Chadian Court Initiates First Trial against Habré-Era Security Agents

Extraordinary African Chambers
Credit: EAC

November 14 marked the start of the trial against 26 former security agents accused of committing murder, torture, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, assault, and battery during former dictator Hissène Habré’s rule in Chad from 1982 to 1990. [Reuters; HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices] Advocates hope that the trial, set to take place before national courts in N’Djaména, Chad, will deliver a measure of justice to victims of human rights abuses and atrocities committed during Habré’s eight-year rule. [HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices]

Some advocates are concerned, however, by the rapid pace of the proceedings. On October 30, the prosecutor for the Chadian court announced the November 14 trial date, giving the prosecution and defense only two weeks’ notice to prepare their cases. This short allotment of time has raised questions as to whether the fairness of the trial and preparedness of the parties may be undermined. [Jurist]

“The trial of Habré’s alleged henchmen could be a major event in Chad’s history, but a tainted process would be an insult to the victims,” said Reed Brody, counsel for Human Rights Watch. [HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices]

Hissène Habré’s Dictatorship in Chad

Habré was president of Chad from 1982 to 1990, having risen to power with the support of the United States government. [HRW: Case of Hissène Habré] His government detained approximately 54,000 Chadians as political prisoners and tortured at least 20,000 people during that time. More than 40,000 were killed within a span of eight years. Habré’s rule was also marked by the repression of various ethnic groups, including the Hadjerai and Zaghawa groups. [IJRC; HRW: Case of Hissène Habré] After being deposed by current Chadian President Idriss Déby Itno in 1990, Habré fled to Senegal, where he remains in exile. [Jurist; HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices]

Efforts to Bring Habré and His Former Security Agents to Justice

Over the past 24 years, there have been multiple attempts to bring Habré and his cohorts to justice, with courts in Chad, Senegal, and Belgium issuing indictments and requests for extradition. The first attempt came in 2000, when a Senegalese court indicted Habré for crimes against humanity, barbaric acts, and torture, and placed him under house arrest. The case was thrown out in 2001, however, due to pressure from the Senegalese government. [Foreign Policy]

Then, in September 2005, a Belgian judge charged Habré with crimes against humanity and requested Senegal to extradite him to Belgium. Senegal turned to the African Union, which called on the country to prosecute Habré “on behalf of Africa.” [Foreign Policy] Senegal stalled the trial for years, stating that it could not proceed without receiving $40 million from the international community. [Foreign Policy]

In 2009, as a result of Senegal’s foot-dragging, Belgium filed a case against the State with the International Court of Justice (ICJ), arguing that Senegal should either put Habré on trial or extradite him. In July 2012, the ICJ agreed, ruling that the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment required Senegal to promptly try Habré or extradite him to Belgium. Questions Relating to the Obligation to Prosecute or Extradite (Belgium v. Senegal), Judgment, 20 July 2012, ICJ Reports 2012, para. 122.

In response to the ICJ’s decision, Senegal established the Extraordinary African Chambers, a special criminal court located in Dakar, Senegal and established to prosecute those individuals “most responsible” for crimes and grave violations of international law committed in Chad during Habré’s rule. Statute of the Extraordinary African Chambers (adopted 30 January 2013, entered into force 8 February 2013), art. 3 (French only, English translation available from HRW). The Chambers’ jurisdiction is limited to adjudicating charges of genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and torture. Id. at art. 4. Its establishing statute specifically disallows the defenses of official immunity, lack of command responsibility, and superior orders. Id. at art. 10(3)-(5). The statute also provides for victim participation at all stages of the proceedings. Id. at art. 14. The Chambers will be dissolved once it has reached its final decisions. [TRIAL]

In July 2013, the Extraordinary African Chambers indicted Habré and placed him in pre-trial detention. His trial is scheduled to begin in May 2015 and will be the first prosecution of a former Head of State in the courts of another country. [Foreign Policy]

The Chambers have also requested the indictments of several high-level Habré-era officials, particularly those who worked for the Documentation and Security Directorate (DDS), Habré’s political police force. They include:

  • Saleh Younouss, former director of the DDS;
  • Mahamat Djibrine, one of the “most feared torturers in Chad”;
  • Guihini Korei, former director of the DDS and Habré’s nephew;
  • Abakar Torbo, former director of the DDS prison service; and
  • Zakaria Berdei, former special security advisor to Habré.

