IL Newswire

"Victims bring a Dictator to Justice: The Case of Hissène Habré" by Reed Brody


See below for a short summary of the paper written by Reed Brody, a Commissioner of the International Commission of Jurists. The full text of the document can be found here

"On May 30, 2016, a special court in Senegal convicted the exiled former dictator of Chad Hissène Habré of crimes against humanity, war crimes and torture, including rape and sexual slavery. It was the first time ever that a head of state had been prosecuted in the courts of another country. The case was widely hailed as a milestone for justice in Africa. In July 2016, the court ordered Habré to pay approximately 90 million euros in victim compensation. The case is now on appeal.

Most importantly, the trial was the fruit of what the Toronto Globe and Mail called “one of the world’s most patient and tenacious campaigns for justice” (York 2013), waged over two decades by Habré’s victims and their supporters, who improbably succeeded in creating the political conditions to bring a former African president to justice in Africa, with the support of the African Union.

The uniqueness of the campaign was that it put the victims at the center, creating not just an irresistible political dynamic but a trial itself that both showcased the victims’ efforts and largely met their expectations. Even rape victims broke their 25-year silence to testify. As Thierry Cruvellier, a frequent critic of international courts, remarked glowingly in the New York Times, “[n]ever in a trial for mass crimes have the victims’ voices been so dominant” (Cruvellier 2016).

The launch of proceedings against Habré before the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal also spurred justice efforts back in Chad, where a court in 2015 convicted 20 Habré-era agents and ordered the government to pay millions in victim compensation.

Like the 1998 London arrest of Chile’s Augusto Pinochet, which inspired the Chadian victims to pursue justice in Senegal, the Habré case has motivated many others, in Africa and elsewhere, to think about potential justice campaigns.

The Habré case shows that it is possible for a coalition of victims and NGOs, with tenacity and imagination, to create the conditions for a successful universal jurisdiction prosecution, even against a former head of state.

This paper seeks to highlight some of the lessons of the Habré campaign, in the hopes that it can assist others who are organizing to bring their tormentors to book."