WrongingRightsNotes™: Hissène Habré Edition!

Have you seen recent news coverage of Hissène Habré’s arrest and/or Seinfeld-watching habits and thought to yourself “Huh? Who?”

Did you greet the news of his indictment by the Extraordinary African Chambers with a yawn and a muttered “Is there a reason I should care about this?”

Do you ever wonder what Reed Brody‘s always on about anyway?

Well, good news, everyone! I have answers to all these questions and more.

First, the basics: Hissène Habré became president of Chad when he seized power from the elected leadership in 1982. He ruled until 1990, when he was himself deposed in a coup. (Payback’s a bitch, eh?) Habré’s reign was characterized by extreme brutality against the political opposition, ethnic minorities, and anyone considered a potential threat to regime security. His secret police have been accused by the country’s truth commission of a mind-boggling 40,000 extrajudicial killings, as well as widespread and systematic torture.

Following his ouster, Habré fled to Senegal, where he apparently lived a luxurious life of must-see-TV reruns and being a dick about garbage cans. Meanwhile, his victims and their advocates got serious about pursuing justice. In 2000, following the UK’s ground-breaking arrest of Augusto Pinochet on a Spanish warrant for human rights abuses committed during his dictatorship in Chile, victims of the Habré regime filed a criminal complaint in Dakar, Senegal. Thirteen years later, Habré will finally stand trial. Here’s what went on in the meantime:

  • In 2000, a Senegalese court indicts Habré for torture and crimes against humanity.
  • Habré lawyers up, and cleverly argues that the Senegalese courts can’t exercise jurisdiction over crimes committed by foreign nationals on foreign territory.
  • In 2001, amidst accusations of political interference from President Abdoulaye Wade (who may or may not have been paid off by Habré), an appellate court dismisses the charges for lack of jurisdiction, on the grounds that Senegal had not passed domestic legislation implementing the Convention Against Torture.
  • President Wade decides Habré’s ongoing presence in Senegal has gotten a bit embarrassing, asks him to go stay on someone else’s couch for a while.
  • The victims get nervous and file a complaint against Senegal with the Committee Against Torture. The Committee tells Wade in no uncertain terms that he’s not getting rid of Habré by any means other than a legal extradition.
  • Victims’ lawyer Reed Brody, in Chad on an evidence-gathering mission in 2002, happens upon a treasure trove of abandoned secret police files, which demonstrate both Habré’s control of the organization, and its use of torture. (If there’s anything to love about abusive secret police operations, it’s that they always find it necessary to meticulously record stuff like “It was in compelling him to reveal certain truths that he died on October 14 at 8 o’clock.”)
  • In 2005, Belgium decides it wants in on this party, and indicts Habré on crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture charges pursuant to a complaint filed by victims in 2001.
  • Belgium requests Habré’s extradition. Senegal refuses because of…reasons, then gets stressed out and decides to kick the tough decisions upstairs to the African Union.
  • Senegal regrets deferring to the African Union when, in July of 2006, the AU issues a decision requiring “the Republic of Senegal to prosecute and ensure that Hissène Habré is tried, on behalf of Africa, by a competent Senegalese court with guarantees for fair trial.”
  • Piling on, the Committee Against Torture announces that Senegal is in violation of its Convention Against Torture obligation to prosecute or extradite Habré.
  • Senegal enacts new international crimes legislation with extraterritorial jurisdiction, then tells the international community that it can’t possibly run a decent war crimes trial without $36.5 million… and some new shoes… and one of those spiffy new Droids with the extra-long battery life. Extensive budgetary wrangling ensues.
  • As the aforementioned haggling drags on into year three, Belgium decides to introduce a new wrinkle, and up and files a surprise suit at the International Court Justice, demanding that Senegal honor its CAT obligations by trying or extraditing Habré. (I was at the ICJ at the time, it was all very unexpected.)
  • Meanwhile, in 2008, Chad tries Habré in absentia and sentences him to death. Senegal begins to think there may be an easy out to this whole situation…
  • Also in 2008, Habré’s lawyers remember reading something somewhere about non-retroactivity, and file suit with ECOWAS alleging that it is a violation of Habré’s human rights to be tried under a criminal statute that did not exist at the time of his alleged crimes.
  • In 2010, ECOWAS issues its decision, and sorta kinda maybe buys Habré’s argument. It decides that while it would violate Habré’s rights to be tried under the newly-enacted Senegalese law, he can still be tried under international law, but it’ll have to be by an internationalized court. (This is pretty much nutballs. Eichmann, anyone?)
  • The AU proposes that a nifty hybrid court be established within the Senegalese judicial system to try Habré. Senegal, realizing that this whole thing is turning out to be a total drag, chooses this moment to throw an epic temper tantrum, withdraws from the negotiations, and announces that Habré will be shipped home to Chad to be executed.
  • Everyone freaks the f*** out, eventually convincing Senegal that sending Habré to the executioner is not the brilliant solution everyone’s been searching for. But Senegal continues to drag its feet as the AU pushes for prosecution and Belgium issues approximately 347 more extradition requests.
  • In July of 2012, the ICJ hands down its decision, finding in Belgium’s favor, and ordering Senegal to get on with it already. Meanwhile, President Abdoulaye Wade is defeated at the ballot box by challenger Macky Sall, and suddenly, Senegal gets all cooperative.
  • The “Extraordinary African Chambers” is born on February 8, 2013. On July 2, 2013, Habré is charged with crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. His trial is expected to begin in early 2015.
Stay tuned for the next chapter of this saga. (And if you want the longer version of the events to date, check out Human Rights Watch’s extremely comprehensive chronology and Q&A.)

