Is Habre’s Landmark Conviction a New Model for International Justice?

Is Habre’s Landmark Conviction a New Model for International Justice?
Chad's former dictator, Hissene Habre, during the proceedings of the Extraordinary African Chambers, Dakar, Senegal, May 30, 2016 (AP photo by Carley Petesch).

The conviction last week of Chad’s former president, Hissene Habre, for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture is a significant victory for the civil society campaign that has fought tirelessly for more than 20 years to bring him to justice. In a Senegalese courtroom last Monday, Habre was sentenced to life in prison for his ultimate responsibility, as Chad’s head of state from 1982 to 1990, for thousands of cases of torture in secret prisons, along with killings, rapes and waves of repression against communities that opposed his rule.

Delivering his verdict, the head of the specially created Extraordinary African Chambers (EAC) in Dakar, judge Gustave Gberdao Kam, said that Habre “had control over most of the security apparatus,” as well as the army, and had “created and maintained a climate of total impunity.” Habre’s obvious contempt for the EAC—he decided to remain silent throughout the trial and refused to take off his turban and dark glasses or to speak to a court-appointed defense team—were held against him in the decision on sentencing.

Civil society has been at the forefront of this trial. “Never before at the international level had victims’ voices been so dominant,” argued French journalist Thierry Cruvellier. Chadian victims were represented by Chadian lawyers, including the formidable Jacqueline Moudeina and Delphine Djiraibe. Human rights advocates Souleymane Guengueng and Clement Abaifouta, who through their work in collecting evidence from victims of abuses in Chad during the 1980s helped to build the prosecution case, sat close behind the victims throughout the four months that the court was in session. Guengueng, Abaifouta and other activists, some of them victims of torture themselves under Habre, found the determination to carry on with their quest for justice in the face of almost universal pessimism that they would succeed.

Keep reading for free!

Get instant access to the rest of this article by submitting your email address below. You'll also get access to three articles of your choice each month and our free newsletter:

Or, Subscribe now to get full access.

Already a subscriber? Log in here .

What you’ll get with an All-Access subscription to World Politics Review:

A WPR subscription is like no other resource — it’s like having a personal curator and expert analyst of global affairs news. Subscribe now, and you’ll get:

  • Immediate and instant access to the full searchable library of tens of thousands of articles.
  • Daily articles with original analysis, written by leading topic experts, delivered to you every weekday.
  • Regular in-depth articles with deep dives into important issues and countries.
  • The Daily Review email, with our take on the day’s most important news, the latest WPR analysis, what’s on our radar, and more.
  • The Weekly Review email, with quick summaries of the week’s most important coverage, and what’s to come.
  • Completely ad-free reading.

And all of this is available to you when you subscribe today.