By Franck Petit
On 8 February 2016, all the main players in the trial of Hissein Habré, the former president of Chad, will appear again before the Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Dakar for the closing arguments. The verdict is expected in May.
The victims’ representatives, the prosecutor and defence will appear in that order during the week. Afterwards, the chamber, headed by Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam from Burkina Faso, will deliberate and issue their long-awaited verdict, long awaited by both Chad and the rest of the African continent.
This special court, established within the Senegalese judicial system on 22 August 2012, is the first African tribunal created at the initiative of the African Union. Chadian lawyer Jacqueline Moudeïna, who has been defending the victims’ interests over the past decade, says the trial is “a major victory and a test for Africa”. According to her, Africa, which is contesting international courts, needs to show its ability to deal with its own problems. “By filing a complaint against Habré, our goal is to teach Africans. Never again. Never again, not only in Chad, but never again in Africa.”
Look for evidence
The trial was preceded by a 19-month investigation, and 4 rogatory commissions in Chad questioned 2500 people. Mass graves were exhumed, the archives of the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS) were analysed and several expert investigations took place. With this information, the Extraordinary African Chambers deemed that they had sufficient evidence to try Hissein Habré. He is accused of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture during his rule from 1982 to 1990.
The press in Senegal, Chad and the rest of the world extensively covered the opening of this trial, which was historic for the African continent, on 20 July 2015. The Habré trial was the most important international trial in 2015, particularly in light of the continent’s strong criticism of the International Criminal Court. The trial has been filmed, streamed on internet and rebroadcast via satellite. Protests by opponents to the trial and the proceedings themselves could also be seen by all.
When the trial began, Habré refused to attend. He asked his lawyers not to appear in court. The Chamber forced the accused to appear and assigned him three Senegalese lawyers. It gave them 45 days to prepare the case. The trial resumed on 7 September 2015. The former president was forced to attend, shrouded behind sunglasses and a turban. He has exercised his right to silence from the very beginning.
90 witnesses in 4 months
The victims finished presenting their statements and testimony on 15 December 2015. In total, 90 people appeared before the court: 10 experts and 80 eyewitnesses and victims. It marked another historic record in terms of international justice, in which trials often last several years.
During the trial, various periods and incidents during Habré’s rule in Chad were reviewed: the repression in the south of the country as a result of the Codos rebellion, in particular “Black September” (1984); the attacks against the Hadjaraï ethnic group (1987); the repression of the Zaghawa (1989); prison conditions; sexually-based crimes; the treatment of war prisoners, in particular in the context of the armed conflict with Libya.
The trial has been presented as a victims’ trial. It has been widely followed in Chad, thanks to the national TV channel and the work of the EAC outreach consortium, together with community radio stations and local civil society organisations. Approximately 4500 civil parties have filed a complaint before the EAC, represented by three Chadian organisations and lawyers from across the globe. Many have bemoaned the fact that the accused has not uttered a single word in court. They say, he could have explained or defended himself during the trial.
Hissein Habré faces a maximum sentence of life imprisonment. If he appeals, a new chamber will have to be appointed. If Habré is found guilty, the EAC will look into the issue of reparations.
Lead image: Protestors at the start of Hissein Habré’s trial at the EAC (Str/EPA)
Franck Petit is the EAC Outreach Consortium’s communication expert.