Tuesday, November 1, 2016 1:50 pm
At the end of May 2016, after a 17-year campaign, Hissène Habré, the president of Chad from 1982 to 1990, was convicted by a Special African Tribunal in Senegal. This was the first time an African head of state was tried by an African court for crimes against humanity, war crimes and acts of torture.
With Burundi, South Africa and Gambia having withdrawn from the International Criminal Court (ICC), African Union (AU) Commission chairperson Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma recently used Habré’s conviction as an example of how AU-agreed and funded African courts can deliver their own justice, without the ICC.
Jacqueline Moudeina is the Chadian prosecutor who represented 4,445 victims in the case against Habre. Speaking in the upcoming Al Jazeera documentary, Hissène Habré: Dictator on Trial, she says, “Getting to a point where we can try Hissène Habré is a turning point for Africa… It’s a turning point in justice. Africa is taking its responsibilities seriously when it comes to its own children massacring their population.”
Watch the trial: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZtKy-Ac9oP0
But she is anything but complimentary about the African Union’s role in this. “We were so naïve; today I laugh at our naivety. On our side we had the legal base that was needed. It was the convention against torture. All the necessary conditions were met to put Hissène Habré on trial. But he was a former African head of state and the African Union is nothing but a union of African heads of state who cover for each other.”
An estimated 40,000 people were killed and 200,000 tortured during Habré’s eight-year rule. Habré did not speak a single word during the eight months of his trial, not looking once at the hundreds of his victims who gave their testimonies day after day. He is now appealing.
Hissène Habré: Dictator on Trial also investigates what turned Chad’s former president into such a bloodthirsty dictator, placing some of the blame on France and America, who supported him blindly because he was an ally against Colonel Muammar Gaddafi in neighbouring Libya.
The documentary hears testimony that the CIA paid Habré’s notorious secret police force, DDS, and that some of the DDS’s most feared torturers were trained in America.
Hank Cohen, the USA’s Secretary of State of African Affairs from 1989-1993, admits in the documentary, “Of course we knew about human rights violations in Chad. It was not an issue for us… Our main focus was Libya… We frequently have to help people who are not very nice to do our things but we did not regret anything there. It is realpolitik.”
Human Rights Watch spokesperson Reed Brody, nicknamed “the dictator hunter,” was a legal counselor on the case. He says the USA’s support for Habré is part of a larger trend. “Hissène Habré is the fourth dictator charged with crimes against humanity who was supported by the Reagan administration… You have Augusto Pinochet in Chile; you have Hissène Habré in Chad; you have Duvalier in Haiti; and you have Rios Monte in Guatemala.”
Hissène Habré: Dictator on Trial premieres on Al Jazeera English this Thursday, 3 November at 2000GMT/2100 WAT/2200 CAT/2300 EAT.