#GlobalJustice Weekly – Habré conviction a victory for African and global justice

 

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Victims of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré celebrate his conviction by an African Union-backed court in Senegal on 30 May 2016. © Ruth McLean

In Global Justice news this week: Hissène Habré’s conviction in the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal welcomed in all quarters; Simone Gbagbo goes on trial in Côte d’Ivoire; Bemba back in court at ICC for witness-tampering; and much more.

30 May 2016 will go down as an historic day for African and international justice with the conviction of former Chadian dictator Hissène Habré for torture, war crimes and crimes against humanity by the Extraordinary African Chambers in Senegal. The African Union-backed court convicted Habré of charges including forced slavery, murder, summary execution, kidnapping, and of raping a woman himself during his rule from 1982 to 1990. He was sentenced to life in prison and confiscation of all his property.

The verdict was met with jubilant scenes in Dakar where many of Habré’s victims had gathered. Despite threats, intimidation and major political set-backs, victims and civil society groups worked tirelessly for over two decades to bring the former Chadian dictator to justice.

The trial and verdict has been widely welcomed throughout the international community as a stark warning to dictators committing crimes against their own people. And as the first trial of a former president in another African state for grave international crimes, Africa has demonstrated its strong commitment to justice and the interest of victims.

A bright moment for African justice – reactions

“The feeling is one of complete satisfaction…It’s the consecration of justice here in Africa. I don’t have words for how I’m feeling now. It is a big joy, a big day. A victory for the victims.” declared Clement Abeifouta, head of the Association of Victims of Crimes of the Hissène Habré Regime (AVCRHH)

Alain Werner, the director of Civitas Maxima and representative for several victims in the case, took particular note of Habré’s conviction for himself raping Khadija Zidane:

“They were just women in the middle of the desert with soldiers, abused for a very, very long period of time,” Werner said. “We fought very hard for the sexual violence to be brought back. Women suffered so much under Habré. It puts the whole sexual violence aspect back in the middle of the case, and it was very unexpected, to be candid.”

Ali Ouattara, president of the Ivorian Coalition for the ICC:

“Just as any African citizen is a potential victim of our leaders, equally any head of state, any powerful person, is a potential target of the ICC or African jurisdictions. We hope that Africa can judge Africans in a permanent way and we hope that the ICC will always be there, as a buttress.”

“This is an enormous victory for Hissène Habré’s victims, who for 25 years never gave up fighting to bring him to justice. This conviction is a wake-up call to tyrants everywhere that if they engage in atrocities they will never be out of the reach of their victims” said Reed Brody, counsel at Human Rights Watch who has worked with the survivors since 1999.

“For more than two decades, despite threats, intimidation and major political set-backs, victims together with civil society groups worked tirelessly to make this day possible,” reported Amnesty International.

“In a world scarred by a constant stream of atrocities, the ramifications of this verdict are global. While the verdict may be appealed, this sends a clear message to those responsible for serious human rights violations around the world that nobody is above the law and that, one day, they may also face justice for their crimes,” said UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.

The United States also welcomed the decision while acknowledging its and France’s role in backing Habré’s regime, with US Secretary of State John Kerry calling the conviction “an opportunity for the United States to reflect on, and learn from.”

The European Union, which recently held its first EU Day Against Impunity, regarded the verdict as a “important precedent for international justice and the fight against impunity.”

AU Commission chief Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma called the verdict a “vivid demonstration that the AU does not condone impunity and human rights violations,” further noting that the verdict “reinforces the AU’s principle of African solution to African problems.

Fom the International Justice Monitor: Reactions to the Conviction of Hissène Habré: A Historic Moment for Justice

ICC investigations

Uganda: The trial of former Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) commander Dominic Ongwen will open on 6 December 2016 for war crimes and crimes against humanity.

Sudan meanwhile refused to join the AU-led regional cooperation initiative for the elimination of the LRA, claiming the rebel group is no longer present in its territory.

Darfur, Sudan: Did Sudanese president and ICC suspect Omar al-Bashir apply for a US visa to attend the UN General Assembly in September?

Sudan foreign minister: al-Bashir to attend the Arab League (AL) summit in Mauritania in July.

Kenya: Claire Smith, Fanni Andristyak and Justice in Conflict reflected on the terminated Ruto-Sang case and ongoing efforts to ensure witnesses at the ICC get the protection they deserve.

ICC judges rejected Ruto’s defence’s request to investigate allegations that the prosecution influenced witnesses during the case.

Mali: Ahmad al-Faqi al-Mahdi to go to trial at the ICC on 22 August for attacking monuments in Timbuktu. Judges noted the trial would last a week given al-Faqi’s intent to plead guilty.

Côte d’Ivoire: Simone Gbagbo’s domestic crimes against humanity trial began in Côte d’Ivoire. At the start of trial, the former first lady denied the ICC charges against her while alleging rape attempts against her during her detention.

Victims’ rights groups protested the domestic trial, pointing to an incomplete investigation and breaches of criminal procedure.

Libya: Ahmed Sadiq Al-Jehani re-appointed as Libya´s representative to the ICC in The Hague.

CAR: Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, convicted by the ICC, was back in Court for bribing witnesses and falsifying evidence. His lawyer, also on trial, told judges he didn’t know witnesses were lying.

ICC preliminary examinations

Nigeria:  Lawyers United for Equality and Human Rights Advocacy want Boko Haram insurgents and sponsors probed and prosecuted by ICC.

Campaign for Global Justice

Negotiations underway so that ICC witnesses may be relocated to Ireland for protection.

El Salvador officially welcomed as the 124th ICC member state.

UN rapporteur: protection of cultural heritage not a luxury item.
PGA member commented on the decriminalization of homosexuality in the Republic of Seychelles.

Around the world

Argentina: Historic ruling on Operation Condor a great step forward for truth and justice.

Israeli human rights NGO B’Tselem concluded that it is “mostly a waste of time” to submit complaints to the Israeli army regarding human rights violations by its soldiers .

Germany passed an Armenian ‘genocide’ resolution, drawing Turkey’s condemnation.

Amnesty International: the European Union’s plans to return asylum-seekers to Turkey are “reckless and illegal” and should be halted.

One death sentence and two life sentences imposed by the International Crimes Tribunal Bangladesh (ICTB) for war crimes during the 1971 war of independence from Pakistan.

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