International Justice

CJ354 Endicott College

Hissène Habré, former dictator of Chad, placed on trial

Hissène Habré, the former dictator of Chad from 1982-1990 accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture, is to be finally placed on trial in Senegal. Habré came to power through a military coup in 1982 and in his eight years of rule, up to 40,000 deaths were recorded. After being deposed in 1990, Habré fled Chad and found refuge in Senegal. Despite an indictment for his arrest released by Senegal in 2000, Habré was only arrested in 2012 and has been awaiting trial.

It was officially announced on Friday, following the findings of a 19- month investigation, that according to a special tribunal set up to handle the case, Habré that the trial will officially begin soon in Senegal. The trial is set to commence in May or June of 2015, and will be “the first in Africa to rely on ‘universal jurisdiction’, under which any country’s national courts can prosecute the most serious crimes committed elsewhere by a foreigner and against foreign victims”. Two questions I had regarding this jurisdiction are: how is this different from the Chapter VII authorization in the ICTR, and how does a nation or a court simply declare “universal jurisdiction”?

Senegal is not working with the ICC but rather was “under pressure” from the International Court of Justice (ICJ). This seems rather interesting and a bit perplexing because the goal is to prosecute an individual, not a state. But, ultimately, the movement on Habré’s case has offered hope to victims, one stating that “we are finally going to be able to confront our main tormentor and regain our dignity as human beings”.

Finally, Habré’s case is so fascination because of the support he received from both France and the United States during his rule. Both countries viewed Habré as a counterbalance to other leaders in the region, most notably Muammar Gaddafi of Libya, and America was even known to arm his regime against Libya. Does the involvement and support of the US change the situation at all, or does the US continue unscathed without consequences (per usual)?

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One response to “Hissène Habré, former dictator of Chad, placed on trial

  1. daniel2533 February 16, 2015 at 1:07 pm

    In 1981, Ronald Reagan became President of the United States. Reagan’s determination to reestablish American primacy in foreign affairs, especially following the Iranian hostage crisis, no doubt influenced his foreign policy – which was often hawkish in nature.

    Reagan’s CIA director, William Casey, and the rest of his cabinet quickly focused on the situation in Libya and Chad, which Qaddafi was attempting to take over. In order to curb Libyan chances of success, Reagan quickly authorized millions of dollars to support Habre in Chad. Immediate plans were made for a consistent flow of cash and weapons to the Chad-Sudan border, where Habre would pick them up. A former CIA official explains that the US paid “little to no attention…to human rights issues” because “1) we wanted the Libyans out, 2) Habre’s record suffered only from the kidnapping [of a German and two French citizens], which were were content to overlook, and 3) Habre was a good fighter [and] needed no training.”

    This kind of reckless disregard for the local consequences of American actions is, obviously, typical. President Reagan would later speak out against the wave of violence and terrorism that resulted, to no avail. Meanwhile, over 40,000 political murders were taking place – with weapons provided by the US. The question of American liability in this situation should not be our concern here, as America is objectively responsible for the cruelty that Habre unleashed upon the citizens of Chad. To deny this is to subscribe to an ideology that betrays not only a disdain for human rights but also a regrettably outdated mindset concerning American global superiority (which falters with each passing year). In fact, Habre’s targeting of the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups should have been named genocide as it took place and most probably wasn’t due to a lack of political will among the international community. It follows, then, that what we should be concerned with is not whether America should face allegations for its continued connections to human rights abuses. Rather, we should look to the amending of international law in order to hold the great powers, and especially America, to the justice that they profess to subscribe to.

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