Wacky Gun Nut Duncan Hunter at It Again

Hey, remember failed Republican 2008 presidential candidate and unreconstructed American exceptionalist Duncan Hunter? No? Perhaps this will jog your memory:

  • “I would amend the U.S. Constitution and provide blanket protection to all unborn children from the moment of conception by prohibiting any state or federal law that denies the personhood of the unborn. “

Or this:

  • “Rest assured no treaty that infringes on the sovereignty of the United States, or further empowers the United Nations, will get anything but a trip to the waste basket in a Hunter Administration.”

Fortunately for the nation, Congressman Hunter’s presidential campaign was an abysmal failure, possibly because it never recovered from Ann Coulter’s endorsement. Hunter refused to bow out gracefully following a phenomenally poor showing in Iowa, declaring that the only reason he’d not been permitted to participate in the debates was “because some knucklehead, arrogant executive in the corporate media world of ABC and Fox News in some third- or fourth-story glass office decided that I was — my campaign was — over.” He finally conceded on January 19th after finishing last in every primary, with the notable exception of Wyoming (Motto: “Hey, we’re a state too”) where he finished third and received a delegate.

Why do I bring up this embarrassing chapter of America’s recent political history that you’d happily completely forgotten about? Because he’s reached new heights (lows?) of gun-toting, empty-headed jingoism, this time with a kooky plan* to nourish starving refugees with the carcasses of endangered animals slaughtered by Duncan “shooting things is the solution to every policy problem” Hunter himself.

Apparently, Duncan Hunter heard of the plight of the Darfur refugees in Chad and felt compelled -but not very, it turned out- to offer his assistance. Specifically, he offered to come to Chad (where hunting of large game is not permitted) to shoot wildebeest (which are not native to Chad), whereupon he would cure the wildebeest meat and distribute it in the refugee camps.

Upon being informed by the U.S. Embassy in N’Djamena that there were a few minor problems with his plan (see above re: worst idea ever), Hunter decided that helping people was too much trouble. Instead he’s going to just join a commercial hunting expedition to Kenya or Tanzania, where Darfur refugees are a little sparser on the ground but wildebeest are far more plentiful.

*to which I was tipped off by the eponymous proprietor of http://www.kalhan.com. (Thanks, Anil!)

Advanced Topics in Passive-Aggressiveness: The Proxy War

This weekend saw the first ever attack on Khartoum by the Darfurian rebel group Justice and Equality Movement (JEM). My source on the ground (that’s right, I know some people) reports that the rebels must have been extra-sneaky, because she didn’t see any of them from her vantage point at the Rotana Hotel. So much for an eyewitness account…
Anyway, the Sudanese government was immediately suspicious, mostly because Darfur is really far away from Khartoum, and they didn’t think the rebels knew the way to the capital. After some internal deliberations, it occurred to them that perhaps this was Chad’s way of saying “thanks a million” for the Khartoum-supported rebel attack on N’djamena back in February. They promptly cut diplomatic ties with Chad. Chad fired back with a “Hey, just because all those rebels were wearing ‘I [heart] Idriss Déby‘ flak jackets, I don’t know why you think we had anything to do with it” and closed their borders.

Khartoum responded by cracking down on civil liberties (because when in doubt, impose a curfew and arrest some opposition members!) and warned the villagers along the Sudan-Chad border to “beware of possible retaliatory attacks.” For those of you who didn’t have to memorize the geography of the entire continent of Africa in the 9th grade, let me point out that all of the Sudanese border with Chad lies in Darfur. And what those people need more than anything else in the world right now (especially more than food, water, protection from war criminals, and the cessation of hostilities) is a whole bunch of additional troops tromping back and forth through their already-destroyed villages. Right.

Chad Not So Rad After All

IRIN reported today that the mayor of Ndjamena, Chad took advantage of the confusion engendered by recent rebel attacks to knock down a bunch of people’s houses. In the immediate aftermath of the attacks, President Idriss Deby imposed a state of emergency which had the effect of suspending all sorts of pesky civil liberties; among them, due process.

Meanwhile, Mayor Mahamat Zène Bada’s efforts to get rid of thousands of poor people had been stymied by the slow pace of the judicial process, criticism from the media, and counter-efforts by local civil society. When the presidential decree took effect, he pounced, evicting the tenants of more than 1000 houses scattered around the city, and immediately demolishing their homes. Conveniently, the decree banned discussion of just this sort of governmental measure undertaken pursuant to it.

Asked whether this sort of thing wasn’t, well, sort of sneaky and mean, the Mayor responded: “We are in a period of immunity. The Head of State has made this decision. When we are told this, we cannot argue. I have nothing more to say.”

Except then it turned out he did have something more to say which was that everyone should be happy about the demolitions because now “we can build primary and secondary schools and colleges, medical centres, libraries, sporting facilities, markets and bus stations.” As IRIN pointed out, this is perhaps not the most plausible statement given that the ongoing instability means there are virtually no construction companies operating in Chad.

Meanwhile, the evictees will likely receive no compensation for the loss of their property because of the difficulty assessing the value. (Might have been easier pre-demolition, eh?) Any bets on the first government to copycat this strategy? My money’s on Cambodia.