The conviction of Hissène Habré by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese Courts: Bringing justice in cases of serious human rights violations in AfricaPosted: 30 June, 2016
Author: Juan Pablo Pérez-León-Acevedo
Vice-Chancellor Postdoctoral Fellow, Centre for Human Rights, Faculty of Law, University of Pretoria
On 30 May 2016, the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal (EAC) found the former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré criminally responsible for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture. The EAC condemned Hissène Habré to life in prison. The EAC indicated that the defence would have 15 days to appeal the conviction. Accordingly, the defence lawyers proceeded to appeal the conviction on 10 June 2016. During the trial that started on 20 July 2015 and ended on 11 February 2016, 96 witnesses, victims and experts participated, and 5600 transcript pages and over 56 exhibits were examined. The trial concerned crimes committed in Chad between 7 June 1982 and 1 December 1990, which corresponded to Habré’s rule. The EAC Trial Chamber convicted Habré, as a member of a joint criminal enterprise (involving, among others, directors of his political police aka the Direction de la documentation et de la sécurité (Documentation and Security Directorate (DSS)), of crimes against humanity of rape, sexual slavery, murder, summary execution, kidnapping followed by enforced disappearance, torture and inhumane acts committed against the Hadjerai and Zaghawa ethnic groups, the inhabitants of southern Chad and political opponents. As a member of a joint criminal enterprise, Habré was also convicted of torture. Additionally, the Chamber convicted Habré, under the modality of superior or command liability, of the war crimes of murder, torture, inhumane treatment and unlawful confinement committed against prisoners of war (international armed conflict), and of the war crimes of murder, torture and cruel treatment (non-international armed conflict). War crimes were examined, on the one hand, in the context of the non-international armed conflict between the Forces Armées Nationales du Tchad (National Armed Forces of Chad (FANT)) and the Gouvernment d’Union Nationale de Transition (Transitional Government of National Unity (GUNT)), and, on the other one, in the context of the international armed conflict between Libya, allied to the GUNT, and Chad supported by France and the United States. Nevertheless, the Chamber acquitted Habré of the war crime of unlawful transfer.
Political killings and related violence have found expression in public discourses and have shaped the political-legal landscape in Cameroon since the re-introduction of multi-party democracy in 1990. The post-1990 constitutional state that Cameroon has become recognizes the universality of human rights; especially the right to life and security of the person. While these progressive laws further distinguish Cameroon as a state with outstanding legal commitments towards the universality of human rights, they have failed to find expression in the implementation process.
Creating such a strong visibility of human rights within the law is not enough. How the law is implemented determines its real worth and effectiveness. Accountability for crimes in a fair and expeditious trial remains the hallmark of an efficient criminal justice system.
This post examines how the state responded to cases of political killings and related crimes in Cameroon from the dimensions of legal and policy frameworks; legal processes; legal innovations; and institutional issues. It focuses on three key actors; the courts, the Legal Department, and the Police, and uses such assessment indicators as prosecution, conviction, and acquittal rates.