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.
What they did to this Tatar father is inhuman. Is humanity at its core flawed when human beings can murder and hate one anothe so easily? Those who speak up against injustice are silenced, and in horrific ways. Humanity itself, progress and understanding cease to exist.
To the left and in the gallery at the bottom of this post are photos on a wall in the East Village of New York City that I came across this past weekend. These photos are a memorial and testament of what was done to Resat Amet and the horrors and human rights atrocities occurring in Crimea. As recorded, "on March 3, 2014, Reşat initiated a solitary and peaceful protest against the occupation of Crimea by the Russian troops. During his protest in front of the Crimean Council of Ministers building in Simferopol's Lenin Square, he was abducted by three unidentified men in military uniform from the "Crimean self-defense" who took him away." They found his body thirteen days later. He had been brutally tortured, his eyes gauged out. He had a wife and two small children and he was just 39 years old.
The silent, peaceful protest was about the Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014. Although the United States, Europe and news organizations spoke up in defense of Crimea, Russia annexed Crimea in what many view as an outright invasion that violated all international laws. (See http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/28/russia-crimea-white-house The Guardian, February 28, 2014)
Last week, the Russia-imposed "Justice Ministry" banned the Mejlis, a Tatar legislation. Thousands of Tatars died in Serbian prisons years ago in a brutal deportation. The Tatars were the only ones who spoke up in defense when Russia annexed Crimea. Read the recent NY Times Report: Tatar Legislation Banned in Crimea. As the NY Times states, the Mejlis was founded in 1991 to represent a Turkic Muslim minority with deep roots in Crimea, whose members began to return to their homeland after a brutal deportation in 1944. Tens of thousands are believed to have died in Siberian prisons and Central Asia, making the survivors deeply distrustful of Moscow. About 10 percent of the peninsula’s 2.3 million people are Crimean Tatar, according to the most recent census. When Russia was moving toward annexing the peninsula, Tatar activists provided the only opposition. After annexation, Crimean Tatars were systematically harassed, and many activists were arrested or disappeared."
The European Parliament recently condemned the decision of the Supreme Court of Crimea on 26 April 2016 to ban the Mejlis, "the legitimate and recognised representative body of ethnic Crimean Tatars" and demanded the immediate reversal of this decision" which is the "systemic and targeted persecution of Crimean Tatars" and "is an attempt to expel them from Crimea, which is their historical motherland."
The European Parliament "urged the Russian Federation, which under international humanitarian law bears ultimate responsibility as the occupying state in Crimea, to uphold the legal order in Crimea, protect citizens from arbitrary judicial or administrative measures, and conduct independent international investigations of any violations of international law or human rights committed by the occupying forces and the so-called local authorities." They reiterated Parliament's "severe condemnation of the illegal annexation of the Crimean peninsula by the Russian Federation on 20 February 2014, which it says was a breach of international law, and also its full commitment to the sovereignty, political independence, unity and territorial integrity of Ukraine within its internationally recognised borders".
Is there really anything any government or international body can do however? The Russian Foreign Ministry stated: Theme of Crimea’s territorial affiliation is closed forever. "Any attempts, including those in the European parliament, to put forward maps with hand-drawn borders are sheer waste of time, money and effort," the Russian Foreign Ministry's spokesperson says.
The Ukrainian Foreign Ministry has called for an end to repressions against Crimean Tatars in occupied Crimea, ministry’s spokesperson Mariana Betsa wrote on Twitter. “Again there were searches in occupied Crimea. Persecution, intimidation of Crimean Tatars. We urge the occupant to stop repressions,” she wrote. Betsa also added that “international organizations should have the access to occupied Crimea for the permanent monitoring of the situation with human rights”. The article states that erlier, on Thursday morning, Head of the Central Election Commission of Kurultay of the Crimean Tatar people Zair Smedlyayev reported about searches of at least five houses of Crimean Muslims in Bakhchysaray. Also, there were reports about a search of a local café. According to employees of the café, two buses with armed law enforcers arrived there.
It appears there is nothing NATO or anyone can do against Russia, Josh Cohen writes in his report published on Reuters stating Ukraine cannot even be part of NATO because of its conflict with Russia, published May 4, 2016 http://reuters.com/article/idUSKCN0XW0V3
If human rights atrocities like this can happen to young fathers, to men, women and children, in any part of the world, what does that say about us? It is easy to hide behind social media, to lose yourself in stories of Beyonce, Lemonade, Kim Kardashian and Kanye West, to hide from the truths of the world. When horrors happen to you, however, it is to your fellow men and women that you will cry out for help. Horrors and injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. If it can happen there, it can happen here. What can we do? Speak up. Refuse to be silent. Let the world know this is happening and ask international bodies to intercede. The only way we can save humanity is by actually trying to save it.
The plight of humanity is a shared battle. We are all one and the same.
In 2010 and 2013, I lost many of my websites due to computer damage, crashes & viruses. I lost Leading Light Foundation's website, my music web home and many other websites I had created and run since 1998. In 2011, my careers in music and theatre began taking off and became my focus. I decided I had to put Leading Light Foundation on the back burner, but every day I would continue to read and keep aware of all that was going on in the world. The plight of humanity and human suffering was everywhere. After a 5+ year hiatus, in 2016, I re-designed Leading Light Foundation, contacted my former Board of Directors, my former writers and investigators, IT aids and decided silence was more damaging.
Fighting and advocating for justice around the world is something we have to do. If you and I were threatened, we would cry out for people to raise their voices, fight for us and save us. Around the world, people just like you and I are crying out and we can help. Injustice anywhere is injustice everywhere. The plight of humanity is a shared battle - we are all one and the same.
I am happy to announce that Leading Light Foundation's News & Policy Journal is now updated and active (http://leadinglightfoundation.com/journal). Click to read the latest human rights news in Asia, Africa, the Middle East and more. In addition to original reporting, we are supporting the work of all other NGOs, news agencies and more who are fighting to end horrific injustices and crimes against humanity. Join LLF's Facebook Group and chime in on discussions at http://www.facebook.com/groups/leadinglightfoundation, follow LLF on Twitter at http://twitter.com/leadinglightorg.
If you want to get involved and research or write for LLF, send your resume and letter of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org. At this time, all positions are pro bono and completely voluntary. The reward is knowing that your work will be published to bring awareness to help save lives and end the suffering of many.
Founder, Nishi Rajan
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.