Verdict expected in landmark trial of ex-Chad dictator
Hissène Habré is the first world leader to be prosecuted for crimes against humanity by another country's government. The verdict will be announced Monday.
DAKAR, Senegal — Souleymane Guengueng was among thousands imprisoned in Chad during the 1982-1990 rule of dictator Hissene Habre. When Guengueng, an accountant accused of working with the opposition, was released in 1990 he collected more than 800 accounts of fellow prisoners and vowed to seek justice for their torture and suffering.
On Monday, he is certain that justice will be delivered. The verdict will be announced in the landmark trial that has seen victims come face-to-face with Habre, the man they accuse of war crimes.
"I feel very proud. I have hope and the impression that we will have a winning and victorious result ... we've been ready for this day," said the founder of the association of Habre's victims.
Habre's trial for crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture by the Extraordinary African Chambers in the Senegalese courts began in July last year. It is the first trial in which the courts of one country are prosecuting the former ruler of another for alleged human rights crimes. More than 90 witnesses have testified.
Prosecutors are seeking a life sentence for Habre.
A 1992 Chadian Truth Commission accused Habre's government of systematic torture, saying that 40,000 people died during his rule. It placed particular blame on his political police force.
"What is precedent-setting here is the role of the victims, who have achieved justice through their perseverance," said Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch who has been involved in the case for more than 15 years.
"This case was not started by a prosecutor in the Hague, or by the Security Council. The architects, the visionaries of this case, are the Chadian victims themselves and their supporters," influencing everything from the way the charges were framed to how the trial is viewed. It also shows there are many different avenues for justice, he said.
Habre was first indicted by a Senegalese judge in 2000, but legal twists and turns over a decade saw the case go to Belgium and then finally back to Senegal after unwavering pursuit by the survivors and their supporters.
Stephen Rapp, former U.S. diplomat and international prosecutor also involved in tribunals for Sierra Leone and Rwanda, said the strong evidence was another key factor in this precedent-setting trial.
In 2001, the police force's archives were discovered on the floor of its headquarters in Chad, records which went back to Habre's rule and mention more than 12,000 victims of Chad's detention network.
The survivors "had the strong evidence in hand and the crucial thing that was needed was an independent court that would have the competence and jurisdiction to take this on," Rapp said, adding that this is what they asked the international community for and with continued efforts, achieved. "Without that strong evidence and without the dedicated and persistent and determined efforts of these survivors, this would not have been possible."
Rapp said gathering such extensive documentation efforts can serve as an example for places like Syria and Iraq. Such participation of victims in a trial, with international and African support, is promising for future prosecution efforts on the continent, he said.
Habre dismisses the tribunal as politically motivated, and he and his supporters have disrupted proceedings several times with shouting and singing. He refused legal representation but the court appointed him Senegalese lawyers.
Chad's government, run by President Idriss Deby, who served as Habre's military adviser and pushed him from power, is supporting the trial.
The tribunal, led by Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam, is expected to deliver the verdict and sentence Monday. If Habre is found guilty, a second set of hearings on damages for the more than 4,000 registered civil parties will take place.
"It's truly a great example for all the others victims around the world, particularly in Africa, to no longer remain silent," said Guengueng. "It's the people in charge who must now be afraid."