MUNYANA: Justice finally catches up with Habre; lessons for African leaders

MUNYANA: Justice finally catches up with Habre; lessons for African leaders

By Mboneko Munyaga, East African News Agency, Arusha, Tanzania

Former dictator, Hissene Habre (74) was President of Chad from 1982 – 90 during which an estimated 40,000 people were executed in politically motivated killings and some 200,000 others tortured in an orgy of bloodthirsty rule. He now faces charges of crimes against humanity, torture and rape in a Senegalese court set up with the African Union (AU).

Habre denies killing or torturing anyone but in 2012, the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Senegal to put him on trial or extradite him to face justice abroad. When overthrown by current President Idrissy Deby in 1990, Habre fled to Senegal where he was placed under house arrest from 2005 until his arrest in 2013.

In December 2012, Senegal’s Parliament passed a law for the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers within the High Court to try Habre. That followed lengthy legal proceedings and a ruling in November 2010, of the court of justice of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), which held that Senegal could not try Habre in its local courts only. The judges were to be appointed by the African Union and come from elsewhere in Africa.

On June 30, 2013, Habre was arrested by the Senegalese police. Chadian President Deby said of his arrest that it was a step towards “an Africa free of all evil, an Africa stripped of all dictatorships.” However, when the trial started in Dakar on July 20, 2015 Habre shouted: “Down with imperialists. (The trial) is a farce by rotten Senegalese politicians. African traitors. Valet of America,” apparently, playing the game that he was the victim in the dock.

Ironically, it was Habre himself who had played puppet of the Americans. His dreaded secret police, the Directorate of Documentation and Security (DDS) was funded and its staff trained by the CIA at a time when America fought clandestine wars to contain the influence deep into Africa of Libya’s Muammar Ghadafi and secure its interests in the Sudan’s oil rich Darfur region, which borders Chad and where another human rights villain, President Omar al- Bashir became embroiled in charges of genocide. He is yet to face trial.

The charges against Habre are contained in a 187-page document. The court has so far heard allegations of torture from some of the victims and survivors of incaceration in Habre’s horrible underworld jails run by the DDS. According to some of the testimonies, prisoners were removed from their cells at night and never to return and women forced into sexual slavery to entertain soldiers fighting the war against the Libyans. One woman has alleged in court that Habre himself raped her.

Habre now faces trial after 25 years, proving the old adage that justice may be slow to arrive but it is never late. The trial also has potent lessons for African leaders who turn against their own people in devilish combination to satisfy their egos and serving the interests of foreign masters. The Americans knew how evil and bloodthirsty Habre was but they reportedly decided to turn a blind eye because according to them, he was serving their interests well!. At least Habre defeated the Libyans in their attempt to annex parts of northern Chad.

But again, Habre is in the dock today largely because of the relentless efforts of some officials of Human Rights Watch, an American Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO) that made sure Habre faced justice. Had it not been for their dedication, Habre would still be a non bothered person, enjoying the hospitality of a country some of whose people he allegedly tortured and killed.

At least two Senagalese businessmen are among the known victims of Habre’s alleged regime of torture and death. Demba Gaye and Abdourahmane Gueye were arrested by the DDS at N’Djaména airport in March 1987 when they arrived from the neighboring Central African Republic. They were interrogated by the DDS and then placed in separate jails.  Demba Gaye died eight months later in “Cell C” of the Locaux prison – known as the “cell of death.”

Abdourahmane Gueye was finally rescued and handed over by Habre”s Minister of the Interior to the Senegalese ambassador. Mr Gueye was among the first persons to testify against Habre in the African court. True, Habre remains innocent until proven otherwise by the court but the smoking gun he holds could prove hard to conceal.

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