Murderous African Despots
"Hissene Habre, this court finds you guilty of crimes against humanity, rape, forced slavery, and kidnapping [as well as war crimes]."
"The court condemns you to life in prison."
Gberdao Gustave Kam, Burkinabe president of the Extraordinary African Chambers (CAE) court
|Habre raises his hand in defiance following the court proceedings in Dakar on Monday [AP]|
"For many years, as Souleymane and his colleagues hit one obstacle after another on their path to justice, the common refrain was that they would never succeed. But in a case that looked dead so many times, the victims made it clear that they would never go away."Guilty as charged. Chad's former dictator was responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, deliberately murdered under his regime, with tens of thousands more Chadians taken from the streets, imprisoned and tortured. Among those many who experienced imprisonment and torture was Souleymane Guengueng, a civil servant and accountant tortured under the regime. And it was this man's experience that hardened his resolve to bring Habre to justice.
"[Hissene] Habre's conviction for these horrific crimes after 25 years is a huge victory for his Chadian victims, without whose tenacity this trial never would have happened. This verdict sends a powerful message that the days when tyrants could brutalize their people, pillage their treasury and escape abroad to a life of luxury are coming to an end."
"Habre's conviction signals that no leader is above the law, and that no woman or girl is below it ... This is the first time in history that a former head of state has been convicted in an international trial of personally committing rape."
Reed Brody, lawyer, Human Rights Watch
There was also the Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeina whom a 2001 grenade attack from a henchman of Habre failed to kill and who took the initiative to lead the former dictator's victims in a battle for justice. And another Chadian, Clement Abaifouta, called the "gravedigger" who had been forced to bury in mass graves other detainees who had been murdered. Mr. Abaifouta had stepped in to fill the role that Mr. Guengueng was forced to abandon when he was forced into exile by death threats.
Monday's conviction held Hissene Habre responsible for thousands of deaths and torture in prisons during the 1982 to 1990 period when he ruled the country. A Chadian Truth Commission in 1992 had accused his government of systematic torture, that while he was in power 40,000 people were murdered by his political police force. Guilty: of crimes against humanity; guilty: of war crimes, torture and sex crimes; sentenced: to life in prison.
The Extraordinary African Chambers in Dakar, Senegal, a creation of Senegal and the African Union was where Habre was tried and convicted, the first trial where the courts of one country successfully prosecuted the former ruler of another for human rights crimes. In essence, it is a reflection of the United Nations' 'responsibility to protect' provision whereby a government that abuses and torments its population can expect the international community to intervene on behalf of the population.
That the African Union has finally taken such a step is an enormous advance for human rights entitlements on the Continent where murderous regimes proliftrerate. The successful prosecution and punishment of Sudan's president who has already been tried and found guilty in absentia by the International Criminal Court might be another step in that same right direction.
|Victims drew pictures of torture techniques Some of his victims were subjected to "supplice des baguettes" (torture by sticks), when the victim's head is put between sticks joined by rope which is then twisted. BBC|
Souleymane Guengueng had formed an association of victims after his 1990 release from prison. As part of his campaign he had gathered testimony of former prisoners and in the process collected over 800 accounts presented as evidence that would ultimately prove the case at trial against Habre. Despite his crimes, however, Habre was surrounded by supporters in court, cheering him as their champion.
As for Mr. Guengueng, he has finally been able to savour the sweet taste of justice not only for himself personally, but for his country and for the countless families of people who were murdered by the regime, let alone the thousands who had been imprisoned and tortured, yet lived to see another day bring them vindication.
"It's truly a great example for all the other victims around the world, particularly in Africa, to no longer remain silent. It's the people in charge who must now be afraid", said Mr. Guengueng.