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It's life behind bars for dictator who loved prisons

Journalists for Justice / 02 August 2016

By Rose Wanjiku

Hissene Habré, Chad’s former dictator, who has been handed a life sentence by the Extraordinary African Chambers delivers its decision in his war crimes case, had a boundless love for prisons.

Prisons, dotted all over Chad, and were the hallmark of his eight-year bloody rule which began when he shot his way to power in 1982 in a coup and ended suddenly in 1990, the same way. Habré was obsessed with prisons and had one right in his backyard for his presumed political enemies and ‘rebellious’ citizens.

 

 

 

 

His dreaded secret police, which was known as the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), converted a swimming pool into a torture chamber. Not content to only issue orders, sometimes Habré took matters into his own hands. One of the 93 victims, who was among thousands who have waited for 25 years for justice, testified that Habre had raped her. Ten other witnesses testified that they had personally seen Habré in prison or were sent to prison personally by him.

Habré, who was known as the African Pinochet and quite a talker, has remained silent throughout the 53 three days he was on trial. The only audible statement he made in public was to denounce the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC), set up in Senegal in 2005 to try him for war crimes, crimes against humanity and torture.

Used to barking orders, Habré found it hard to obey rules and instructions. When the hearing of his case began, he had to be dragged to court by two muscled guards.  Since then, he has had to be brought to court earlier before the sessions start and remain physically restrained to a chair, a tactic reminiscent of his days in power.

 

 

 

 

 

Born in 1942 to a shepherd family northernChad, little is known about Habré’s life before he obtained a post in the French colonial administration.

He first came to the world's attention in 1974 when his rebel group captured three European hostages to ransom for money and arms. From then on, joined several rebel groups finally becoming the leader of Armed Forces for the North. He became Prime Minister in 1978 and after five years, installed himself as the President in 1982 through a coup d’etat. He fled to exile in Senegal, where he lived for 22 years before his arrest. He married in Senegal, had children and was one of the elders in the village where he lived.

Propped by the US and France to fight then Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Habré turned into a bloodthirsty despot. By the time he was toppled, he is said to have overseen the systematic killings of 40, 000 and torture of 20,000 people mainly from tribes other than his own in Chad.

When the trial started, as expected, Habré and his lawyer refused to appear at the opening in July 2015 because they did not consider the court legitimate.

 

 

 

Unmoved, the African Union-backed court appointed three Senegalese lawyers to defend him and adjourned for 45 days to allow them to prepare. The first day, on September 7, Habré was brought in to the court by force, kicking and screaming.

After that, he was brought into the courtroom for each session before the doors to the public opened. His trial is a landmark in several respects: It is the first prosecution of its kind in Africa – of a former African president by a court in another African country supported by the African Union.

Many countries on the continent have been unable to arrest Sudan President Omar al Bashir, who is wanted by the International Criminal Court to stand trial for war crimes in the Darfur region of Sudan.

The trial is also seen as a victory by the victims: “Never in a trial for mass crimes have the victims’ voices been so dominant,” says the Human Rights Watch, which has supported the trial process including by gathering important evidence against Habre.

The trial ended on February 11, 2016. For two days starting Monday, Habré will sit in court in a culmination of a trial process that has internationally been hailed as one of the world’s most patient and tenacious campaigns for justice. Over 93 witnesses testified, each describing the gory details of torture and murder under his regime. 

Habré was first indicted by a Senegalese judge in 2000, but for the next 12 years, the Senegalese government of former President Abdoulaye Wade refused to arrest and try him.

It was only in 2012, when Macky Sall became president and the International Court of Justice ordered Senegal to prosecute Habré or extradite him that action was taken.  

 The African Union has encouraged its members to adopt legislation to give their national courts universal jurisdiction over war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. Several investigations have been opened in South Africa and Senegal on the basis of universal jurisdiction.

Habré was not tried at the ICC because the Court does not have jurisdiction over crimes committed before 2002 when the Rome Statute came into force.

