The Campaign to Bring Hissène Habré to Justice - Phase II

Project location: Senegal, Chad
Project start date: September 2015 - Project end date: March 2016
Project number: 2015-030
Beneficiary: Human Rights Watch

FINAL REPORT  (updated March 2016)

Human Rights Watch as part of the International Committee for the Fair Trial of Hissène Habré has worked with the victims of the former Chadian dictator to bring him to trial. After more than two decades, that trial began in July 2015. The first phase, the hearing of witnesses, ended in December 2015.

Human Rights Watch has also pushed for other officials involved in atrocities in Habré's regime to be brought to justice. In a historic verdict, on March 25, 2015, a Chadian criminal court convicted 20 Habré-era security agents on charges of murder, torture, kidnapping, and arbitrary detention.

A verdict in the trial against Hissène Habré is expected at the end of May, and Human Rights Watch has worked to ensure that the trial was fair, effective, and transparent, with a strong focus on ensuring that victims' voices were heard.

Human Rights Watch and its partners, in particular the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (ATPDH) and the Chadian Association of Victims of the Hissène Habré regime (AVCRHH), have been a critical force in the Habré case.


Trial Preparation

In a landmark ruling, on February 13, 2015, the judges found sufficient evidence for Habré to face charges of:

• The massive practice of murder, summary executions, kidnapping followed by enforced disappearance, and torture, amounting to crimes against humanity, against the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, the people of southern Chad, and political opponents;

• Torture; and

• The war crimes of murder, torture, unlawful transfer and unlawful confinement, and violence to life and physical well-being.

The judges‘ investigation was influenced heavily by Human Rights Watch's work over 13 years. In 2001, Human Rights Watch found the files of Habré's political police, the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS), in its abandoned N'Djamena headquarters. Among the tens of thousands of documents were daily lists of prisoners and deaths in detention, interrogation reports, surveillance reports, and death certificates.

The files detail how Habré placed the DDS under his direct control. Human Rights Watch also conducted more than 200 interviews of alleged victims and witnesses. When the court began its work, Human Rights Watch presented a summary of key incidents worth investigating and a list of relevant witnesses. Throughout the investigation, Human Rights Watch worked closely with the prosecution team.

Habré Trial

Habré's trial is the first time the courts of one country have prosecuted the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. The trial, 25 years after Habré was overthrown and fled to Senegal, is entirely due to the perseverance of Habré's victims and their allies led by Human Rights Watch and the ATPDH. The hearings phase of the trial lasted 52 days. Altogether, 93 victims and witnesses testified. They included historical experts, the president of the 1992 Chadian truth commission, former members of the DDS, the Belgian judge who carried out a four-year investigation, a French doctor who treated 581 torture victims, researchers from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, and forensic, statistical, and handwriting experts. For each witness, Human Rights Watch provided both teams with a complete dossier and suggested lines of questioning.

HRW worked with the victims' lawyers to help them prepare written conclusions and the oral pleadings, which took place in February 2016. A meeting was organized in Paris with all the members of the legal team, experts (including Frederick Davis) and the Human Rights Watch team.

HRW also supported three Chadian journalists to cover the oral pleadings. In addition, HRW hopes to produce a short documentary film with the strong moments of the trial and to publish it online so the public can view it, especially in Chad. The team worked with a filmmaker during the trial.

If Habré is convicted, the trial will move to a second phase on damages for the victims. Under its statute, if he is convicted, the chambers may order reparations against the accused to be paid into a victims' fund. Reparations from the victims' fund will be open to all victims, individually or collectively, whether or not they participated in Habré's trial. The chambers have not yet created such a fund, however. HRW is working with our partners and with the victims on a strategy to be proposed to the chambers and to the trial's main donors of the jurisdiction in the hope that reparations will be given to the victims.

Following that phase, there may be an appeal. HRW will continue to work with the victims during the appeal.

Human Rights Watch led an intense campaign to raise the profile of Habré and his alleged crimes in Senegal. With its African partners, it organized public conferences for the victims and the visit of Baltasar Garzón, the Spanish judge who indicted the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet.

Human Rights Watch also arranged for Guengueng and Abaifouta to be in Dakar during the entire trial. They accompanied 20 of Habré's victims who came to Dakar for one-week periods during the trial. The victims were the center of press attention around the trial.

Human Rights Watch and victims' groups pushed for the proceedings to be broadcast and streamed online, which allowed Human Rights Watch and its partners to share important information from the trial daily. Human Rights Watch worked with the Senegalese journalist Papa Ismaila Dieng to give the trial more visibility on his blog and his twitter. Staff from Human Rights Watch also tweeted regularly on the trial and wrote a blog in French and in English.

In addition, Human Rights Watch and its partners trained a core of Chadian and Senegalese journalists to understand the case and its background, and to report on the trial.

Whatever the decision, this trial has been historic. Every day, the Chadian public watched their former president in the dock, as evidence of his alleged crimes was presented. After a 25-year quest for justice by Chadian survivors and activists, they got their chance in court.


More information on the Habré case can be found here:

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