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Questions & Answers on Hissène Habré’s case
23 July 2013
1. Who is Hissène Habré?

Hissène Habré, born in 1942, was President of the Republic of Chad from 7 June 1982 until 1 December 1990. His single-party regime was characterised by numerous human rights violations, particularly against certain ethnic groups. He is thought to have been responsible for thousands of political assassinations and systematic torture. Most of these crimes are said to have been committed by his secret police, the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS). Because of the confidential nature of its activities, the DDS reported directly to him, as President of the Republic of Chad.

2. What charges are being brought against him?

On 2 July 2013, Hissène Habré was brought before the Extraordinary African Chambers within the Senegalese Court system (hereinafter the “Extraordinary African Chambers”) to face charges of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture alleged to have been committed during his presidency of Chad. 

3. Why is he being tried in Senegal instead of Chad?

In October 2000, together with the Association of Victims of Crimes and Political Repression in Chad (AVCRP), 17 victims lodged a complaint against Hissène Habré in Chad. The investigating judge rejected the complaint alleging the existence of an order stating that the case did not fall within jus commune. The civil parties challenged the constitutional status of this order. Despite a Constitutional Court ruling in 2001 that the order was unconstitutional, the case went no further because the investigating judge considered that he had insufficient information to continue his investigations. 

When Idriss Déby came to power in 1990, Hissène Habré fled Chad and settled in Senegal, where he has lived ever since; as a result, legal action was launched against him in his new country of residence. 

In August 2008, Habré was sentenced to death in absentia by a Chadian court following a summary trial for his alleged role in supporting rebels who had attempted to take N’Djamena and seize power in February 2008. (…)

7. Why is Hissène Habré not being tried by the International Criminal Court?

Although Chad is a State Party to the Rome Statute, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is not competent to judge crimes committed before its Statute came into force, ie before 1 July 2002. As Chad ratified the Rome Statute on 1 November 2006, the ICC is competent to judge war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed in its territory or by one of its citizens only after that date. The crimes committed under the Habré regime, between 1982 and 1990, do not therefore fall within its jurisdiction. 

Furthermore, the ICC is complementary to the national courts, which have the priority for investigating and prosecuting perpetrators of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed on their territory (article 1 of the ICC Statute). The ICC has jurisdiction when a State Party has neither the capacity nor the willingness to investigate and prosecute such perpetrators. 

8. How do the Extraordinary African Chambers function and what are their competences?

Established on 22 August 2012 by an agreement between the African Union and the Senegalese authorities, the Extraordinary African Chambers within the Senegalese court system comprise an Extraordinary African Investigation Chamber within the Dakar Regional Court (Tribunal Régional Hors Classe), an Extraordinary African Indictments Chamber at the Dakar Court of Appeal, an Extraordinary African Assize Chamber at the Dakar Court of Appeal and an Extraordinary African Assize Appeal Chamber at the Dakar Court of Appeal. 

The Investigation Chamber includes four investigating judges of Senegalese nationality and two deputies investigative judges. The Indictment Chamber comprises three judges of Senegalese nationality and two deputies. International judges sit at the level of the Assises Chamber and the Assises Appeal Chamber. Each of them comprises two judges of Senegalese nationality, two deputies judges of Senegalese nationality and a Presiding Judge who is a national of another African Union member state. Finally, the Prosecutor-General and his two deputies are of Senegalese nationality. The Senegalese judges were elected on 22 January 2013 at the first meeting of the High Council of the Judiciary in Senegal. 

The Extraordinary African Chambers are competent to prosecute and judge the main perpetrators of crimes and serious violations of international law, international custom and international conventions ratified by Chad, committed on Chadian territory between 7 June 1982 and 1 December 1990, particularly crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. Under article 16 of the Statute, the Extraordinary African Chambers apply first the Statute and, for cases not covered, they apply Senegalese law. 

10. Are victims entitled to participate in the Extraordinary African Chamber proceedings ?

NGOs, including FIDH, have done significant advocacy work to ensure that the victims have a specific role and can participate in the proceedings of the Extraordinary African Chambers. Victim participation in trials is a key aspect of the fight against impunity. Victims should play an effective role in the prosecution and conviction of the perpetrators of the crimes, so that court decisions have a real impact on the communities affected. 

Article 14 of the Chambers’ Statute enables victims to join the proceedings as civil parties and thus to participate in full through a legal representative. The participation regime is therefore similar to that of the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia3. 

The Chambers may decide, in the interests of justice, to organizegroups of victims represented by one or more lawyers. The victims may also benefit from legal aid, if they do not have the resources to pay a legal representative. 

14. How will the NGOs help achieve progress on the Habré case ?

NGOs, such as FIDH and its member organisations in Chad, the Chadian Human Rights League (LTDH),the Chadian Association for the Promotion and Defence of Human Rights (ATPDH), and in Senegal, the National Human Rights Organisation (ONDH),the African Assembly for the Defence of Human Rights (RADDHO), as well as other organisations like the Association of Victims of Crime and Political Repression in Chad (AVCRP), have been supporting the prosecution against Hissène Habré, from the very begining. An international committee for the fair trial of Hissène Habré, comprising the aforementioned organisations and others, such as Human Rights Watch, was set up to coordinate efforts to combat impunity and support victims of the Habré regime.

Their support has come in various forms: missions of inquiry and evidence gathering in Chad, advocacy and awareness-raising missions, particularly in Chad and Senegal, legal representation of victims before the Senegalese and Belgian courts, support for victims before the ECOWAS Court of Justice, observation of proceedings at the International Court of Justice at the Hague, protection of Chadian human rights defenders, advocacy actions at the bodies of the United Nations, member states of the African Union, the European Union and other interested states.
15. What sentence may be handed down to Hissène Habré ?

The sentences established in article 24 of the Chambers’ Statute may not exceed the term of 30 years ’emprisonment or a term of life imprisonment if justified by the seriousness of the crimes and the personal situation ofthe convict. In addition, there is the possibility of a fine and confiscation of profits, goods and assets derived directly or indirectly from the crimes committed. 

16. When will the trial of Hissène Habré start ?

It is expected that the investigation phase, the preliminary phase before the trial, will last around 15 months. The trial should start in 2014 and is expected to last around 7 months. The appeal phase could take another 5 months. Furthermore, the Extraordinary African Chambers have stated that measures may be taken to avoid the trial lasting for several years, including by taking cognisance of the results of the Belgian and Chadian investigations into crimes committed during the Habré regime.
See the full Q&A here.

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