[HRW: Case of Hissène Habré] See also Commission of Inquiry, Chad: Report of the Commission of Inquiry into the Crimes and Misappropriations Committed by Ex-President Habré, His Accomplices and/or Accessories (1992), 27.

The Trial of Former Security Agents in Chadian Criminal Courts

In spite of the creation of the Extraordinary African Chambers, Chad has initiated criminal prosecutions against a number of former security agents in its own courts. For example, Younouss and Djibrine are wanted by the Extraordinary African Chambers, but the Chadian government has refused to transfer them to Senegal or to allow the Chambers to question them in Chad. The government argues that Younouss and Djibrine could not be indicted a second time for acts that were already the basis of indictments made by the Chadian investigating judge. [HRW: Chad’s Inaction]

In addition, while the trial of the former security agents is generally considered a significant step forward in the pursuit of justice for victims of the widespread atrocities committed under Habré’s rule, there is still concern that the trial will not be conducted in a “fair and transparent manner.” [HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices] Human Rights Watch, a longstanding advocate of the victims in the cases before the Extraordinary African Chambers, fears that “Chadian authorities are trying to rush the case through without the attention and preparation it deserves, perhaps to justify the non-transfer of Younouss and Djibrine to Dakar.” [HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices]

The other defendants before Chadian courts include:

  • Warou Fadou Ali, former DDS sub-director;
  • Nodjigoto Haunan, former head of the National Security Agency;
  • Khalil Djibrine, former head of the DDS in southern Chad;
  • Sabre Ribe, former agent of the Special Branch of Direct Intervention (BSIR), the armed wing of the DDS;
  • Mahamat Wakaye Mahamat, former deputy director of the National Security Agency;
  • Abdelkader Hassane dit Rangers, former head of the DDS foreign service;
  • Ibedou Abderlkerim, former DDS agent and head of the DDS Foreign Military Liaison Service;
  • Brahim Djidda, former director of the National Security Agency;
  • Mbodou Boukari Moussa, former news anchor for the DDS;
  • Mbaïkoubou Laoutaye Nestor, former deputy director and controller of the DDS;
  • Cherif Haliki Haggar, former DDS security chief at N’Djaména airport;
  • Hadji Adda, former prison officer;
  • Abbas Abougrene Daoud, former head of river safety at the DDS;
  • Yalde Naffimbaye, former deputy chief of intelligence and operations at the DDS;
  • Mahamat Mbodou, former BSIR agent;
  • Nodjinan Mayadingam Jerome, former deputy chief of operations at the DDS;
  • Koche Abdelkader, former director of the National Security Agency;
  • Ali Mahamat Seïd dit Ali Yec, former agent of inland safety and the N’Djaména airport;
  • Oumar Souni Chaha, former commander of the BSIR;
  • Moussa Outmane Abderaman, former head of the DDS domestic and foreign service;
  • Mahamat Atteïb Abakar, former news anchor for the DDS;
  • Bachir Ali Haggar, former commander of the Moyen-Chari zone;
  • Issa Idriss, former police commissioner;
  • Toke Dady, former director of the DDS, currently wanted;
  • Nbang Hanan, former head of the DDS recruitment and training department, presumed dead;
  • Mahamat Djoung Djoung, former head of the DDS in Mongo, presumed dead; and
  • Hissein Chahad, former director of the operations department of the DDS, presumed dead.

[HRW: Alleged Habré Accomplices]

African Union Involvement

From November 9 to 14, Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, the African Union Commission (AUC) Chairperson, led a delegation to Chad to consult with State authorities on the Habré case. In the same vein, a Special Representative of Dr. Nkosazana Dlamini traveled to Dakar from November 17 to 22 to discuss the Habré case with Senegalese authorities, the Administrator of the Extraordinary African Chambers, and the members of the Steering Committee of the Chambers’ financing. [EAC (French only)]

Additional Information

For more information on the creation and history of the Extraordinary African Chambers, see IJRC’s February 2013 news post.