Who will try Africa’s “Pinochet”?

The Human Rights Watch’s relationship with our government has been a bumpy one. Every time I read or hear how unfair HRW reports are, I am tempted to ask whether one expects a glowing report they could agree with.
Oscar Kabbatende
Oscar Kabbatende

The Human Rights Watch’s relationship with our government has been a bumpy one. Every time I read or hear how unfair HRW reports are, I am tempted to ask whether one expects a glowing report they could agree with.

Human Rights organisations exist to aggravate the establishment in the defence of whomever they believe to be the underdog. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they get it wrong, sometimes they are driven by an agenda different from their stated one.

It’s all part for the course, I wouldn’t get too worked up about it. The thing they do really well is naming people. Hissene Habre was named by HRW “Africa’s Pinochet”. In other words, a military dictator who came to power with CIA support in order to fight an enemy of the US [in this case Libya] but who, to some embarrassment of his backers, turned into a ruthless oppressor of his own people.

Unlike Pinochet, Habre does not want to take his chances with the justice system back home in Chad. On Friday RFI reported that Rwanda had offered to try Habre. Minister of Justice, Tharcisse Karugarama, made the distinction that the AU had requested Rwanda to hold the trial and that Rwanda had not made any offer.

 Nevertheless, Rwanda has accepted to host the trial of the former Chadian President and it now lies with the AU to make the final decision.

Habre’s case is an interesting one. By the time he was ousted by current President Idris Deby in 1990, he was accused of killing 40,000 Chadians and torturing 200,000.

 In 2005, Belgium under a law repealed in 2003 that gave them universal jurisdiction, indicted Habre and asked Senegal to hold and extradite him. Senegal refused to extradite him choosing to try him there instead even though it required a constitutional amendment to do so.

Last November, the Court of Justice of the Economic Community of West Africa ruled that he could not be tried in Senegal. Africa’s Pinochet has been at tenterhooks ever since, coming close to being repatriated to Chad before the UN Human Rights Commission intervened claiming that Habre would not be fairly tried in N’Djamena.

After this game of pass-the-parcel, the music seems to have stopped. Apart from the legal maze of this case, it is also interesting for other reasons. Habre prosecuted the Zaghawa people, many of whom have relatives in the camps of Sudan’s Darfur province under protection of AU peacekeepers – some of their protectors are probably Rwandan.

Then there is the question of which law will be used to try him, whether such law would have the death penalty [given Rwanda’s abolition of the death penalty] and whether he will eventually be repatriated to Chad to serve out his sentence, and if not where he would be imprisoned, if found guilty.

That’s always assuming the AU ends another round of interminable talks and decides on where Habre will be tried. 

okabatende@gmail.com

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