The EAC was set up within the Senegalese justice system to try those most responsible for serious crimes committed under Habré’s regime (1982 to 1990). Habré is accused of murder and systematic torture when he was in power.
After examining the final indictment, the investigating judges will decide whether to commit Habré to trial or dismiss the case, which is unlikely. The expected trial is the fruit of a 15-year saga.
Habré has been living in Dakar since 1990, when he was chased from power by Idriss Deby. He was indicted the first time in Senegal in 2000, but the country’s courts said they did not have the jurisdiction to try him. Victims then turned to Belgium, which said it had jurisdiction because some of the victims had Belgian nationality. In September 2005, after four years of investigations, a Belgian judge indicted Habré, and Brussels requested his extradition. After Dakar refused the request and three years of fruitless negotiations with regard to an African Union (AU) request, Belgium took Senegal to the International Court of Justice (ICJ). On July 20, 2012, the ICJ ordered Senegal to either prosecute Habré “without delay” or extradite him.
The case moved forward after the election of a new Senegalese President, Macky Sall. In February 2013, Dakar inaugurated the Extraordinary African Chambers under an agreement with the African Union.
Political police On June 30, 2013, the former dictator was arrested at his home in Dakar. Two days later he was indicted for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. “This is a first victory for the victims,” said Jacqueline Moudeina, victims’ lawyer and president of the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (ATPDH). The reaction was similar from Human Rights Watch (HRW) lawyer Reed Brody, who has been following the case since 1999. He said it was the “beginning of the end” of the interminable political and legal wrangling to which the victims had been subject.
Hissène Habré, who is presented on his official website as the “liberator, saviour and builder of the Republic of Chad”, is accused of thousands of political assassinations and systematic use of torture when he was in power.
Documents from the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS), Habré’s political police, obtained by Human Rights Watch in 2001, revealed the names of 1,208 people who were executed or died in detention, and 12,231 victims of various human rights abuses. In a 2013 report, HRW said atrocities committed under Habré were systematic. “Habré wasn’t a distant ruler who was unaware of the massive atrocities carried out in his name,” said HRW’s Olivier Bercault, the main author of the study. “We found that Habré directed and controlled the political police, who tortured and killed those who opposed him or those who simply belonged to the wrong ethnic group.” The 714-page study is entitled La Plaine des Morts (The Plain of the Dead).
After the indictment of the ex-president, the EAC investigating judges got straight to work. They conducted four rogatory commissions in Chad during which they heard victims and witnesses, consulted DDS archives and visited alleged sites of mass graves. However, a fifth rogatory commission planned for the end of October-early November 2014 could not take place because of opposition from the Chadian authorities, who thus took revenge after their request to be recognized as civil party in the Habré case was rejected. The EAC wanted to return to N'Djamena to proceed with the indictment and questioning of Saleh Younous and Mahamat Djibrine (“El Jonto”), two suspected former leaders of the DDS who are currently on trial in Chad with some 20 others, in a trial that was hastily organized.
“A judicial farce”All this investigation work took place without the participation of Habré’s lawyers, who contest the legality and impartiality of the African Chambers. In addition, the investigating judges have not managed to get any words out of Habré, who is exercising his right to remain silent. “We will not take part in the work of these Chambers because we do not consider them to be either independent or impartial,” François Serres, one of the lawyers, told Hirondelle in December 2013. “The investigation is totally biased towards the prosecutor, who wants to protect President Deby. It’s a real judicial farce. We cannot participate.”
Even before Habré was arrested, his lawyers filed a request to the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) asking it to halt all criminal procedures against their client. The Court said on November 5, 2013 that it did not have jurisdiction to rule on the application. Victims’ lawyers said Habré had failed in yet another attempt to delay justice and hailed the work of the EAC. After this setback, Habré’s lawyers are awaiting a ruling by the Senegalese Supreme Court on a plaint they filed over a year ago contesting the constitutionality of the EAC.
In a statement last November 27 in Dakar, Habré’s lawyers slammed what they called the “deliberate inertia” of the Supreme Court, saying it was an affront to justice.
Habré’s defence team is, however, now diminished after the departure of his vociferous Senegalese counsel El Hadji Diouf. At the end of the year Diouf met with current Chadian President Idriss Déby, his client’s main enemy. For Habré this constituted the height of betrayal. At a press conference in early January, Diouf announced he was quitting, but said the meeting with Déby was in the interests of Habré and that the ex-president’s family had been informed in advance. He also added that Habré was a “difficult” client who did not pay his bills on time.