those suspected of responsibility in the repression in the south in 1984.
None of them were brought before the court, however. Younous and Djibrine were convicted in Chad on charges stemming from the complaints filed by victims in the Chadian courts and Chad refused to extradite them to Senegal. Berdei is also believed to be in Chad, though he is not in custody. The locations of Torbo and Korei are unknown. As a result, only Habré was committed to trial.
Those who testified were many and included survivors who testified that rape of women detainees was frequent in the DDS’s Locaux prison in N’Djaména, survivors who had been raped when they were younger than 15 years old; ten witnesses testified they had personally seen Habré in prison or were sent to prison personally by Habré. Robert Hissein Gambier, who survived five years in prison, earning the nickname “The man who runs faster than death,” said that he counted 2,053 detainees who died in prison. Mahamat Nour Dadji, the child of a close adviser to Habré, testified that the DDS director arrived at their home in Habré’s car saying, “The president needs you.” Dadji was detained with his father, who was never seen again. Bichara Djibrine Ahmat testified that in 1983 he was taken with 149 other Chadian prisoners of war to be executed. Only he survived to take the truth commission 10 years later to find the mass grave.
In a February 15, 2016 New York Times Opinion article by Thierry Cruvellier, author of “The Master of Confessions: The Making of a Khmer Rouge Torturer” and “Court of Remorse: Inside the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda", Mr. Cruvellier wrote: "This trial is a major event in the field of international criminal justice. It’s uncommon for one country to judge the former president of another country. It’s unprecedented for this to take place before a court expressly appointed by the African Union to pass judgment on one of its own 'in the name of Africa.' Never in a trial for mass crimes have the victims’ voices been so dominant."
As Mr. Cruvellier points out in his conclusion, "an increasing number of African Union members nurture a hostile attitude toward the International Criminal Court (I.C.C.), based in The Hague, whose first 29 defendants have all been Africans. The leader of that resistance is President Uhuru Kenyatta of Kenya, whom the I.C.C. charged for crimes committed during an outbreak of ethnic violence following Kenya’s 2007 election, when he was still in the opposition — charges he subsequently managed to have dropped. On Jan. 31, Mr. Kenyatta convinced his peers in the African Union to adopt a proposal to consider withdrawing from the I.C.C. The vote took place under the authority of the African Union’s new president, who had been elected the day before: Idriss Déby."
Thus, while Hissène Habré was successfully tried and convicted, and the voice of his victims heard, many other atrocities continue to occur unanswered and unheard. Who is responsible for ethnic violence, murder, torture and rape if the perpetrators themselves are the ones currently in power and refuse accountability? When do the rules of law that applied to Hissene Habre apply to President Kenyatta of Kenya? Where does the line of humanity and responsibility to our fellow man get drawn when countries can back out of agreements for the good of humankind by denouncing authority to the I.C.C.? These are the questions still to be battled. Indeed, while there is victory over Hissène Habré, the victims, those poor souls who were brutally tortured, and all who died in inhumane ways, their plight still exists every day in the souls of our brothers and sisters worldwide who are suffering in the same exact way.
Leading Light Foundation is a legal non-profit devoted to global affairs and international human rights efforts. It was founded in 2008 by New York attorney Nishi Rajan. It is staffed by pro bono attorneys, writers and volunteer contributors.