 

 

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By Terry Jeff Odhiambo

Gambia stands as a testament to the glacial progress Africa is making in the sphere of human rights. With the country on the mend and efforts under way to bring former President Yahya Jammeh to justice, the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights could scarcely have found a better host country to hold its 30th anniversary.

The celebrations in Banjul, between November 1 and 4, 2017, come at a time of hope and restoration for the Gambia after the end of Jammeh’s 22-year dictatorial regime. Jammeh’s government was notorious for its disregard of international human rights norms despite ironically hosting the ACHPR. Arbitrary arrests, threats, enforced disappearances and torture were commonplace. There is still plenty of room for improvement. Attorney General Abubacarr Tambadou, who is also Justice Minister, told the opening of the 35th Forum on the Participation of NGOs in the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR that notwithstanding the various strides made by nations in the application of human rights instruments, the full enjoyment of basic rights and freedoms since the adoption of the African Charter, continues to face challenges. The Justice minister reiterated that the new government of Gambia had reaffirmed its commitment to protecting human rights and to living up to its position as the human rights capital of Africa. As recently as September 2017 the Gambia, signed five international treaties on the margins of the United Nations General Assembly, including the Second Optional Protocol to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which seeks to abolish abolition the death penalty. In the coming months, Gambia is committed to ratifying more human rights treaties, including the Convention against Torture, and adopting a new republican constitution within the shortest time possible and developing a system of justice that can look into past atrocities and sustain its democracy. The NGOs Forum, which is usually held on the margins of the ACHPR Ordinary Sessions, is a platform for fostering collaboration between civil society organisations on the one hand and the ACHPR on the other, with the aim of promoting and protecting human rights in Africa.

Human rights abuses in Africa are a sad reality. The tableau of human suffering on the continent is scar on humanity’s conscience. From South Sudan[1], to the Central African Republic[2] to Egypt[3] and Ethiopia[4], abuses are increasingly being witnessed more than ever before. As one of the bulwarks against this depressing trend, the work of the ACHPR since its inception calls for evaluation. The promise by states and governments to guarantee human dignity and rights – through almost universal endorsement of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and ever-increasing ratification of international human rights treaties – seems to have had little impact on the daily lives of millions of people in the region.

The sad reality is that the human rights situation in various African countries continues to deteriorate on the ACHPR’s watch. There has been an escalation of threats to the enjoyment of human rights on the continent, ranging from arbitrary arrests, infringement of freedom of association and assembly, police brutality and threats to human rights defenders. 

Since the inception of the ACHPR, seven states have never reported on the situation of human rights to the commission. The states -- Comoros, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Guinea Bissau, Sao Tome and Principe, Somalia and South Sudan -- continue to witness some of gravest human rights violations on the continent. Twenty other states have three or more pending state reports -- including Gambia, while 16 other states have one or two pending state reports. Only nine states, namely Kenya, Algeria, Burkina Faso, Cote d’Ivoire, Mali, Mauritius, Namibia, Niger and South Africa are up to date with their state reporting obligations. The Democratic Republic of Congo[5], Rwanda[6] and Niger[7] are set to report during the 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR. State reporting procedure is a stock taking that serves as a forum for constructive dialogue and enables the Commission to monitor implementation of the African Charter and identify challenges impeding the realisation of the objects of the African Charter.

Some of the critiques that the Commission has received over time include the failure to implement its findings, such as decisions on: individual communications, concluding observations on State reports, country and thematic resolutions, and recommendations made in relation to missions to countries. 

The 61st Ordinary Session of the ACHPR will see the swearing in of new commissioners and the exit of those whose terms have ended. The ACHPR is composed of 11 Commissioners, who are “chosen from amongst African personalities of the highest reputation, known for their high morality, integrity, impartiality and competence in matters of human and peoples’ rights; particular consideration being given to persons having legal experience” (African Charter, Article 31).[8] They are elected by the African Union Assembly from experts nominated by States parties to the Charter. The Commissioners serve in their personal capacity and are elected for a six-year renewable term.

The upcoming 30th Anniversary celebrations are an opportunity to reaffirm the values and enduring principles enshrined in the African Charter mobilize people around the continent, and take stock of human rights today in Africa. 

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