When victims became heroes

Anybody in the field of international justice knows American human rights lawyer Reed Brody, sometimes strangely known as “the dictator hunter”. A shrewd and creative lawyer, unrelenting activist, gifted communicator and story-teller, Brody has a book out: To Catch a Dictator, The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré. And he is the guest of our partners at Asymmetrical Haircut. With his usual mix of idealism and pragmatism, he tells the story of how victims and human rights groups worked alongside in their decades-long quest for truth and accountability. He shares his memories, lessons learned, and views on the future of international justice. If you don’t believe (almost) anything is possible, then listen and maybe Brody will change your mind.

Reed Brody (human rights lawyer) sits among a group of women in Chad, victims of Hissène Habré's dictatorship.
1 min 38Approximate reading time

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The 25-year-long journey to bring a dictator to justice – Reed Brody came in to talk about his book To Catch a Dictator, The Pursuit and Trial of Hissène Habré. With a long career as a lawyer for Human Rights Watch, Reed tells the story of how he worked alongside victims and human rights groups in their quest for truth and accountability. This ended when the former Chad dictator was found guilty of rape, sexual slavery, and the killing of over 40,000 citizens in a hybrid tribunal in Senegal. 

But besides the title of ‘dictator-hunter’ that the media (bless ’em) assigned to Reed’s life-long work, he highlights the work and strength of the victims, who “became characters in their own rights”. Reed tells how survivors of torture and sexual and gender-based violence showed up in court to speak directly to their offender. 

Expanding the timeline, Reed explains how it was Nicaragua that got him interested in law during conflicts, while the trial of Chilean dictator Pinochet in London opened a whole new world of how to put dictators in the dock. 

Stephanie and Janet also ask Reed how he sees the future. A key point for him is that lessons are always passed on and will inform the next cases, which is what he sees happening in his work in Gambia now. And that is the lesson also for hybrid tribunals, where a statute can be drawn up to fit its purpose, as the case of Hissène Habré shows.

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This podcast has been published as part of a partnership between JusticeInfo.net and Asymmetrical Haircuts, a podcast on international justice produced from The Hague by journalists Janet Anderson and Stephanie van den Berg, who retain full control and independence over the contents of the podcast.