Chad's torture victims seek justice in trial of Hissene Habre

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is standing trial for torture and crimes against humanity. (AFP)

Former Chadian dictator Hissene Habre is standing trial for torture and crimes against humanity. (AFP)

Ginette Bganbaye awoke in a dingy cell known as La Piscine after Chad’s secret police arrested her for alleged involvement in coup plotting.

“Two police pushed me into a room, they held me down and connected electricity wires all over my body,” said Bganbaye, who was 20 and pregnant at the time and bears deep scars on her chest that she said were the result of torture. “I fainted,” she said in an interview in N’Djamena, the capital.

Bganbaye entered the colonial-era swimming pool converted into a prison in March 1985 and remained there for seven months, giving birth to a baby girl. Today she’s one of almost 9 000 Chadians who have campaigned for justice for their brutal treatment under former President Hissene Habre since he was deposed by rebels in 1990.
On Monday, Habre will face charges including torture and crimes against humanity, by a court in Senegal in the first trial of an African leader outside his nation by a special African court.

Habre, who ruled oil-producer Chad for eight years, has been accused of causing the deaths of more than 40 000 people by a national truth commission set up by the government of his successor, President Idriss Deby. He denies the charges. The tribunal in the Senegalese capital, Dakar, operates under an African Union mandate. Habre (72) spent more than two decades in exile in Senegal before being arrested in 2013.

Judge Gberdao Gustave Kam of Burkina Faso, president of the trial chamber, and two senior Senegalese judges will hear the case.

Senegal’s Parliament
“The Habre trial shows that it is possible for victims, with perseverance and resolve, to bring a dictator to court,” Reed Brody, a lawyer at New York-based Human Rights Watch who’s been campaigning for Habre to be brought to justice since 1999, said in an e-mail on July 13. “Justice has finally caught up with Habre.”

Senegal’s Parliament approved a law establishing the tribunal in 2013 following the election of President Macky Sall. Before Sall assumed office, the country turned down requests for extradition by a Belgian judge who indicted Habre in 2005.

“It’s a great relief to see the Habre case finally find a home, after the many thwarted attempts to bring Habre to justice,” Nicole Barrett, director of Vancouver-based Joint International Justice and Human Rights Clinic, said by e-mail.

Chad has taken steps to prosecute abuses that occurred under Habre’s government, according to Human Rights Watch. In March, a court convicted 20 former senior officials of Habre’s political police for crimes including arbitrary arrest, torture and murder.

‘Big satisfaction’
While Chad is sub-Saharan Africa’s seventh-biggest oil producer, it ranks 184th out of 187 countries in the Human Development Index and 73rd out of 78 on the International Food Policy Research Institute’s Global Hunger Index. Transparency International classified it 154th among the 174 nations in its 2014 Corruption Perceptions Index.

Clement Abaifouta, president of the Association of Victims of the Crimes of Hissene Habre, said in the group’s unlit N’Djamena office he was elated with the outcome.

“We didn’t expect this result but it gives us a big satisfaction,” he said of the March trial. The court ruled that some victims will receive compensation, he said.

The trial of Habre will be closely followed by his victims, Abaifouta said.

“Through this court battle I wish for a new Chad,” he said. “Not oppressive. Without killing, without stealing or violence.” – Bloomberg

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